Use automation to squeeze costs from manufacturing

Schaumburg, IL—How can automation squeeze costs from manufacturing? Three end-users and an automation manufacturer offered some practical advice at Omron Electronics ' 'Omron Technology Connection 2003: A Symposium for Editors' on June 26.


Schaumburg, IL— How can automation squeeze costs from manufacturing? Three end-users and an automation manufacturer offer some practical advice based on their experiences. The three were part of Omron Electronics ' 'Technology Connection 2003: A Symposium for Editors' on June 26. The meeting also included introduction of a number of new products.

Ogihara America Corp.
Dennis C. Klotter, assembly engineering manager, says his company, as a supplier for the automotive industry, has scorecards to measure every key area in the plant, as well as a plant-wide scorecard. It's all about identifying what parameters are important, doing real-time data collection, analyzing the information with the proper tools, and connecting to the planning process. Ogihara, with 329 employees at its Alabama facility, uses more than 23 tons of steel per year there to supply parts for vehicles, including the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Nissan UL-Minivan, and the Saturn VUE.

Training takes many forms, says Klotter, who's at the Ogihara plant in Birmingham, AL. One method of training is the one-point lesson (OPL), a short session designed to remedy a specific problem for a group of people. "With OPL, we can train an entire department on one point in matter of minutes. We focus training on plant, press, and assembly maintenance areas," Klotter says. Areas of interest for Ogihara-to help with product diversification, shorter product life cy-cles and reduction of waste and inefficiency-include maintenance prevention, mean time be-tween failure, overall equipment efficiency, and total productive maintenance.

As for Klotter's preferences in automation, "We need strong vendor support after the sale." That includes strong documentation, analysis of any part failures, and quick response during a crisis. "Vendors slow to respond during crisis will not get return business. I'm not a fan of proprietary black box products. And software needs to be flexible and with a minimal learning curve," Klotter adds. Ogihara also has a Howell, MI, plant.

Shell Solar Industries
Eric Culberson, senior project engineer, looks to "improve performance through statistical thinking," along with reducing waste in manufacturing, Jidoka (automation), total productive maintenance, automated Kanban (tying things together), and viewing suppliers as extended factories. With real-time process control, traceability, and working on infrastructure, Culberson says Shell Solar seeks an 8% reduction in costs annually, which translates to "$12 million a year-not chump change for a $150 million operation."

This manufacturer of photovoltaic solar cells for earth-based electricity production works on eight areas to support a 20% annual market growth:

1. Improve performance through statistical thinking. Using a Six Sigma four-phase approach, Culberson looking at tools needed to improve efforts to measure, analyze, improve, and control. The plant, in Camarillo, CA, runs 24/7, and most workers have a high-school diploma. There's a need to identify manufacturing processes that are key to quality, understand and reduce variation, use accurate, unbiased data for analysis and decision-making, develop process improvement strategy for fundamental improvements in processing, and resolve abnormal behavior. "We have a huge training effort to bring people up to speed."

2. Reduce waste of motion. Shell Solar is moving to a u-shaped production flow to help reduce waste from product defects, personnel time, work in process, transportation, and waiting. The improved layout and automated dispensers reduce hand carrying and processing waste.

3. Jidoka (automate, automate, automate) has meant moving the process from fully manual to fully automated, with two assembly cells. Automated assembly cell #1, at $2.1 million, does the work of 24 persons with more than 100% increase in throughput. It includes Fanuc Robotics and supervisory PLCs. Operators load materials; the line pulls product through. Processes include spot welding, taping, laminating (creating a vacuum and embossing), and a curing oven. Auto-mated assembly cell #2, a framing cell, costs $1.4 million, and does the work of 12 persons, with 100% increase in throughput. Line changeovers can occur in under an hour; each line can produce seven products. Automated trimming and testing are now in process.

4. Total productive maintenance looks at major causes of machine troubles: housekeeping (oiling, and bolt tightening), operating conditions (temperature, vibration, pressure, speed, and torque), skills (proper operation and maintenance practices), and deterioration (bearings, gears, and fix-tures). Shell's looking at forced and natural deterioration, continuous restoration, and condition-based maintenance to predict when something will occur.

5. Automated Kanban (tying things together) occurred by taking 25,000 square feet, half the warehouse, to set up the u-shaped flow. Robots and conveyors help with material handling from raw materials through production with a short stop in the warehouse before daily loading onto trucks. Attention to handling helps reduce repetitive motion injuries.

6. Suppliers are seen as extended factories, and are prompted to deliver on-time, quality products to eliminate inspection and delays.

7. Real-time process control and traceability use a factory-floor network, with automated produc-tion, maintenance and finance reports.

8. Reduce 8% costs year over year (doing all of the above).

Kemet Electronics Corp.
Joseph A. Jansen, controls technician, looks at faster and more economical ways of making capacitors at seven manufacturing sites globally, including his, in Greenville, SC. His company has taken steps to reduce costs in manufacturing by increased training, increasing quality of parts, and installing leading-edge technology. "We're making these investments now in the slow economy to create a strong foundation for when things pick up." Programs include internal training of math and writing skills, as well as vendor-taught product training. Best tools include design development packages, HMI systems, next-generation CAD systems, schematic design software, and simulation tools. "We're looking at corporate standards and reassessing if we should still be using those.... There are no sacred cows." Frequent progressive testing removes bad components and parts as early as possible in the process. "Some customers lost to lower-priced vendors have returned to us for our higher quality." Jansen adds that there's constant attention to lowering the cost of every process because of the pressure for com-modity pricing. "Capacitors are commoditizing so fast, we need to stay ahead of the curve to be able to sell them in the first place."

Specific efforts include trying to eliminate the ability to make the same mistake twice, continuous improvement on machine design, and attention to process layout to gain efficiency, Jansen says. The equipment engineering team looks at continuous improvements and mistake proofing. The technology group looks at new machine design, builds prototypes, and works with research groups on machine design during new product development. Capital investments during fiscal year 2003 were $20 million and $5 million in facilities/cost reduction; for FY'04, it's $30 million in capital investment and $10 million in facilities/cost reduction. Jansen emphasized the commit-ment to investment, rather than outsourcing or buying cheaper resources.

Omron Electronics
Dave Quebbeman, strategic marketing manager, says stability, technology, quality, flexibility, ease of use, and support are all are part of the cost of automation ownership. Omron, a $5 billion company with 20,000 employees in 65 countries, has a 2010 plan to look at manufacturing quality and technology. An ongoing commitment to spending 7% of annual sales for R&D helps support 30,000 products. "We manufacture nearly all of them," Quebbeman says. A new 250,000 square foot central R&D center in Kyoto, Japan, supports more than 500 research engineers.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief

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