Race to the Finish...ing System

Posted on Friday, March 23, 2018

It is well known that manufacturing technology is progressing at an amazing speed to automate processes in order to reduce overhead, increase quality, speed up delivery and improve customer service. The finishing process within manufacturing is admittedly a little behind this broader trend. Partially, this may be due to the sheer fortitude of existing finishing systems; many systems are 10, 20, even 30 years old and they still work well. Or should we say, “well enough?” Nevertheless, the process of upgrading to new, more technological systems with advanced capabilities is happening at an ever-accelerating pace.

New systems can be classified as mostly either based on brute force or technology driven. Brute force systems include manual batch and basic monorail systems, which typically have very limited need for programmable logic controller (PLC) monitoring and therefore usually lack higher level computer abilities. On the other hand, power and free, electrified monorail, and friction-based conveying systems are operated by programmable technologies by their very nature. As a result, they are more likely to gather and share a great deal of information about what the system is doing, has done, or will be doing to all interested stakeholders. Companies are increasingly seeing the benefits of embedding computer technology and computer system control in equipment and leveraging communication between pieces of equipment and end users. This is the basic definition of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As they do this, they are also broadcasting via their local-area networks and using the internet to finally recognize the opportunities presented by “smart finishing systems,” also known as “Industry 4.0.”

Smart Finishing Systems

The IIoT is simply the idea that many things can or already do have computer control, and therefore they can be networked to each other to create an intranet, and to other networks up to and to include the internet. Even older machines can now have sensors added or connected to their PLCs that supply data to software that tracks Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and other statistical quality or production control.

The IIoT is dependent on a whole host of technologies – application programming interfaces (APIs) that connect devices to the internet, big data management tools, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cloud-based services, bar-code scanners and radio-frequency identification (RFID).

Meanwhile, Industry 4.0 is the concept of a smart factory that uses IIoT, virtual and physical systems, cloud storage and computing, and advanced cognitive computing to control, supervise, manage and operate a facility.

Ultimately, all of these technologies end up working together to provide distributed reporting and control systems, up to the point of getting key information or even operating systems using that computer in your hand…otherwise known as your smart phone.

For manufacturers that produce a variety of parts, having a smart finishing system can provide multiple production benefits.

    These include:
  • Computer recipe systems that optimize per part treatments on the same production line.
  • Visibility of current, past and future part handling from the plant floor to the corporate boardroom.
  • Part traceability and real-time customer tracking of order progress with shipping prediction technology.
  • Higher production rates and better-quality control with less labor due to automation and robotics.
  • Predictive maintenance and reduced downtime.
  • Remote monitoring of equipment, production and system alarming in decentralized and centralized ways.

As an example, in the May 2016 edition of Industry Week, Tim Platt, Toyota’s Group VP and Chief Divisional Information Officer, stated that, “Toyota sees a huge IoT opportunity in putting sensors on equipment…even the older equipment. We were talking about an example we had in paint. Our engineers were manually collecting data, it was taking weeks and weeks to validate a problem. We brought in one of our strategic vendors, putting in a predictive maintenance tool to show proof of concept. One of the paint engineers came back and said, ‘you know it’s taken me eight weeks to figure out that was a problem; you guys did it in two hours.’’’

Because of its real-time capability, IIoT also enables manufacturers to improve responsiveness to new fashion-driven and fluctuating customer demands.

The IIoT can also provide visibility beyond the human sense, creating wide area awareness allowing global supply chain coordination, especially for just-in-time (JIT), and providing real-time data visibility from the shop-floor to the board-room.

Some industries are moving faster on IIoT than others. For example, those that already require part tracking and logging due to regulatory requirements. Military applications require chemical agent resistant coatings (CARC) and a high degree of tracking and traceability throughout a paint line system. The aerospace industry also requires a high degree of tracking and traceability due to regulatory requirements and data quality standards. Smart systems that automatically do this tracking and logging and share that data with other systems, end-users, managers and corporate boards naturally makes sense in these environments.

Other industries and facilities also use data logging to improve schedule production, identify remake needs more quickly, decrease turn times, speed up prototype and sample delivery, verify part/order location within the system and decrease power. Ultimately, the delivery of more data provided by an automated powder coating system has the effect of sparking continuous improvement efforts that are worth the costs of capturing and reporting that data.

IOT Benefits

Many technology-driven systems can also automatically load information from existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) or inventory control systems – which by definition is a small internet of things. As parts move onto the line, a recipe provides the system parameters, controlling where the part moves through the process equipment and process specifications. Systems can also display work or masking instructions per item, to include step-by-step instructions, illustrations, or even video. Other controls include tracking product flow, work task timing/tracking, controlling pretreatment timing and pressure, curing time and system monitoring. Data-infused paint systems also commonly have search and display options. This allows users to quickly look up any past order or any specific part within an order in real-time operation or on a historical basis. Uses include insuring same quality on new orders for the same part or part type, verifying to end customers of process control and analysis abilities across groups or segments of orders to improve processes or production.

So, are IIoT and Industry 4.0 finishing systems available for you to consider now? Yes, they are; but more importantly, are you ready for IIoT/ Industry 4.0? To find out, you have to investigate your options, possibly visit some newly installed systems, discuss new ideas with companies with a reputation for innovation and justify the capabilities against the needs of your facility.