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Monitor In The Here And Now

June 22, 2007
Don't Be Late Or Come Up Short. React Immediately To Changes In Manufacturing Processes.

Plexus Online is an Internet-hosted plant process monitoring system.

Browser-based FactoryMRI lets shops track production activity such as machine utilization rates.

The flexibility of the Management Dashboard system allows shops to customize data displayed.

You can know what is happening right now on your shop floor, what happened five minutes ago, and what is likely to happen in the next few minutes. Real-time plant performance monitoring (PPM) systems give you the ability to do just that and to respond immediately to changes or problems in your manufacturing processes while creating and maintaining key performance indicators that will help you to optimize those processes.

Real-time PPM systems pull data directly from machines on the plant floor, but how they work can differ between systems. For example, PPM systems can collect data through an operator control station, or by being wired to a machine's PLC, or through an intermediate software package. in addition, some PPM systems work through web browsers and keep collected data on servers that are located on-site at the shop, while others are hosted from websites that are run by the system provider who maintains the data at a remote server.

Chuck Keberdle, vice president of business development at Manuvis (, said browser-based PPM systems make it support much simpler for shops and provide them a secure access to data from anywhere on the globe. his company offers such a system in its FactoryMRI software. using its own computer server, a web browser and the Factory-MRI software, a company can survey activity across multiple facilities and monitor an entire shop floor or tap into production data at specific workstations.

FactoryMRI does three jobs: it displays real-time performance data, it provides dynamic statistical analysis and it records historical information. it also tracks job changes, so a shop knows why and when its operations change. the real-time performance data indicates what is happening with each machine — or an entire production floor — at any given time.

The FactoryMRI software has an event Manager Module that lets shops establish alerts for exceptional conditions. shops define these exceptions themselves, and the alerts are sent in near real-time via email or as text messages to cellular telephones or PDAs. these alerts help shops reduce downtime and machine setup costs while increasing throughput, boosting production capacity and improving labor efficiency. the definitions for exceptional conditions are limitless.

"FactoryMRI does not rely on or burden a shop's machine operators or other people to enter data into the system," keberdle said. unlike traditional PPM systems that transfer data-collection processes from the front office to machine operators, FactoryMRI retrieves data from machines using low-cost graphical operator control stations (OCS) with embedded ethernet. OCS panels ensure a uniform, powerful, consistent and simple network. the panels interface directly to current PLC outputs or to existing production equipment sensors.

The Plexus Online system from Plexus systems ( also offers a real-time, on-demand interface to manufacturing processes. however, this system software is hosted over the internet from Plexus's own website.

At its site, the company stores and maintains all the software programs and collected data. shop customers own the data, but Plexus manages it, backs it up and protects it for them. Plexus's management of the data eliminates the need for on-site servers, databases and extra it personnel.

Shops can use simple web browsers to track the critical aspects of their operations from anywhere at anytime, and managers can initiate changes when they are needed. operators input data to Plexus Online from machine control panels or from a separate PC, or data can be entered automatically through a server and PLC connection.

One Plexus customer stores setup parameters for its stamping presses within Plexus Online then downloads those settings to its machines. as the presses run, the Plexus Online software monitors them, and if a measurement is out of spec, the software initiates an appropriate adjustment.

The same customer also prompts and monitors quality inspections through the Plexus Online system. the software is programmed to require inspections on a given number of parts to make sure the process is running right and that press tooling has not worn. if the operator does not make a scheduled inspection within five minutes of the Plexus Online system calling for one, the software shuts down the press automatically to avoid wasting material or producing bad parts. Besides such monitoring, the system also creates traceability records.

The Plexus Online site resides in auburn hills, Mich., and currently oversees about 1,200 plants, backs up customer information and archives data. every hour or so, the site conducts a disc-to-disc back up and a once daily disc-to-tape back up. its backup tapes are stored off site.

Plexus has five websites for backup, and a redundant internet connection and back-up power. it also has a complete back-up-data center in a location outside of Michigan.

The company regularly answers questions on data security and how safe data is from outsiders."a shop's data is not just ‘out there' on the internet. it is literally in a locked vault at the Plexus facility," Mark symonds, chief executive officer of Plexus systems inc. said. "there is a lot of physical security involved, and shops, on their own, would be hard pressed to acquire and maintain the level of system redundancy, safety and security that Plexus does, let alone be able to afford another complete fail-over back-up facility," he added.

Another PPM system that can be hosted at a remote datacenter off-site or from an on-site server is the Management Dashboard from Via information tools ( in this system, data transfers over a network directly from registers on machines, from gages or from an intermediate software package. however, the real benefit of the Management Dashboard is that it zeros in on what shop managers are held accountable for and is customizable without the need for programming, according to gregory DeLaere, chief executive officer of Via information tools.

"Flexibility is key. shops need to switch quickly from one part family to the next, keep low amounts of inventory on hand and increase job turns. they need to know if what they are producing is aligned with demand, if it is being produced efficiently, and if changeover times between runs or parts are at a minimum. the Management Dashboard is tailored toward such a flexible manufacturing environment by allowing shops to collect data for individual parts, all parts over time, for production sake or to focus on yield," DeLaere said. shop management puts Management Dashboard where ever it is needed — on pcs or mobile computing devices — and the managers determine the information that they want to see. then, they can view it from home, on-the-road or in the plant at supervisory stations. this software allows each user to configure his own personal metrics and data — usually the critical information for the processes that he is responsible for. so, a line supervisor's Management Dashboard, for example, will be different from the plant manager's or the director of operations'.

Real time at the machine tool
As a monitoring system aimed at CNC machine tools, the ataM1100c from ATAM systems inc. (, gives shops live process visibility and lets them make adjustments in real time to optimize machining operations. through the system, shops monitor a "live heartbeat" of their machine tool, and based on that data, they can improve feeds and speeds, optimize cutting tool performance and life, analyze and solve machining problems and shorten cycle times. sensors mounted near the tool action of a machine send a live signature of the machining operation as it happens. this live tool-action signature, displayed on a shop's computer connected to the ATAM 1100c system, then guides users to the "sweet spot" for that particular machining process. within ataM-1100c, shops can see when and where tools wear, bend, are missing or break. they can also isolate individual tool actions to maintain tight limits for areas in the process more susceptible to error.

But the real payoff of the system has to do with time spans, said Brent Long of ATAM systems. shops adjust these displayed time spans to scrutinize, as minutely as needed, each aspect of their process relative to work and time for further optimization.

Five wrong ideas about PPM
1. Web-based PPM systems don't provide fast and tight enough connections to plant floor equipment. They do. The speed of the Internet and security measures put in place by service providers allow these systems to maintain real-time operations with data that is secure from intrusions.

2. Web-based monitoring systems don't integrate with other shop systems. The versatility of the Internet allows a wide variety of integration options.

3. Process monitoring slows down manufacturing. Not so. Monitoring is neutral to the actual actions taking place, and makes manufacturing more efficient because it raises alarms when pre-set values are exceeded or not met.

4. If the Internet connection fails on a web-hosted PPM system, a shop connected to it will shut down. In the event of a failure to communicate, monitors are preset to provide alerts and to allow the processes they are associated with to continue, often for a specified period of time.

5. Employees will never be able to learn complicated PPM systems. These systems are designed to be user friendly, and to eliminate complexities. They make production easier.