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Laser Technology
Monday | 15 January, 2018 | 11:18 am

What lies beneath

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Bystronic MES software allows users to manage individual manufacturing steps according to defined timelines for potential process improvements.

New tools let service centers mine data from processing lines to remove problems before they impact quality and efficiency

January 2018 - Like Atlas, who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, service centers have bulked up to perform some heavy lifting for fabricators. Aside from routine stocking and Kanban programs, inventory management, raw material processing, packaging and shipping, metal suppliers have expanded offerings to include value-adds like laser cutting, forming and machining.

Now, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are ushering in technologies that redefine what it means to be efficient. The IoT is a massive network that connects people, machines and devices. The IIoT connects smart sensors to the Internet to give metal centers and fabricators access to more information than ever before.

Monitoring software products like Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Bystronic Inc.’s new ByCockpit app are “peeling” back the metal “skins” of laser cutters and other equipment to reveal the flow of data from one machine to another. The ability to look below the surface allows managers to assess the availability and productivity of equipment on an individual basis in real time so that deficiencies can be corrected before throughput and quality is affected.

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The Sunburst view widget displays production conditions at a glance. Green bars denote machines in operation. Red bars show idle machines. Blue bars combine all connected systems that form an assembly line.

Raising visibility

But the interconnectedness of people, machines and devices means service centers must know where to start before converting massive amounts of information into actionable items that translate to better customer service and an improved bottom line.

Frank Arteaga, head of product marketing for Bystronic, breaks it down. “Let’s say management looks at first shift and finds that machines operated at peak performance,” he says. “Then they look at second and third shift and see the numbers starting to [slip]. Maybe there is a drop in production because a second shift operator is new, indicating a training deficiency. Or maybe a machine experienced down time or was idle? Whether or not a manager is present, it’s now possible to drill down and find out whether or not a machine was efficient during each shift in terms of performance and availability.”

To organize big data, Arteaga says there are some basic guidelines service centers can follow.

“You evaluate each machine as though it is an island and then look at the overall process,” he says, noting that the two types of measurements companies should consider are individual machine efficiency and process efficiency.

The OEE measurement (overall equipment effectiveness) gauges how well the equipment is performing compared with benchmarks for a particular job. Metrics may include duration of the process, number of parts produced and the quality of the parts. OEE also takes into account any delays that may have caused a job to run below par.

ByCockpit’s app analyzes and visualizes all process data associated with sheet metal processing on laptops, smartphones or tablets, making the approach easier to manage. “For supply centers, retrieving data from their machine systems and translating it into usable information is tedious,” Arteaga continues. “To be competitive, a company has to respond quickly and find ways to improve its operations. ByCockpit makes the OEE calculation transparent with metrics of availability, performance and quality for each machine.”

A new landscape

Service centers work at balancing estimated time with real time. “You want to make your deliverables,” notes Arteaga. “That’s where you get your efficiencies. With software products like the Bystronic MES, you can look at your process, follow a job from one machine to another, find any bottlenecks and fix them.”

Once the job is planned, the MES system compiles estimated machine times and pinpoints the start date needed to meet a specific deliverable,” says Arteaga. This “all-seeing eye” is especially useful for quoting jobs and estimating process time to establish and quote accurate delivery dates.

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Using real-time data, the ByCockpit app analyzes and visualizes select key indicators regarding machine performance and manufacturing efficiency.

Evaluating new equipment purchases, deciding whether or not to automate programming and implementing proactive maintenance represent other areas where IIoT connected software products can shed light.

If a legacy machine is not running efficiently or can’t keep pace with production, the replacement of a piece of equipment might be the process change a service center needs most.

“If you do add a new machine, you then need to re-evaluate your production process,” Arteaga recommends. “For example, the new equipment’s faster speeds could impact downstream activities as well as programming.”

Easing strain

Faster processing can put a lot of strain on the front end of a service center  operation. Software can automate programming by communicating with an ERP system to retrieve part data and create a program or a nesting sequence. A lights-out programming system can release a nested job to a laser cutter while a material handling system pulls the correct materials into the machine, then cuts and offloads parts without anyone on the floor.

“There is always a pull demand with a laser and a push demand following the cutting process,” says Arteaga. “This type of setup allows a tremendous number of parts to be cut, but you have to make sure your downstream processes can keep up.”

Machinery maintenance programs have to become more aggressive as well.

“If you can predict when a component needs to be replaced, you can be proactive in how you route a particular job,” he continues. “This allows you to reduce the amount of unplanned maintenance. It’s similar to the technology in new cars. Sensors tell you when to change the oil or check the tire pressure, significantly reducing the risk for a flat or a breakdown on the road.”

Technology advances in hardware coupled with software are some of the tools that service centers will need “to navigate a new landscape that is being shaped by IIoT and the cloud,” Arteaga advises. MM

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