Job Shop Provides Machine Operators With Job-Related Data In Real-Time

This shop, which specializes in large parts for power generation, aerospace and defense, decided it wanted to provide machine operators with every piece of information for the job at hand, in one place, at one time and in real-time.

Case Study From: 5/15/1999 Modern Machine Shop

In order to improve productivity, Major Tool & Machine, Inc. (Indianapolis, Indiana), which specializes in large parts for power generation, aerospace and defense, decided it wanted to provide machine operators with every piece of information for the job at hand, in one place, at one time and in real-time. The company had an old text-based system that ran on an IBM 400. If an engineer needed to adjust the sequence on a part process, for example, it was necessary to enter everything manually, print updated routers and distribute them to the manufacturing team leader. This person, in turn, ran off paper printouts and handed them to the operators. However, outdated versions would sometimes stall production. At times there was also information loss during the second and weekend shifts. Data would sometimes be stuck in one of many un-integrated systems, inaccessible to the back-shift crew. When the amount of operator and team leader time wastage was added up, Major Tool & Machine realized it had to act.

In the planning stage, it defined everything it wanted from the ideal shop-floor system. This boiled down to a few key factors:

  • it had to provide all necessary information to machinists right at the work site, in real-time;
  • it had to be rugged enough to handle the environment;
  • it had to be able to interface with other systems, such as the e-mail software and manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system;
  • it had to run on Windows 95/NT.

Once it was clearly stated what was needed, Major Tool & Machine searched for companies that could fulfill its expectations. After checking out many firms, it located two candidates. Each installed test units for 90 days, during which Major Tool & Machine reviewed the performance and gathered feedback from operators and Information Services. At the end of the three-month pilot, the company chose the DLoG/JobPack (Hoffman Estates, Illinois) package over the other one because it was well-engineered and easy to use.

The purchase included three parts: a DNC system, a set of industrial PCs, and the data collection control engine.

The DNC software takes the paperwork and disks out of transferring data to and from the shop floor. Uploading and downloading become relatively problem-free, and machinists no longer have nagging doubts about the accuracy of the information.

The industrial PC is designed with clumsy, greasy fingers in mind and can withstand factory conditions. The interior components are durable, and the surfaces are oil and splash waterproof. It also has a touch screen, consisting of large graphical on-screen buttons which, when pressed, operate the system.

The data collection control engine is essentially a machine-tool monitoring system that gives management the ability to collect in-process transaction data in real-time. It records only specified data in an individual logbook for each work center. Then the company can analyze performance, generate standard and ad-hoc reports, and pass data to the MRP and financial systems.

The great feature about this new line-up is that it brings everything together for both supervisors and machinists. Once the employees' clock numbers are entered and bar code routers are scanned, the company can tell what people are on what jobs, what detail each is performing and exactly where each is in the sequence. The system presents the operator with blueprints, customer details, job instructions, process drawings, CNC setup sheets and associated programs, tool sheets, quality requirements, e-mail, and so on. This gives operators everything they need to do their jobs—all on a single screen.

One problem concerned interfacing the new software with the existing MRP system. The company had previously purchased a scheduling system known as Visual Manufacturing (VM), made by Lilly Software Associates Inc. (Hampton, New Hampshire), to run everything from estimating through shipping. Since VM wasn't integrated with the DLoG shopfloor system, Major Tool & Machine developed its own interface. An in-house software developer was given the task of evolving an interface that reduced the number of screens and applications needed to view all relevant documents.

The new DLoG system made integration relatively easy. "Our hardware and software solutions are flexible and modular in nature," says DLoG President Dave Welsh. "This enabled Major Tool & Machine to use what they wanted 'out of the box' and to then customize and control the work environment to their own specifications."

The company is pleased with the interface and the system as a whole. The operators have everything they need, and team leaders are no longer tied up in finding or verifying documentation. In the end, this comprehensive information delivery approach brought Major Tool & Machine a 10 to 15 percent increase in productivity.

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