May/June 2012
Special Section: Data Acquisition

Advanced automation communication and interoperability platform

Improved productivity and quality for automotive parts manufacturer

Fast Forward

  • Data used to be collected in silos from six disparate systems that controlled approximately 60 production machines.
  • Implemented an enterprise-level, vendor-agnostic IT connectivity platform for automated communication environments.
  • Advanced automation communication and interoperability platform drives standards for data-driven decision making, increased part production, and reduced launch times.
 
By Matthew Aho

PS1Linamar, headquartered in Guelph, Ontario, is a publicly traded manufacturer of auto components, assemblies, and castings. It is the second largest automobile parts manufacturer in Canada. Linamar supplies its products to automotive and other industrial markets around the world from its manufacturing centers in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the U.K., Germany, Hungary, South Korea, and China.

Linamar is no stranger to the tight deadlines and high-volume production levels required by the automotive industry. But one customer was pushing the limits even higher with a demand for 5,000 parts per day to be produced by the end of 2011. At the start of 2011, Linamar was able to produce only 800 parts per day, so we looked for ways to improve and enhance production processes.

A typical Linamar manufacturing facility has 50 to 60 production machines that are controlled by six disparate systems. As such, it was difficult and time-consuming to extract data from each system and consolidate it for tracking trends, machine performance, and other parameters. We launched a project to create a corporate-wide standard for data collection and consolidation that would help the company gain greater insight into operating processes and support the creation and tracking of process improvements.

Primarily, Linamar needed a data consolidation solution that would paint the entire picture of its manufacturing processes rather than just provide islands of information. We needed greater visibility into each machine and each process in order to reach our project goals.

Linamar's management evaluated vendors from an established list of partners and investigated additional solutions. We chose an advanced automation communication and interoperability platform solution from Kepware, headquartered in Portland, Maine.

With a pilot launch a year and a half ago, Linamar deployed Kepware's KEPServerEX 5.7 Manufacturing Suite with Advanced Tags and Drivers, including UCON, Modbus, Rockwell Control Objects, Rockwell SLC, GE Fanuc, Siemens, and general OPC drivers that captured data from 99.7% of Linamar's machinery controls.

This solution has helped us streamline data consolidation among three distinct modules-productivity, quality, and maintenance-each of which offers different sets of information. Linamar also uses this connectivity solution to facilitate our process of constraint analysis, which automates the identification of bottlenecks in the manufacturing processes. As such, we can connect all the machines in a facility in a common format and can manipulate the data consistently, resulting in greater data accuracy.

In the maintenance area, Linamar has also launched a pilot project with the same solution that will enable Linamar to collect and analyze all alarms from disparate control systems. Based on the alarm data, we can see breakdown trends and other machinery analytics that will help the company establish preventative maintenance initiatives and standard hardware lists for spare parts.

Overall, we can consolidate productivity, quality, and maintenance information on an hourly basis for reporting and analysis. Any authorized person at any of Linamar's facilities can pull that information, when required, from every part or every machine. Now we have developed an enterprise standard that enables all levels of management to more quickly and easily access different sets of information, both in real-time and historically, from all Linamar's equipment assets. Rather than having islands of information, all stakeholders can work with real-time information, whether it is a parts count, cycle time analysis, varied machine analysis, or any type of analytics.

Streamlining our connectivity across all systems helped us provide the productivity information about our assets and our process, so we could start making data-driven decisions. We were able to easily provide consolidated data via mobile and desktop platforms to the people working on this customer project. As a result, we were able to improve our processes and increase production for this customer from 800 parts a day to 5,000 parts a day in a little under three months.

We also improved launch time, which is a major initiative for us, and now catch critical areas sooner in production that require attention. Consequently, we are able to reduce rework time and production delays. We can also provide specific information to our customers as to our progress on their parts orders.

Overall, the implementation of an advanced automation and interoperability platform has enabled Linamar to achieve the data collection standardization that was the goal of our initial project. To date, 25% of Linamar's machines are linked with this platform, especially in Linamar's newer facilities equipped with built-in Ethernet connectivity. By the end of the year, Linamar plans to have this solution live in more than half a dozen global facilities.

PS2
OPC Server allows for coinciding communications with multiple protocol networks including Modbus Plus, TCP/IP Ethernet, RTU Serial and ASCII Serial.

 

PS3
The System Monitor Device Driver software provides access to performance information on Processes, Threads and other system components on the user's system.

Looking ahead

Now that Linamar has experienced the benefits of centralized communications and the consistent and reliable data consolidation this approach provides, we have gained new insight into how this type of connectivity platform can benefit both our company and our business partners and customers. In the automotive industry, companies like Linamar have always been challenged to do more with less and meet increasingly stringent deadlines. In addition, growing global competition, the rising cost of raw materials, and the demand for more sophisticated electronic components are all drivers for faster turnaround times and higher end-product quality. Based on our success at Linamar, we believe that streamlining the connectivity among disparate automated systems can help manufacturers at every level in the automotive industry-parts, components, and auto assembly lines alike-overcome these industry challenges by reducing lead time and optimizing the entire automated manufacturing process.

To recap the significant improvement we have achieved, Linamar was able to:

  • Increase daily part production from 800 to 5,000 in just three months to meet the demand of a major customer
  • Establish standards for data-driven decision making
  • Consolidate data from 60 machines and six disparate control systems in a centralized communication system
  • Dramatically reduce launch times for greater customer satisfaction

In my opinion, automotive industry manufacturers and other industrial manufacturers would benefit most from an advanced automation and interoperability platform that is vendor-agnostic, especially in today's global business environment teeming with multiple system protocols. Vendor-agnostic protocols are critical to achieve interoperability for a seamless flow of information among all systems and to and from all users. For Linamar, this attribute enabled us to easily integrate the solution with long-standing technology partners and greatly reduce implementation time.

Scalability and security are two other attributes that Linamar considers critical to data consolidation in automated systems. As Linamar grows, we can easily expand our centralized communication platform due to its being vendor-agnostic and highly interoperable with a multitude of technology vendors and partners in multiple geographic locations.

Of course, data security is paramount in light of the competitiveness of the automotive industry and growing threat of intellectual property piracy-sensitive information on sophisticated part and component specs must never fall into the wrong hands. Linamar must also comply with automotive industry manufacturing standards and regular audits, so we chose a solution that meets the highest level of security and compliance measures deemed by the OPC Foundation and other mandating agencies. Having a centralized, automated communication system accessible to all stakeholders has dramatically decreased the time it takes to prepare data for audits.

The ability to easily and quickly gather and consolidate data from multiple systems in our streamlined automated communication environment has provided exceptional decision support for all levels of management at Linamar. Our C-level managers can quickly get all the data they need-from all key systems-to make strategic business decisions around operations, resources, project management, maintenance, and more. In the end, by establishing new standards of data consolidation, Linamar has transformed the way we do business today, and we look forward to continually improving the way we operate supported by the scalability and interoperability of our automated connectivity solution.

RESOURCES:

www.linamar.com
www.kepware.com


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Aho is an engineering technologist working in the Advanced Systems group at Linamar Corporation for the past two years and a graduate of the Robotics and Automation program at Conestoga College. For more information contact Shawn McDonald shawn.mcdonald@kepware.com.