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Humble signal towers help put the 'lean' in manufacturing

10 October 2015

Marquardt GmbH recently converted every signal tower at its Rietheim-Weilheim plant into a machine data collection and monitoring system - and gained a ten percent increase in manufacturing efficiency as a result.

Marquardt - a leading manufacturer of electro-mechanical and electronic switches and switching systems for domestic, automotive and other industrial applications - has made the leap to 'lean manufacturing' with a simple trick. The switching systems specialist has converted every signal tower deployed on machines at its Rietheim-Weilheim plant in south west Germany into a machine data collection and monitoring system. The novel 'call-and-report’ system lays the foundation for daily production monitoring as part of the shopfloor management system, creating maximum operational transparency.

And as Stefan Wetzel, team leader of prototype/pilot production at Marquardt, explains: "It was so simple; our own electricians got the data collection and monitoring system up and running within a very short time.”

It all started when the large family-owned company converted its operating system to Windows 7 and experienced problems because it was not compatible with the data collection system then in use. The entire injection moulding operation was at stake, and the company needed to find a solution quickly. Ploughing through various providers of production control systems, Wetzel eventually found what he was looking for on his own doorstep – a product from neighbouring company, WERMA Signaltechnik GmbH.

Today, all Marquardt’s injection moulding machines make use of WERMA’s wireless based machine data collection and monitoring system – the Wireless Information Network (WIN). A WIN ‘slave’ radio transmitter is simply retrofitted to the existing signal tower fitted on each machine, as Wetzel explains:

"Naturally the close proximity of a supplier is a clear advantage, but it wasn't the main reason for choosing this signal device manufacturer. WERMA has fulfilled all of our expectations with the WIN system. As the data collection system is compatible with Windows 7 it could be quickly and simply retrofitted to the existing equipment.  And being essentially plug-and-play, installation was self-explanatory and didn't require any external support. With cooperation from in-house IT staff and electricians, the new WIN slave units were retrofitted to existing signal towers and were immediately ready for use. There was no disruption to production and the first monitoring reports were ready that same afternoon.”

Signal tower as interface
Virtually any machine, irrespective of age or type can be fitted with a WIN data collection system, requiring only a signal tower from WERMA to provide the interface between machine and monitoring system. Marquardt went one step further with its installation, and in May 2014 retrofitted over 100 injection moulding machines already equipped with WIN slaves, with an alternative ‘WIN slave performance’ unit, which offers an additional production parts counting function.

The WIN slave transmitter devices transfer machine monitoring information to a PC via a master receiver unit, connected to one of the PC’s USB ports. WERMA has created a simple software application that enables the PC to display all the machine data in an easily assimilated format.

The data collection system is particularly suitable for large machine shops where many machines may be out of sight of a central supervisor’s station.  Any machine stoppage can be detected immediately and the data subsequently collected is stored on a database in the software which can then provide detailed reports with just a couple of mouse clicks.

Quick benefits
"We didn't have to wait long to see an increase in efficiency", says Marquardt’s process improvement specialist, Marc Mächtel. Within a short time, the company recorded a ten percent increase in manufacturing efficiency compared with that obtained under the previous system. With WIN, it is now able identify stoppages and faults within seconds. Large screens, located centrally within the injection moulding machine area, display an overview of all machine activity in real time, and this has proved particularly useful during shift handovers.

With over 100 machines it's not always easy to obtain an overview of the entire operation, but the visual displays provided by WIN give the production team a firm basis for discussion at their daily production meetings. According to Mächtel, even if more than 50 percent of the pie charts for a particular machine show machine stoppages it is still possible to take immediate action. He recommends the user-friendly WIN system to any company wishing to streamline internal process control and material flow, or improve operational transparency and productivity.

The high-visibility displays make all employees aware of current production status and where remedial action is required. Despite some initial employee scepticism, the system has since been embraced enthusiastically by the production staff. Indeed, user feedback from the Marquardt team has given WERMA valuable insights into future potential developments of the WIN system.

Such has been the positive experiences with the machine data collection and monitoring system at Marquardt’s Rietheim-Weilheim plant that other locations in the group are now also planning to incorporate the system into their operations.

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