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If andon lights could talk (Actually, some can already – read on)

08 May 2018

Simple signals can be used to count parts, schedule production runs and maintenance, provide historical data and apply logic to existing machine statuses – and much more.

When specifying a large capital expenditure such as a machine, a great deal of thought goes into what value it will bring to the company and how it will be employed. Smart companies include operations and maintenance staff as decision makers to join the traditional decision makers in the finance department in order to determine the payback and feasibility of acquiring such an asset.

A machine feature as simple as an andon light can also extend the machine’s life. To meet that objective, enhancing an andon design to include communication in addition to signal notification is now possible. For example, a designer specifying the machine applies a philosophy of what parameters are important enough to warrant an alarm that notifies when parts are being produced out of specification. However, expecting someone to be present when the alarm is triggered is not realistic because in today’s manufacturing environment both multitasking and “doing more with less” have become a way of manufacturing life. 

Simple events (signals going ON or OFF) can now be leveraged to be so much more valuable. Design engineers and clever software writers have found ways to use these signals to create machine history, schedule preventive maintenance, display real-time machine status transparently, provide multiple machine statuses in one place, count parts, schedule production runs, provide summary reports, apply logic to existing machine statuses in combinations, and provide output signals as a head-of-line function, etc. All of these advancements come from something that otherwise is often thought of as a minor option on an expensive piece of manufacturing equipment: an andon light.

For example, one of the enhancements that has become very popular is managing production runs and counting the output (e.g. parts) as they are being made. The most common andon light configuration is red-amber-green. If another colour, blue for example, is added a pulse can be sent to it indicating a part has just been made. This simple approach quickly becomes complex as operations staff want to do more with the data in attempts to control their processes. Just counting parts is not enough. 

Functionality features that production staff often want include:

• Scheduling production runs

• Queuing different production runs

• Customising equipment names and alarm/input names

• Setting alarm notifications at predetermined set-points of completion percentage (used to signify an upcoming production change-over)

• Providing an overall view of real-time machine status for the entire shop

• Creating individual machine histories

All of these benefits can be delivered through the data collection software of an otherwise simple andon light system such as SmartMONITOR developed and manufactured by Werma.

Complex process monitoring possible with SCADA systems – at a price 

Keep in mind if complex parameters are to be measured, stored, displayed and then signalled to elicit a staff response then a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (or SCADA) system is in order. Such solutions require architecture that uses computers, networked data communications and graphical user interfaces (GUIs) for higher level supervisory management involvement. This equipment then uses other peripheral devices such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and discrete proportional–integral–derivative controllers (PIDs) to communicate to machinery and equipment throughout the plant. A typical SCADA system may have an entry cost of several thousands. Obviously, for smaller, less complex applications this amount is cost-prohibitive. In these cases a smaller, more cost-effective, and simpler solution is required.

Intelligent systems using andon lights – the smart alternative from Werma

For the simpler cases that use andon lights, it is not enough to just collect the data (e.g. machine name, monitored parameter name, standard date and time). Something has to be done with it – the information needs to be shared with other staff. If done correctly it supports transparency within an operation. Smart phone technology opens up the communication of this information to more than a PC’s pop-up screen. Finding people remotely via e-mail and/or text is now the norm.

The sharing of performance data (both machinery and personnel) increases the transparency of a production process. For example, since the software has no licensing, anyone can see any other machine that has a transmitting stack light working in their network. Software simply needs to be downloaded to each PC. This solution allows supervisors to view the progress of other machines that they are dependent upon for getting parts. Similarly, in addition to showing the real-time machine status or machine status vs. expected performance (e.g. plan vs. actual) or alarm history for a given machine or the signal strength or the machine placement on the shop floor or summary history of certain performance parameters, anyone can view this real-time data by just loading the software on their PC. The epitome of this transparency is displaying production data for all to see on “Bingo boards” in an area performing that production.

Design and capabilities carefully defined

Andon light design criteria needs to be well thought out to best serve the end-user and capitalise on the latest advancements in technology. Considerations must include: network capabilities, allowing a reasonable number of machines in the network, free bandwidth frequencies for a global market, reasonable transmission distances versus signal strength as limitations, providing alternative signal modulation if signal strength decreases, electrical and mechanical retrofitting, acceptable database choice selection, providing marketable solutions on a platform that suits Lean Principles, etc. That is a very progressive list for designing an andon light that typically is an ancillary device of a larger piece of equipment.

If the design team is clever, this advanced technology applied to a simple device can also open up other applications/markets. The communication is the key. In addition to monitoring machine parameters, the same principles applied to process control opens another revenue stream for applications involving the logistics of material demands.  Wireless, real-time sharing of information can provide: quicker response times from production control staff, filling low piece-part inventories before the “just in time” approach becomes “just a little late,” pinpointing logistic bottlenecks as they are happening, and allows an immediate recovery plan if the andon light has capabilities to communicate.

Andon lights have a key role in Industry 4.0 thinking

What does the future hold for this originally simple device flexing its muscles in a high-tech environment increasingly dominated by discussions about Industry 4.0 and the need to automate and digitalise information communication? The fact that wireless technology is here to stay predicts that there is much more creative advancement to come as what started out as simple warning lights are adapted to become smart and intelligent systems that simply work.

SmartMONITOR is the clever machine monitoring and data collection alternative for industrial companies who are looking for a low cost, uncomplicated and reliable data for the optimisation of their manufacturing processes.

SmartMONITOR provides all relevant data from all machines, systems and manual workstations at the touch of a button. Find out now about the benefits and versatile applications and get to know this clever system first hand contact the team at Werma UK.


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