Intuitive interface decreases errors, eases resource allocation

A world leader in materials science, our client manufactures a broad range of products across four continents. The plant in this case study, situated in the southern U.S., produces components for combustion engines. Our role was to replace their MES (based on legacy software, with sun-setted equipment and programs), start to finish, from receipt of raw materials to the finished product. This major four-phase two-year project included multiple work processes, involving several production lines within each processing area.

Problem

In the system we were replacing, integration had been conspicuous by its absence. This led to the daily, costly, inefficient, trials and tribulations that anyone reading this is familiar with. Preliminary forming was just one example of an opportunity for better systems integration and operational consistency was apparent:

  • When raw materials came in, operators would use batches in the forming process.
  • But each production line was slightly different.
  • So, from an Excel workbook, the operator had to identify all set points and speeds and manually enter them on operator consoles.

Solution

All data was centralized in a single database. As an example, once an operator entered the product and speed for the production line, the correct set points were immediately available to download to the shop floor equipment. Given 50-150 different set points, this was a considerable improvement!

As regards to subsequent work processes beyond forming, integration simplified the process and decreased errors, through much improved and considerably heightened validation. As an example, as WIP was transported through the process, the system would tell the operator that the selected transporter was not available. Throughout, automatic validation points prevented errors and decreased waste.

The goal was to drive business logic using configuration and the backend database. As a result, the user interface was immensely more intuitive, more user-friendly, and less open to error.  As well, consistent user interfaces made human resource allocation considerably more flexible across the multiple lines and processes.

Results

We saw evidence of our success in many ways:

  • Our best-practice of using configuration and the backend database to drive business rules was adopted by our client. In fact, they invested a considerable amount of time and effort to adopt this approach, with the result that developed solutions were easily deployed on other sites – update the configuration or the back-end logic, and they were good to go with the same user interface!
  • The closing comment from the IT manager – the person who had to live with the solution and whom we had to please day by day – was: “I wouldn’t do the project any differently, if I were to start it again tomorrow.”
  • Our client, at the end of every project, uses an evaluation process to learn what went right and what did not. This project came in as a big success. One comment that stood out was: “Significant improvements. A lot of paper went away.”
  • We achieved significantly improved interfaces with external systems, leading to improved product traceability.
  • We recently brought a prospective customer – a group of ten people – to this plant as an on-site reference. Our contact presented the story of our project and his pleasure with the solution. He finished with: “When you called me up and asked me to do this reference, my first reaction was to think about how much work it would be. I was going to say ‘no.’ But then I thought again … and I realized that Factora has been with us on multiple sites and multiple projects. And you have taken us to a new level, you’ve brought us a lot of value. And I decided that I wanted to help you out.”