Mary Del Ciancio
Innovation. It’s a widely used term. One that’s thrown around quite often in manufacturing circles. And when our board members got together in April for the sixth annual roundtable meeting, everything seemed to circle back to innovation as the solution to what ails the manufacturing industry. But how can we bring about innovation within Canadian manufacturing? Here, our board members offer their views. For more details on the discussion, check out the cover story in our June 2012 issue.
Some plants are shutting down, while others are increasing production. One month manufacturing sales are up, the next month they’re down. It’s certainly been a roller coaster ride. But overall, according to Statistics Canada, manufacturing sales have rebounded close to the $50.2 billion recorded in October 2008, when the economic downturn began.
It’s no secret that we are still recovering, slowly but surely, and when our board members got together in April for the sixth annual roundtable meeting at the new Annex Business Media headquarters in Aurora, Ont., they were optimistic.
“There’s still a positive feeling out there,” says Al Diggins, president and general manager of the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium. “I think that everyone we have spoken to in the last six months is happy with where it’s going. We’re seeing a lot more stability than we had two years ago, three years ago.”
Cheryl Jensen, vice-president, Academic, at Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology, says that looking at the success of co-op programs is a clear indication of how the economy is doing.
“I would say for co-op, that’s usually a first sign of either an increase in the health of the economy or the first sign of a decline. And our co-op placements in our technology programs…are showing very strong opportunities for our students,” she says.
Jensen adds that the fact the economy in the U.S. is picking up is also great news for Canada’s manufacturing sector.
“If I look at U.S. Steel in Hamilton, if U.S. Steel is doing better in the states, then they will be starting up some work here, so that’s nothing but good,” says Jensen. “We’re looked upon as a bit of a satellite manufacturing facility for them, so the better that economy is, the more people in Canada will be working. And the more work for U.S. Steel in Hamilton, the more spinoff companies do well in Hamilton.”
But while the industry is improving, issues remain. The manufacturing industry is facing a massive skills shortage in the coming years, and some companies are closing shop and moving to lower-cost areas.
What is needed to combat these issues? What role should industry, education and government play in helping to improve the situation? And what role does innovation — an admittedly well-worn term — play in Canada’s future in manufacturing? These were all topics covered during our lively, two-hour discussion.
The skilled trades shortage
For yet another year, the skilled trades shortage topped the board members’ list of challenges facing the industry.
“We have to be mindful of the fact that large numbers of people are going to retire. Whether it’s a crisis or a slower issue, it’s still going to happen. And so I think we still have to find ways,” says Jensen, “to make sure that young people know that there are good careers in manufacturing.”
Diggins says the challenge is finding people with the right skills.
“Young people really are not streamed into manufacturing, and many don’t have the right soft skills to be successful in the workplace.”
Jensen agrees, adding that we need to look at long-term solutions.
“There are people who are unemployed [that] don’t have the skills for the jobs that are there. They don’t have the technical skills [and] they don’t have what we’re calling now the 21st century learning skills — the problem solving, the team building, the communication skills,” she says. “I know we’re paying particular attention to that at Mohawk, about making sure that our students have not just the technical skills, but those other skills.”
So do we need to take a look at changing the education system in Canada as part of this long-term strategy?
“Community colleges, typically they are supposed to be responsive to their community needs, but there are a number of institutions that have gone more to an international and bigger-picture view of the world, and they’re no longer catering to the local needs in some cases,” says David Green, managing partner with Stratmarc Associates. “So the system to fulfill it has got to change, to be able to somehow get the right people into the right programs.”
Bill Valedis, president of Imperial Automation Technologies, and manager of automation and training at Precision Training, Products and Services, agrees.
“Every college needs to identify who is the producer, the manufacturer in their own domain, in their own area, and embed themselves with the industry, and create programs that when the graduate student is hired, on day one, that person is productive at that particular manufacturer’s environment.”
Jensen says that providing students with the tools they need to be innovative is also key.
“Even though innovation is a word that’s been fairly heavily used over the last few years, it really is key to embed those skills of innovation into their educational process so that they think differently, whether they work for a large company or on their own,” says Jensen. “There’s a big drive to have graduates of both university and college to start their own business when they graduate and employ others. So it’s incumbent upon educational institutions to make sure that we’re teaching how to be innovative, what are those skills, how to be entrepreneurial, into our curriculums so that they can hit the ground running when they graduate.”
But Don McCrudden, vice-president of business development with Festo, feels that the education system is on the right track, and he’s seen an improvement in the graduates over the last few years.
“Certainly in the last four years we’ve had lots of examples where we’ve brought in engineering people, mechanical and electrical engineering people, young, [who]…are pretty darn productive really fast,” he says. “There really seems to be a marked improvement in the level of technical people that are coming in off the street. So that would be a positive testimonial [that] our education system seems to be working.”
Teaching the right skills to the next generation is one approach that will help to solve the impending skilled trades shortage. Another part of the long-term solution, according to our board members, is immigration.
“Our population is declining. There aren’t as many youth as there have been. Baby boomers are retiring. And right now the only way to replenish that is with immigration. That’s how Canada was built in the first place. And so we have to make sure that the people we bring here, we have to give them the opportunities through the right skills and training,” says Jensen.
“We need people now, and the only way to get solutions is to identify [the right] people and then, as the government is finally starting to recognize, change the immigration rules so you get the right people,” says Green. “Clearly, we can’t fill it with people here, so you have to use immigration. So those rules need to change, and the government seems to be finally waking up to how to fast track some things and change the rules about identifying the right people.”
Keeping jobs in Canada
Educating the next generation of workers with the right skillset for the manufacturing industry isn’t going to do much if there aren’t any jobs to fill in the country. Indeed, the closing of the Electro-Motive plant in London, Ont., earlier this year that resulted in the loss of 450 jobs at the facility, with production moving to the States, highlighted the fact that, even though the economy is improving, plants are still closing and jobs are being lost to lower-cost markets.
It’s the high costs of doing business here that is to blame for many companies moving production away from the Great White North.
“The cost of power in Ontario is insane. We’ve got some members that their electricity costs have gone up like 60, 70 percent in the last five or six years…And in many cases, the hydro bill is more expensive than the payroll,” says Diggins. “One member, their hydro bill in January was $160,000, and 54 percent of that was the global adjustment. I will guarantee you that that plant will be gone in four or five years. It’s killing them.”
McCrudden shares his own recent story.
“I was on a plane to Mexico in the fall, and I ran into three clients, all in the automotive sector. All three of them were going to Mexico [to work] on new plants. One of them was working on 56 projects this year, globally. How many were in Canada? None. The other one, 16. How many in Canada? None,” says McCrudden.
But Diggins says that due to quality issues and supply chain problems, more and more manufacturers are bringing their purchases back to North America, creating opportunities for Canadian companies.
“We’ve created an interactive manufacturing network,” he explains, “and several of our members have already said, ‘We don’t want to buy [product] from a third-world country, and they’re putting out local opportunity alerts on our site.”
Green agrees that there is an opportunity to bring jobs back to Canada.
“Overseas wages are obviously going up, logistics costs are going up. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why suddenly if you look at the total cost in the supply chain, there’s probably a good reason to be able to start to think about how can we do it more cost effectively in Canada or in North America,” he says.
McCrudden’s answer: “We have to be more creative [and] do it better, faster, smarter.
And that’s what maintains the jobs here,” he says. “It still always comes back to innovation.”
When things go sour, oftentimes the government is criticized for either not getting involved enough, or getting involved too much.
During our meeting, the board members discussed what role, if any, government should play in the manufacturing industry.
“Government policy and direction is certainly important in terms of creating the environment, but I wonder if too many people are relying on that,” says Green. “A lot of Canadian companies tend to whine a lot about, ‘We need more protection and the government should do that to make our business easier.’ Well, that isn’t going to happen. It’s going offshore. So what else can we do? The government is not going to be able to stop that. I think business and industry have to take a stronger role than waiting for the government to do something with policy.
“I just think we’ve got to get over it and be innovative and creative about solving the problem,” he continues. “The reality is it’s going to happen. Stuff is going to get made; the Chinese are going to get better at the quality, and the Indians are going to get better at it, and so are the Brazilians and South American countries, and Eastern Europe…What can we do about it and how can we take advantage of seizing the opportunities in those markets, as well as helping to solve this problem with manufacturing in Canada? Let’s pick the places where we can be more likely successful by working together with organizations like [EMC], CME, SME and others.”
Diggins says that manufacturers are “legislated to death.” He read a note from one of his colleagues, which said that, “Every day I talk to manufacturers, and every day they are struggling with new guidelines, procedures and legislation in some area. It’s taking their time away from key areas like selling, for example.”
“I had a conversation recently with one of our customers…and he told me very, very clearly that ‘the Ontario government and the federal government is regulating us to death. It’s costing us an arm and a leg to stay in business. And the funny thing is if I go south of the border, the rules are different, and I can be more productive. So, should I move my manufacturing facility south?’”
But Jensen says there are areas where government can help make a real difference.
“I think it’s proven in countries where governments invest significant amounts in research and innovation, companies prosper. I think our federal government, in particular, and our provincial government, have done a lot, taken a lot of great pains in these two budgets to keep research and innovation funds where they are and direct it towards pure research, but also to what I’ll call technology transfer and innovation. A lot of money [is] now being poured into the colleges, where it’s what I call on-the-ground tech transfer, which helps small business. They can’t solve every problem, but giving that kind of support where it’s needed, I think in the long run will be very, very helpful. You can’t cut that kind of investment out and expect a country to be productive and innovative,” says Jensen.
“The issue, back to innovation, is you can provide the tools and the background of how you do it, but the companies who are going to go and make that innovation happen have got to have the time and money and resources to be able to do it, which is the challenge,” he explains. “It’s a well-worn phrase, ‘We’ve got to innovate more’…but can companies afford to do it because it does take time, particularly smaller or medium-sized companies. You need to pay the bills to get the job done, so you need to look at funding from external sources, whether it’s FedDev or the grants.”
In regards to government funding, Diggins worries that the government favours loans for risky startups rather than existing companies with innovative ideas.
“The government, I think, has got their minds set on innovation being new stuff, but we’ve got to take the stuff we’ve got already and commercialize it, make it better and innovate it,” he says.
Valedis says government can help by funding training initiatives.
“International student enrolment is on the rise, and the manufacturing jobs are not here,” says Valedis. “What I’m afraid will lead into the future is we are helping other countries develop. And that’s also scary from my perspective. So, the government needs to fund the kind of hands-on, on-the-plant-floor training programs for our workforce, and I think we need to take a stand and look at who are we educating and why, and how can we change that ratio around.”
The industry’s role: Communication
For the manufacturing industry to survive in Canada, communication is key — communication within the organization and within the industry. The board members agree that companies have to stop being so protective of their information, and instead share their successes, to help other Canadian manufacturers — who might be struggling with the same issues — succeed.
“Just look at this street right here,” says Diggins, pointing out the window of the boardroom to a street lined with industrial buildings. There are “all kinds of factories, thousands of people. They’re not talking to each other. There’s probably not a problem that hasn’t been solved somewhere on this street, and it’s about extracting that ability. First of all, you have to teach them that it’s okay to share ideas. That’s innovation. That’s a big part of it.”
It’s more than just communicating within the industry. Green says it’s about “communication and relationship building” with your customers, which includes “understanding your customer, knowing your market [and] knowing the issues. Communication and relationships are absolutely key today to the success of any company, small or large,” he explains.
“The other thing [is] listen to your employees,” says Valedis. “How many situations have we run up against where we actually get intimate with a company, and we find out that it’s a top-down-driven approach. There’s no communication. That’s a break down right there.”
And this communication issue has to be solved soon, because the next generation of workers is going to want to be more involved.
“The young people coming in are much more interested nowadays in wanting to contribute, wanting to say something,” says Green. “And so you’ve got to be able to create the culture and the environment in which they can be listened to because they can bring some valuable information.”
Top strategies for growth
Before we parted ways for another year, I asked the board members what the most important strategy is that Canadian manufacturers can adopt for growth. Innovation was a recurring theme throughout our discussion, and this question was no exception.
“Innovation and productivity,” says Jensen.
Diggins agrees that innovation is one of the essential ingredients, but there is more.
“Everything is driven by a global marketplace, product demand and consumer awareness. So innovation, flexibility and adaptability are key.”
McCrudden says that companies have to think globally.
“The companies that do well, clearly the common denominator is that they’re looking for markets beyond the scope of domestic Canada. So if you think your sandbox is bordered by the two oceans and the 49th parallel, then right away you’ve got major problems.”
He also had some thoughts on innovation: “Innovation and all of these things really can come back to just looking yourself in the mirror and saying, ‘We do 16 things in this business. Are we doing every one of those 16 things to the best of our ability?’ I’m sure if everybody did that, they would find that there are opportunities for improvement, and it could be even significant improvement in lots of these areas.”
Green says it’s all about metrics.
“Like one of my mentors said, you’ve got to know where you are, you’ve got to know where you want to get to [and] you’ve got to know how you’re going to get there,” he explains.
And finally, Valedis offers some words of wisdom based on what has worked for his company.
“Keep dreaming all of the time — what can I do and where can I go? It’s kept us alive.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
The electronics company provides leading-edge products like Blu-ray Disc players, Bravia televisions, Cyber-shot digital cameras and Handycam Camcorders to consumers across the globe. In recent years, its wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary, Sony of Canada Ltd., experienced a rapidly changing business model of increasing online orders — particularly an increase in smaller orders — coupled with growth.
Every day, Sony factories around the world ship approximately 1,500 products to Sony of Canada’s distribution centres in Coquitlam, B.C., and Whitby, Ont., which in turn collectively process 18,000 orders per month. Sony of Canada sometimes had trouble keeping up.
The company’s growth quickly exposed the weaknesses in the paper-based and RF systems it used for distribution. Paper was cumbersome and it provided no locator system to help employees find products quickly and easily. While RF scanning was quicker and faster than paper, picking with RF consisted of too many steps, which increased the opportunity for errors. Workers had to input into the handheld unit, view the screen, put down and pick up the device, and the system was often slow to respond.
Sony of Canada was looking for a way to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, service levels and costs, so that it could remain competitive in a challenging global market.
At the recommendation of RedPrairie, Sony of Canada’s WMS provider and technology partner, the company decided to investigate the potential of Vocollect Voice, voice-enabling technology used in manufacturing plants and distribution centres.
“I was introduced to the voice technology at RedPrairie’s user conference and, of course, immediately I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing stuff. We could certainly use it,’” recalls Rick Courtin, business process manager, Supply Chain Group, Sony of Canada.
Based on observing voice in action at another Vocollect customer site and consultation from RedPrairie, the company could see that the integration of Vocollect Voice into an upcoming WMS upgrade would be an excellent way to achieve maximum payback in process improvements across its distribution operations.
Handling bulky RF units, looking at a screen for instructions and inputting data would no longer slow down their distribution process. With voice, they could move to a hands-free/eyes-free environment.
“With voice, the beauty of it is that it’s a very fluid capability. You don’t have to put things down and then go back to them. So you’re just basically talking and you’re walking and you’re doing the job as you go,” explains Courtin.
How it works
“Vocollect and RedPrairie have been long-time partners, and we work very closely together so that we can build a real-time direct interface between the RedPrairie WMS business logic and the process logic that exists inside the Vocollect system,” explains Gary Glessner, vice-president, Sales-Americas, Vocollect. “We do this because we want to make it easy for folks like Rick, Sony and our other customers to seamlessly be able to deploy voice with minimal extra effort of any kind.”
When an order is sent to the WMS, Vocollect Voice translates it into voice commands, and the system talks to the worker through a headset with a microphone.
“So instead of an operator having to, with an RF device, scan or look at the screen and enter key pushes to tell the computer to advance to the next step, all of that is just being done by speech commands,” explains Glessner.
The system includes a text-to-speech engine, available in many different languages, which takes the data that the WMS system is sending out and automatically converts it to speech commands. The worker then responds into the microphone. Voice recognition algorithm software resides inside the voice client that runs on the mobile computing device, and it does the interpretation of what the worker is saying and turns that into data that goes back to the WMS system.
The recognition algorithm that Vocollect uses is speaker dependent. Each worker will spend 20 minutes or so when they first start using the voice system to train their individual voice template, which is stored on a small computer or server. Every time the worker logs in and starts a shift, their specific voice template is downloaded to their specific mobile computer.
“When that worker trains the template, they can speak in whatever accent, dialect [or] language,” says Glessner. “As long as they’re consistent, the system will consistently recognize them.”
Workers using the system can also choose their own settings. They can select whether the voice is male or female, and adjust the pitch, volume and speed of the voice.
Vocollect at Sony of Canada
Sony of Canada uses a consolidated picking methodology — cluster picking — for processing less than master carton quantities. Initially Vocollect Voice was piloted for cluster picking for parcel shipments because of its process fit and the high number of picks — about 65 percent of their transactions go through the parcel mode. After a short training process (as little as one hour), workers were up and running.
Today, orders are batched, and a bulk pick of product is then brought forward to a staging area where the individual orders are picked, packed and shipped through the use of Vocollect.
Since that time, the company has expanded voice to the cycle counting workflow, which is the process of counting inventory. Sony of Canada performs cycle counting with voice every day. Cycle counts are generated and operations staff are sent instructions via the WMS to the voice system to perform the counts. Location and SKUs are scanned and counted as blind counts. If the count does not agree with the system, the operator is asked to verify. If the second verification doesn’t agree with the system count, an audit count — performed by supervisory or management staff — is automatically generated. Using Vocollect for cycle counting has resulted in increases in accuracy through hands-free counts, and it has eliminated costly and time-consuming periodic audits for Sony of Canada.
Voice picking not only requires fewer steps than using an RF device, but workers are able to perform each of those steps more rapidly and productively than if they had to hold and put down an RF device to perform their work, look at a screen for instructions and use the device to scan or key input information.
“So that’s where you pick up all the productivity gains with voice,” says Glessner. “[It] is not only reducing the number of steps, but being able to do those steps much more productively and efficiently.”
The ability to accurately and quickly fulfill orders, to manage seasonal volume hikes, to help the company sustain a thriving Internet business with large numbers of smaller orders, and to do more with less are all benefits the voice solution has brought.
“With our old paper-based system and its inherent inefficiencies, physical inventory took us four business days. Moving to RF reduced the inventory process to just a day and a half. But with Vocollect Voice, now we spend only half a day completing physical inventories,” says Courtin.
Since implementing Vocollect Voice, Sony of Canada has realized improvements of 30 percent in throughput and 15 percent in accuracy, as well as improvements in safety, with the hands-free/eyes-free feature of the voice system.
Reduced training time is also a big benefit, Courtin says. It only takes an hour or so for technical training on the voice system, and about a week for the full operational training. In the past, it would take employees two to three months to complete RF scanning and operational training.
These improved efficiencies have allowed the company to reduce its temporary headcount by five workers.
“We’ve often had to bring in temporary help to augment the full-time staff, and we’ve basically cut right back,” says Courtin. “The efficiency gain has been such that we didn’t have to hire nearly as many temps as in the past.”
Voice technology has also allowed Sony of Canada to better manage the seasonality of the business, with the peak order time being September through December. The voice system provides workers with the ability to nimbly move from one assignment to the next with no downtime, even during peak periods.
Voices in the plant
Sony of Canada has seen such huge benefits from using voice for cluster picking and cycle counting, that it plans to expand Vocollect Voice to full pallet picks, put-away, and Less than Trailer Load (LTL) picking. (They are currently in the middle of piloting it in LTL picking.) However, applications span beyond distribution.
“What we see is that companies are clearly seeing, especially in manufacturing applications, that the hands-free/eyes-free accuracy and productivity — that optimal combination of accuracy and productivity — is allowing companies to deploy voice in applications such as the feeding of assembly lines, the feeding of manufacturing cells [and] kitting applications,” says Glessner, adding that even inspection was an early application for Vocollect Voice. “It’s predominantly in use today in distribution centre operations, but…many manufacturers are discovering that in just-in-time assembly cells and manufacturing lines, voice has a significant value-add.”
“There are customers that have a belief that voice adds complexity to an implementation,” says Scott Dunnington, service director with RedPrairie Corporation. “What we really find is that voice reduces the complexity. It makes for more successful projects. It makes for happier customers, happier users and better all around project results.”
And Sony of Canada is proof. After using Vocollect Voice for four years, and seeing the huge benefits — including an ROI of less than one year — Courtin agrees.
“I can tell you from the staff that use it that it’s very much a pleasure for them to work with that technology.”
It makes their jobs easier, and they are more productive, efficient and effective — the exact combination that Sony of Canada needs to remain competitive and ensure that its products arrive to customers on time, every time.
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
The manufacturing engineer is responsible for the safety of the processes and equipment at Guelph, Ont.-based HPS — the transformer division of Hammond Manufacturing, which it split from in 2001 to become its own company. HPS designs and manufactures high-quality custom electrical dry-type transformers, as well as related engineered magnetic devices at the facility.
The transformers must be tested before they are shipped to the customer, which is why Hammond has test stations throughout its 110,000-sq.-ft. Guelph facility. Test voltages of up to 250,000 volts are used to ensure the integrity of HPS transformers.
During the testing of transformers, the company is required to ensure the safety of the operators in and around the test cells. Safety, in fact, has always been a priority at Hammond. That’s why when Steve Bellamy of Bellamy Electric approached Perry about upgrading the safety system in the testing of transformers to Omron’s G9SP software-based safety controller, Perry didn’t take the decision lightly.
“We looked at a number of devices, [looking at] the breadth of products that was offered, the ability for them to be easily configured and fit into our application, and the reputation of the product itself,” explains Perry.
After careful consideration, he decided that Omron’s G9SP was the best way for HPS to “achieve the highest level of safety” for its employees.
“High voltage is a dangerous product to work with, and we wanted to make sure that we provided safety at a level that was acceptable for our company,” says Perry. “We place high values on employees and their health and safety, and we wanted to make sure that was achieved, and [this] product did that.”
About the G9SP
Omron Industrial Automation’s G9SP Programmable Safety Controller is a software-based, standalone controller that can be quickly programmed to satisfy the complex safety control needs of small and mid-sized machines. And because it isn’t a hardwired system, user’s benefit from flexibility — the ability to reconfigure the unit when new safety features are added to their setup.
With the Omron Configuration Tool — part of the G9SP package — all aspects of input and output to the unit can be defined, simulated, tested and validated with a graphical user interface. The simulation tool allows users to test and correct settings before the system goes live. On-screen text and icon-driven menus guide the user through all aspects of setup. Clear alerts and system status give the operator an instant overview at every stage of operation. Unlike hardwired safety relays, the Omron G9SP can be reconfigured for multiple purposes, with direct connection to non-contact switches or safety mats. For example, when connected to an Omron pressure safety mat, the G9SP can sense that the mat has been activated, and can be programmed to sound an alert or shut down any dangerous part of a machine, keeping personnel safe. Meanwhile, the G9SP delivers clear diagnostics and monitoring via Ethernet or Serial connection.
The G9SP also includes a memory cassette, which means that systems designers only need to program the unit once, and use the memory cassette to install settings into each identical system. This is also useful if there is a power surge that disables the unit. The operator just puts the existing memory cassette into the new unit, and can upload the program without the need for a computer or programming software.
“The software itself is very intuitive,” says Chris Parks, an account manager with Omron Industrial Automation. “It’s a software program that you can learn inside a half an hour and be very confident in programming.”
The system is more than just a safety controller. It has diagnostic abilities, too. Online diagnosis is meant to reduce debug time to a minimum during implementation in the machine control system. And when the G9SP is up and running, it can tell the operator the state of an interlock switch — if it is damaged or if a panel door is open. All the operator needs to do is look at the screen to see where the problem is.
G9SP at HPS
Previously, the company used a simple monitored relay and switch safety interlock system. When operators tested the transformers, it was a manual procedure. As Perry explains it, the operator recorded the data onto a sheet of paper. They then took that data after the test was done to a computer and entered that information into a test database.
This approach was time consuming and increased the potential for errors, explains Perry.
“We were generally running up to four decimal points of accuracy, so sometimes there were keystroke errors and recording errors.”
With the installation of two new R&D and large power transformer test stations, a new design for a safety interlock system using Omron’s G9SP was implemented. The safety interlock system is interfaced with National Instruments’ LabVIEW software — a development environment for engineers and scientists creating test, measurement and control applications. The test is selected on a computer, applied in a controlled, consistent manner, and the data is downloaded automatically at the completion of the test into the test database. The operator has monitoring capabilities so that they can control or be aware of what’s going on. It’s all done on a computer screen, rather than with analog meters and dials.
“Certainly there are some productivity advantages to having this,” Perry says, referring to the new system. “Presently [on the test stations where the G9SP isn’t installed], it takes as long to record and enter the test data as it does to do the actual test.”
One of the G9SP’s main benefits, aside from safety, of course, is its diagnostic ability, says Bellamy, who implemented the new safety interlock system at HPS.
“One of the features it does have is a test output, which it self monitors for short circuits. So it will catch problems as they happen, where as just the regular safety relay would only get it upon the next initiation of the…circuit.”
And when the G9SP detects a problem, it shuts down the circuit and kills the power so the operator can fix the issue. The operator can see on LabVIEW that the G9SP has detected an issue with the interlock and where that issue is.
Another huge benefit, he says, is its ease of use, which translates into savings.
“It’s easy to program. I would say this is a complicated interlock system here, and it took me less than an hour to program that, and it probably saved two days worth of wiring,” he explains.
In fact, the new system has reduced installation time at HPS’ Guelph facility by 20 percent, and trouble-shooting issues by 30 percent.
While the system is currently installed in four electrical test stations at the plant, Perry plans to have them installed in the remaining test stations in the near future.
And, following the G9SP’s success at HPS in Guelph, the company plans to install the controller at 10 more of its facilities — three in Canada, two in the U.S., three in Mexico, one in India and one in Italy.
“All of our test facilities will be standardized on this exact platform right here, with the G9 being the safety component and the National Instruments being the controlling and recording and measuring platform,” says Perry. “The installation is much quicker; the configuration is much quicker. Those are advantages, especially going forward, when we plan to use these in all of our other facilities.”
And the company plans to use it in additional applications; not just for the safety of personnel testing transformers. The G9SP will be used in their transformer resin bake ovens to monitor damper position and flow switches to make sure that fumes are exhausting. The team also plans to install it on a new high-speed lamination cutting machine, as well as a Core Build lift/tilt table.
“We currently have a large transformer resin impregnation system under construction with a G9SP safety interlock system. We are also working on a safety system strategy utilizing the G9SP platform for operations such as material slitting, cutting and punching,” says Perry.
“I think the Hammonds have always had the best available safety system, and as we’ve upgraded [it],” explains Bellamy, “we went from just basic relays and contactors to safety relays, and now there’s a better product — the G9SP.
“They’ve taken it to the next level,” he continues. “Hammond has taken the initiative, spent the money, and made sure that the operators are safe.”
And thanks to this technology, Perry and the HPS team are able to continue to achieve their goal — to make sure that there are no accidents related to electrical testing at HPS, and that the employees remain safe.
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.