Data Capture Software Maximizes Shop Floor Productivity

A new software system delivers accurate, up-to-the-minute information, bridging the gap between the shop floor and management.


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Any manager closely looking at the current state of productivity in a manufacturing plant soon discovers that as many as 50 percent of the machines are not cutting metal at any one time. Why? A common cause is the slow interchange of information between the shop floor and the executive suite.

Traditionally, the method of tracking downtime is via the machine's logbook and a variety of paper reporting systems. Each machinist is responsible for logging setup, operating and stop times in a notebook kept at the station. Figures are habitually filled in as estimates after the fact, giving a misleading impression of how much production is taking place. Routinely, a foreman distracts workers once or twice daily to gather data, and then compiles it into a report to present to senior management. But consider this - every single moment an employee fills out reports is machine downtime - and that, along with the traditional breakdowns, re-tooling, shift changes, etc., costs money. Yet often, several days can go by before top management notices the danger signs. Eliminating the paper circus from the workplace brings an immediate boost in overall factory performance. Output can be increased by as much as 15 percent through implementation of powerful, data gathering technology.

Data Collection Engine

Even in the most sophisticated DNC environments, a large database is incapable of providing executives with real-time information about what's happening on the shop floor. Most managers don't find out about downtime until well after the fact, regardless of what computer system they use. Protracted job setups and unexpected stoppages can go on for hours before word makes its way upstairs. Without the availability of up-to-the-minute status reports on each workstation, executives can be blind with their eyes wide open.

DLoG's (Elgin, IL) Data Collection Engine provides automatic report generation of machine tool utilization, work order status, labor reporting, and time and attendance without the burden and overhead of a large and cumbersome database. Unlike other systems where the operator has to learn and input various codes in order to record information, the DC Engine is "one-touch simple." When a worker starts or preps for a new job, he/she simply touches "setup" on the screen rather than typing in a code. Since data entry errors are commonplace, this feature saves time and ensures accuracy.

The Data Collection Engine, which can function manually or automatically, has the ability to collect specified facts and figures from in-process transactions being recorded moment-by-moment on the shop floor DNC system. It enables personnel to analyze data and generate standard and ad hoc reports, as well as pass information off to MRPII and financial systems.

This machine tool monitoring software is essentially a means of transforming complex, unwieldy information into a smaller database, fully isolated from the main shop floor data. It is unique in that it makes use of a binary logbook rather than a database, allowing for significantly faster processing. For instance, if the primary database has five million entries and a query involves 500, the DC Engine gathers only the data relevant to that query. Since it doesn't have to deal with thousands of unrelated records, it brings fast, uncomplicated access to the information needed. There are no database or administrative overhead costs. With other systems, the assistance of an MIS department or a database manager is required to control access to the database.

Plug-in modules are provided for generating reports on work order tracking and status, labor reporting, machine utilization and historical analysis. An executive can design his or her own reports, have them generated automatically and delivered at scheduled times. The DC Engine supports all industry-standard data interchange formats, including ASCII flat file output and SQL, and is OBDC compliant.

The DC Engine is scalable and multi-functional, and is able to output data to a host of popular word processors, spreadsheets and databases. This functionality permits the viewing of data in almost any format desired. It generates only the data defined and electronically delivers it at specific times to specific locations.

Management of Downtime

Jim Donaldson, chief operating officer for General Tool Co. (Cincinnati, OH) - a contract manufacturer of special machines and tooling - did a major hardware upgrade for his company, without fully realizing the expected return on investment. Donaldson reports, "We tended to operate in the old time framework, as we lacked a fast and accurate means of tracking what was actually occurring throughout the day at each work center. What we really wanted was off-the-shelf technology - proven on the shop floor - that would put us in better control of plant operations. When we installed the DLoG DC Engine, it made it clear that instead of taking the usual four to six hours before a machine was ready, it took only a few minutes. It caught us off guard. We've now accelerated every aspect of the prep cycle to keep pace, giving us a huge increase in productivity."

Donaldson adds, "With the DC Engine, management has an overview of the shop and can immediately identify when a machine goes down. It's an effective tool that gives supervisory staff the ability to pull up the machine schedule and find machinery down that otherwise might not have been discovered for many hours. From there, it's a simple matter of calling the manufacturing manager and getting him to handle it. This new software showed us that setup was taking way too long. It's an early warning and detection system. With the click of a mouse, I can identify what's down in the whole plant at any moment and decide on what order to address each problem in order to keep to the production schedule. This moved our production engineers and manufacturing engineers from the 'squeaky-wheel' operating mode to working in tight coordination with us to achieve the targeted productivity.

"Furthermore," he continues, "with Historical Analysis, we can see the productivity of any machine or any group of machines over a period of time. We have effectively set up the system to generate a report in an Excel format every Monday morning, which shows the productivity (and non-productive reasons) for each work center. This report is generated automatically and is distributed to each manager, supervisor and operator so that everyone is aware of our productivity and, more importantly, our reasons for non-productivity."

Other systems may collect data, but until now, a means of delivering accurate, up-to-the-minute information was omitted from the standard manufacturing regime. By employing the right software, such information can be accessed instantly in any workplace, and the gap between the shop floor and management is effectively bridged. That puts managers where they need to be - in the driver's seat of a smooth running operation.

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