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Increased efficiency on the shop floor

Increased efficiency on the shop floor

We have recently completed the first phase of a major upgrade to our DNC (Direct Numerical Control) network and machine monitoring system which will revolutionise the way we handle productivity on the factory floor.

Originally, we were intending to upgrade our RS232-based system, which transfers programmes in and out of machines, to an Ethernet-based system. However, we then became aware of the DNC Jobpack system. This includes machine event monitoring, job scheduling, WIP tracking, NC program transfer and factory-wide distribution of work queues. We realised that it would give us an immediate, dynamic and visual picture of production activities, and a greatly increased insight into how we work and how we can be more efficient on a day to day basis, with subsequent benefits to our customers and distributors.

Production Engineer Luke Dealhoy (pictured here overseeing the network), whose project this is, began planning the changeover to the new system at the beginning of the year. The first step in the upgrading process was to hardwire a box into the relays of each machine, giving the machine the equivalent of a 'brain' via which it can communicate and which cannot be altered by an operator. If the machine isn't working, the operator can key in the reason so everyone in the network is able to see at a glance what the issue is, be it that the machine is waiting for a repair/needs inspection/is undergoing routine maintenance, or any one of a matrix of eight categories, each of which has eight sub-categories.

Once the new network is completely implemented, then when works orders are generated from Syspro, each one will be scheduled onto a machine. The schedule for each job will be on the machine terminal, along with a work queue driven by that schedule. Each operator is also able to see, on a large high resolution screen, the programme, drawings and tooling sheet, which gives them all the information they need at their fingertips. The cover shot shows Luke (right) with Zulquarnain Hussain, setter operator, checking a machine.

With machines changing jobs regularly, the set up time for each one with the correct bar feed previously took several hours. The new system reduces this as jobs can be scheduled so that all parts made out of a particular size of material can be put together on one machine.

With a constant overview of exactly what each machine is doing, we will be able to monitor working patterns and highlight areas which could be improved. We can check and report on our efficiency for setups, time spent waiting and production time, giving us a real insight into the areas where we can improve our productivity and machine utilisation.

With the new network, if a machine is sitting waiting for more than five minutes then an error signal automatically comes up. Each operator will be working more closely in tandem with each machine with detailed information being collected and exchanged automatically as part of the normal routine. This is all part of our continual drive to ensure that GTL is at the forefront of manufacturing technology by harnessing the power of the 'Internet of Things' or IoT. This is a network of interconnected devices which are embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity and necessary electronics that enables them to collect and exchange data, thus making them responsive. The IoT is the way all forward-thinking companies are heading and we are already ahead of the game.

We are expecting to make further time savings once we are able to build up a comprehensive set of data. For example, most of our machines are arranged in cells where one operator oversees two machines. This can create downtime when setting up as one machine can therefore have a knock-on effect on the productivity of the other. We will be able to check whether certain cells are cost effective in the way they are currently run, and, if not, rearrange them to ensure that unproductive time is kept to a minimum.

This is a major change in the way our production is handled, and the first phase is now up and running and working well. The installation took around a week, with a further two weeks to organise the cabling and hardware; the whole process took slightly less than a month.

We are anticipating significant benefits to our customers and distributors from the new system, as once we have established a definitive schedule, costings, lead-in times, and delivery estimates should all be more accurate. We are confident that our new network will help to deliver an even greater overall package to everyone who buys GTL tools.

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