Cutting Tool Engineering
July 2009 / Volume 61 / Issue 7

Know-as-you-go software

By Sandie Rivera, Shop Floor Automations Inc.

In today’s market, a machine shop often has millions of dollars invested in machines. Typically, a hefty amount is also committed to payroll. For a shop to be profitable, these two assets must work together efficiently. But what is the best way to manage and balance machine and manpower efficiency?

One software package designed specifically for the shop floor is Predator MDC (Manufacturing Data Collection) from Shop Floor Automations Inc. MDC offers real-time information instead of relying on written records, manual worksheets and other historical data. Historical data has its uses, but its impact on profitability is limited. There is a higher potential for profit in a know-as-you-go environment.

When using a manual application like Excel, information such as machine activity (setup, cycle time and teardown) and the number of good parts and scrapped ones, is compiled after production. Unfortunately, not all shops stay on top of manual reporting on a daily or weekly basis.

In addition, after-the-fact information provides little room to adjust when production is not on schedule. If a shop must produce 100 parts per day for 5 days, it’s beneficial to know that only 125 parts have been produced in the middle of day two. At that point, there is still time to make adjustments and get the job back on track. This is one of the benefits MDC provides.

One of Shop Floor Automations’ MDC customers is West Coast Quartz/WCQ Silicon, Fremont, Calif. WCQ fabricates precision components, specializing in high-purity quartz, silicon, ceramic, graphite and silicon-carbide parts for the semiconductor industry.

In spring 2008, WCQ was seeking ways to capture data on its CNCs in real time and to better control loading of NC files into those controls. The company did not have a central distributed numerical control (DNC) system to communicate with the 40 machines on its shop floor and was using Excel worksheets for data collection. “There was no way to capture live cycle times for parts,” recalled Mark Byrne, director of manufacturing. “We were only running off what the operator documented in the log.”

Byrne decided to automate the facility and chose Predator software. “DNC and MDC are through the same system,” he said. “The two other firms we looked at had data collection, but did not have the ability of DNC—to download and upload—which is the main reason we considered Predator to begin with. Now, as soon as the spindle is turned on, data is captured. Our scheduling personnel are now able to build a more accurate delivery schedule because utilization numbers are real, plus we have accurate cycle times for parts.”

Byrne’s primary reason for using MDC was machine efficiency and utilization. He said: “We’ve seen an average of 18 percent improvement on machine utilization. MDC has allowed us to create baseline data. We can say, ‘Here’s where we are currently.’ Knowing that, we can quantify any improvement on the shop floor and see those improvements in real time. The other thing we’ve done is to report every day, every week what each machine is doing, so the operator relates what the machine is doing on a shift basis. The benefit is transparency.”

WCQ values self-motivated employees and is committed to providing an environment that enables them to be successful. MDC aids employees in improving efficiency themselves because they have a real-time gauge of their productivity.

Byrne employed a unique system to facilitate self motivation. “We’ve put up three 65 " LCD monitors: two on the shop floor and one in the main boardroom. Anyone can see what’s going on at any time. It’s very open, but not in a ‘big brother’ way.

“Plus, it’s a good selling point for our customers,” he continued. “Once we got the first two screens on the floor, customers who came to tour our facility were impressed. We added the screen in the boardroom and now visiting customers can see production on the floor.”

Using the Internet, WCQ has the ability to access its machines from customers’ sites and show them live data of what is happening at the shop, such as capacity and utilization numbers.

Monitoring spindle times was phase one of MDC for WCQ. The company is moving to the second phase, which will add monitoring of operator time, part time and scrap. Real-time monitoring of machines and manpower with MDC is helping WCQ utilize their assets efficiently and profitably. CTE

About the Author: Sandie Rivera is marketing director for Shop Floor Automations Inc., La Mesa, Calif. For more information about the company’s software, call (877) 611-5825, visit www.shopfloorautomations.com or enter #310 on the IS Card.
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