Manufacturer Upgrades Data Gathering with Process Monitoring System

Information Technology

Networked System Delivers Real-time Problem Detection, Enables More Accurate Costing for Stamping Division

A year and a half ago, when the information systems arm of Group Dekko developed a strategic plan for gathering information about efficiencies, up-time, and down-time in their manufacturing companies, their purpose was to create a more accurate database not only for costing, but also for scheduling.

Group Dekko is a rapidly expanding group of privately held, independent and vertically integrated manufacturing corporations. The whole company has approximately fifteen hundred employees in three divisions spread over twenty-two locations. Its diverse products and services include wire harnesses, insert and injection molding, assemblies, roll forming, powder coating, turret punching, metal stamping and more.

Group Dekko's strategy was to first test an information-gathering system in one of its companies. Then, with the knowledge and experience gained there, the company could apply the system to its other manufacturing arms.

The company's Information Systems division wanted a networked system that would connect to the stamping division's existing press monitoring system and collect error codes and other pertinent information about a job, such as parts produced. They looked for an interface that was developed to gather this information. In addition, they wanted the operator to be able to manually enter error codes if they could not be captured automatically from their press monitoring system. Along with the error codes and counts, the system would need to keep track of uptime and downtime, production time, and efficiencies. The monitor would also have to display what went wrong—including when, how, and where—and store the data for later downloading and analysis.

Choosing a Monitor

The criteria for choosing a networked monitoring system helped determine which unit would fit into Group Dekko's strategy. First, it needed to have a simple operator interface with an intuitive menu structure that would ensure error-free usage. The information it collected had to include machine OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) or efficiency, as well as production count. Of primary importance would be the acceptance of operator feedback on the causes of downtime.

Comparing Systems

There are a few monitors on the market that meet these criteria, but there are big differences in cost and ease of use. For instance, one system costs approximately $22,000 per station—about 700% more than another system, the IMPAX® TSS-6 system from Process Technologies Group, Inc. (PTG), of Addison, Illinois. Also, some systems require operator use of a mouse and keyboard, whereas others have a touch screen.

The reporting systems of the IMPAX TSS-6 and its competitor (the $22,000 per station system) are very similar: They automatically run an up-time, and, when the system senses a down-time, you enter in a code that states the reason the machine is down. However, on the IMPAX TSS-6, you can have up to 64 error codes that the operator can plug in. Then the machine sets up operation again. Those error codes report back to the network and go into the database.

Major differences exist in reporting software. While some systems use proprietary software, the IMPAX TSS-6 uses an Excel interface for pulling up reports and viewing information. In addition to the widespread familiarity with Excel that is prevalent among press operators and other manufacturing personnel, the interface is extremely easy to use, according to PTG.

Ease of Use

After thoroughly researching alternative systems, Group Dekko decided to install the IMPAX TSS-6. The firm's operators didn't take long to get used to using the new system. Information Systems engineers spent an hour or two with each group of operators to show them how to use it. Chris Edwards, vice president of information systems, was pleased with the monitors' touch screens. "The operators don't have to use a mouse and a keyboard," said Edwards. "The learning curve is very quick. Within a week, they were up to full speed. We have it on all our shifts."

Up and Running

Group Dekko found the IMPAX TSS-6 to be easy to install. The company purchased a PC server that could run the server-based software. They set the server up and ran the cable to the IMPAX TSS-6 to connect it into the network. Then they were plugged directly into the PLC.

"The Bruderer, being a newer machine, had all the electronics in it," said Edwards. "When we went to some of the older machines that didn't have such a sophisticated PLC, we had to put sensors on the machines and hook up to them. We did all that with our in-house maintenance folks. Then, Process Technologies Group just came down for a day to install the IMPAX TSS-6s, making sure they were going to work."

With only two connections, the IMPAX TSS-6 system is said to be very simple to hook up. One is an end-of-cycle connection and one is an interrupt that will not allow the machine to start until the operator enters error codes.

Better Information

Group Dekko decided that it needed to have six to twelve months of real world data to take into account operating peaks and valleys, before any changes would be made based on the accumulated information.

"Now, we can do more accurate costing," Edwards says. "This has been a huge benefit. We have identified where we have had our products over-costed-where we weren't taking as much as we thought. We've had it go the other way, too. That's why these kinds of tools are so interesting. Many times, they help you identify things that you never would have imagined."

At Group Dekko, operators admitted that there were some occasional problems at a packaging station, but they were used to them. The IMPAX TSS-6 showed that the problems were causing 30% of the down-time on that machine. The operators had become desensitized. The collected data was a call to action.

Proving ROI

Too often, determining the best way to improve manufacturing is haphazard at best. Whether it is upgrading a machine, automating a process, or improving the workforce, the presumptive need for change is often greatly dependent on the "good judgment" of managers. Effective monitoring of the manufacturing process, however, brings to the table the ability to justify an improvement. With real world numbers, for example, it is possible to demonstrate how much down-time will be reduced, which, in turn, equates to a corresponding sum of money and ensures that there will be enough payback.

Increased Business, Higher Profitability

For Group Dekko, the bottom line is looking good. "We're getting additional business because of this and we're getting more competitive on the pricing side," Edwards says. "It really helps."

Group Dekko also saw its profits increase. The company attributed a good part of the increase to getting better information, which enabled it to quote more accurately in a highly cost-competitive market. It also helps the company to identify products that it should not be running. The company realized that it just isn't going to make money on some products, either because of the type of machines that it uses or because of the type of product. It helped the firm identify those products on which they are going to either have to raise the price or be better off without the business.

Applying Lessons Learned in Stamping

"Dekko Stamping is our only stamping operation," says Edwards. "But we do a lot of injection molding. Our next step will be to do the same sort of monitoring on our molding machines. We want to let this run for a year or year and a half to see how well it works. Then [we'll] look at the information we get off of it and, probably the latter part of this year or first part of next year, we'll try to cost-justify this same sort of investment in our molding division."

According to PTG, the development of the IMPAX TSS-6 Efficiency Monitor is a comprehensive answer to industry's need for real-time problem detection and trend analysis. By using the monitor, companies can eliminate job overruns, lost production time, and feed/speed problems. They can also identify trends such as products that tend to not be profitable, inefficient machine use, and workers who need to improve productivity. On the positive side, the monitors enable accurate maintenance scheduling; they also motivate operators and allow operators to start preparing the next job at an exact point in the current job's run. Plus, workers don't waste their time reporting-the system does it.

Process Technologies Group, Inc. is a designer and manufacturer of process monitors, piezo-electric force sensors, and data collection software.

For more information on IMPAX monitors from Process Technologies Group, visit

For more on Group Dekko, visit

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