The American manufacturing renaissance is in motion at Mazak’s plant in Florence, Ky., with the help of MERLIN (Manufacturing Execution Real-time Lean Information Network), a manufacturing execution system (MES) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications platform developed by Memex Automation that quickly and cost-effectively isolates productivity issues so everyone from the shop floor to the top floor is able to understand what must be done to maximize efficiency.
Mazak’s North American headquarters is an 800,000-sq.ft. complex producing a variety of multi-axis turning and milling machines at a rate of 200 units per month. The machine builder’s drive for productivity recently extended to a search to improve manufacturing efficiency, particularly regarding machine availability and associated downtime.
Mazak’s IT department started the efficiency drive by implementing the MTConnect protocol to determine machine availability with maximum accuracy, using Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) as a standard measurement. “This total embrace of MTConnect is intended to make a statement,” stated Mazak president Brian Papke, who personally drove the project. “We want to be a leader in both promoting and implementing MTConnect. We want our example to show the importance of moving toward data-driven manufacturing. MTConnect is an essential part of what makes data-driven manufacturing possible.”
MTConnect is an open, royalty-free standard intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software applications. Introduced at IMTS 2008, Mazak executives recognized its potential to facilitate plant-wide integration and enhance automation.
Memex Automation’s Dave Edstrom, who was instrumental in creating the MTConnect vision in 2006, as well as was being the president and chairman of the MTConnect Institute for three-and-a-half years, joined Memex in January 2014 as its first chief technology officer and has worked with Mazak for years on MTConnect.
Ben Schawe, Mazak’s vice president of Manufacturing, began the hunt for a commercially available software package that could produce meaningful reports that would be actionable for both production and management teams.
Then, company formed a task force to evaluate commercially available software solutions. After an exhaustive search, Mazak selected MERLIN. A 10-person evaluation committee of senior executives, including Brian Papke, unanimously chose the Memex Automation platform best capable of implementing the MTConnect vision.
“We ended up choosing MERLIN for its ability to collect data using MTConnect adapters and through their Universal Machine Interface circuit board for legacy machines,” Schawe explained.
“This advanced technology board can capture direct signals from the machine and translates it into MTConnect standard code,” he continued. “This combination meant that every machine on the shop floor could be MTConnect-compatible for a common technology analysis platform.
“In particular we liked MERLIN’s ability to display and report on information related to downtime and answer questions such as ‘Why is the machine not running and what can we do to get it running?’” Schawe said.
With MERLIN collecting and reporting Mazak’s production data in real-time, Mazak’s cross-functional task-force team had what they needed. Following the “you are what you measure” axiom, MERLIN made an almost instant impact at Mazak. A series of 60-in. display monitors presented real-time utilization data in a test section of the Florence plant. The test section contained a cross-section of equipment and helped establish a performance benchmark and related training protocols that could expand easily across the massive manufacturing plant.
Wide Access Information
Mazak’s large displays cycle through a series of reports that are viewable for short periods of time, using MERLIN. The majority of these reports focus on a specific machine as well as performance-based gauges and readouts, which resemble a car’s speedometer. Other reports present graphs that compare all of the machines connected to MERLIN according to a variety of critical metrics, such as uptime and stoppages by category.
For the first time, senior managers as well as everyone on Mazak’s shop floor have access to the same, actionable MERLIN reports. “Almost as soon as we had the reports out on the plant floor we saw a 6% increase in utilization,” Schawe said. “This was true low-hanging fruit. Not doing anything else – just having our operators aware of how their time management affected machine utilization – we got dramatic payback.”
MERLIN’s easily interpreted, visual report format provides operators at-a-glance information on how machine tool conditions are influencing efficiency. Bar graphs that summarize activity across a number of machines simultaneously inform supervisors and managers of trends useful for decision-making and long-term planning, such as when to schedule refresher training.
Also, MERLIN can show program stops, feed holds, spindle overrides, tool changes and other reasons why a machine is not running. Analyzing this data provides opportunities to reduce or eliminate many of these stoppages, which improves overall utilization.
At team production meetings Mazak personnel are able to identify and fix several downtime-related inefficiencies easily. One specific example indicated that some tools were wearing out frequently, and the simple solution was to have duplicates ready at tool magazines. This quick fix saved time because operators were no longer wandering the plant, enabling the machines to keep operating at peak capacity.
Some of Mazak’s analysis of MERLIN data was surprising, according to Schawe. In one instance, a number of part programs included optional stops, originally added so that operators could check tool-wear periodically, or measure a critical part feature during the prove-out phase.
When the part went into production, however, these optional stops were never removed from the part program, or operators simply got in the habit of restarting the machine at these points in the program. The high occurrence of stoppages linked to these programmed stops showed up in MERLIN reports, and were identified easily. Systematically editing the part programs to remove these unnecessary optional stops was an easy way to recover lost production time.
A similar pattern was detected in stoppages for tool changes. Some operators were stopping the machine every time the access to the tool magazine was opened to replace or check a cutting tool. Instead of using the feed-hold button, which stops the machine, they should have been using the magazine manual interrupt switch, which enables the machine to continue running safely while they perform tool maintenance. Training that addressed this issue took care of the problem.
Analyzing stoppages also revealed more subtle situations. For example, an unusual number of machine stops were reported with a certain run-of-part castings. Checking with the operators revealed that castings of the same part sourced from two different foundries were not identical. Dissimilarities in the foundry patterns created excess stock conditions that required the operator to interrupt the part program to manually add a second tool pass on the affected castings.
Affordable, Adaptable Breakthrough
“Rather than offering an expensive, custom-built MES to go after specific issues, we’ve produced an affordable M2M toolkit that easily adapts to machines from all manufacturers and also produces a myriad of data reports our global customers find useful,” according to a Memex senior executive. “The technological breakthrough here is that MERLIN’s hardware and software module requires no programming or PLC set-up. MERLIN leverages every customer’s existing investment in plant, equipment and enterprise software, and lets them get on with the job of maximizing OEE.”
At Mazak, Schawe stated that MERLIN-related efforts to reduce downtime have so far yielded a 42% improvement in utilization for the monitored machines. In addition, his company reduced operator overtime by 100 hours per month and 400 hours per month of previously outsourced work was returned to Mazak.
He also praised the advantage of MERLIN’s ability to take the guesswork out of tracking machine utilization. “We can tell at a glance how we are doing, and the basis is in real-time and historical data,” he explained. “There is so much information, accurate and detailed, all easily accessed whereas before we were it was difficult to find information if it was even available,” he added.
Rocky Rowland, production manager, uses the system to understand exact status of production. “I am a stickler for accurate information and we use it to make ongoing pro-active decisions in a real time basis. As a bridge between management in the office administration and the actual shop floor, this tool helps me get things done and delivered on time,” he said.
Schawe’s management team also likes automatically receiving some 50 standard MERLIN reports that are sent out automatically to a variety of departments, cells, and managers on a daily, weekly and monthly basis through an email alert engine – including daily production, quality, constraints, throughput, operator and utilization metrics. “The data just flows,” he said. “We have full visibility of production both electronically and posted on production boards. The office staff can see statuses and we can relay direct information to customers. Utilizing the web services capability of MERLIN even enhances information dissemination as various devices can access data within their browsers and dashboards.”
In remarks at IMTS 2014, Brian Papke once again emphasized the importance of data availability to the success of the enterprise: "The implementation of MTConnect is one of the simplest and fastest ways to improve productivity and increase machine utilization,” he said. “Mazak's MTConnect implementation provided the highest ROI for any capital investment because of the significant increase in utilization of equipment for a very moderate expenditure.”
“Creating a comprehensive machine monitoring system is a big step forward, but universal connectivity and reporting for shop floor and plant-wide communication is truly powerful,” Schawe continued. He also pointed out that MERLIN is showcased in Mazak technology centers across North America, so customers can see it in action. “We think we’ve only scratched the surface with MERLIN’s transformative possibilities. We’re working closely with Memex Automation to bring more and more equipment online with MERLIN. There’s more productivity for us to discover, and that’s what we intend to do.”
David McPhail is the president and CEO of Memex Automation Inc., the developers of the MERLIN MES.