Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Cosma International improves operations with ERP system

November 7, 2011
By Solarsoft Business Systems

Cosma International, a wholly-owned operating unit of Magna International, is one of the world’s premier global automotive suppliers providing a comprehensive range of body, chassis and engineering solutions to OEM customers. Unsatisfied with the lack of functionality and support for its legacy business management system, Cosma’s operation in Victor, Iowa, searched for an integrated ERP system that allowed for real-time shop floor reporting and inventory management. In 1996, Cosma selected Solarsoft’s flagship ERP system for manufacturing and distribution, iVP, and has never looked back.

“With our legacy system, we were reporting all of our inventory transactions at one reporting station,” recalls Andy Hrasky, assistant general manager of Cosma’s Victor Manufacturing operation. “It was on the shop floor, so it was somewhat in real time. That process required a lot of unnecessary, time-consuming movements. But what led to us looking for another ERP system was the legacy system vendor’s inability to work with us to develop a better way of shop floor reporting.”

Up to the challenge

Early on, Cosma wanted to take the shop floor activity reporting capabilities of Solarsoft iVP even further.


“Solarsoft was very willing to work with us on the development of a better shop floor reporting system, which is now known as the Event Based Reporting System,” says Hrasky. “We were very impressed that Solarsoft was willing to listen to its users, invest in the product and take it to a better place.”

With the Event Based Reporting System came enhanced serial traceability. As a Tier-1 automotive supplier, serial traceability information is critical to Cosma quality control.

“If we were to have an issue with the steel used in our stamped and metal assemblies, then with Solarsoft we could quickly identify that we have a bad heat number in a coiled-steel product. We could then identify all of the suspect material that may have gone to our customers, and what was still at our facility.”

Traceability with Cosma’s legacy system had been a manual process. It was a time-consuming method involving large boxes of cards, a few days and a few people.

Using Solarsoft’s Event Based Reporting System, the operators report their own production in real time throughout the day.

“All it takes is two quick barcode scans,” says Hrasky. “There are no keyboards needed, so we’ve minimized the amount of time the operators need to interact with the system. They’re able to focus on making parts.”

A scan of the barcode does several things for Cosma:

• Increases the quantity on-hand of that part;

• Back-flushes all of the components that went into the manufacture of that part, in the proper quantities, according to the bill of materials (BOM);

• Validates that all of the materials required to manufacture that part are indeed on the bill of materials and in sufficient quantity;

• Validates that operators are on the proper resource, and not attempting to report a part that doesn’t run on a given resource;

• Forms the complete serial traceability record; and

• Performs labour accountability to record the operators logged into the machine at that time that are responsible for the product’s quality.

Today, Cosma has 23 reporting stations on the floor.

“The Event Based Reporting system is integral to what we do,” says Hrasky. “We couldn’t get by without it. For example, we’ve issued over 25 different event codes over 1,000 times in a few months. The event code used to report production of a specific part, once we’ve reached a specific quantity, has been accessed over 100,000 times in the past six months.”

Improved inventory accuracy

Cosma has always had reasonable inventory accuracy, but knew there was room for improvement.

“We were in the low 90 percent accuracy range,” recalls Hrasky. “When we switched to Solarsoft, as part of the development of the Event Based Reporting System, we started with a single reporting station. In the first year, our inventory accuracy decreased a bit, but we worked our way back up. Because Solarsoft was a better ERP system, we soon achieved 96 percent accuracy.”

Cosma went live with event-based reporting in 2000. That year, Cosma transitioned from a few personnel interacting with the system to everyone on the shop floor.

“Even though there were infrequent interactions, we increased the number of people using the system, so we took a step back to the low 90 percent accuracy range,” says Hrasky. “Since then we have improved every year to the point that we are now at 99.7 percent accuracy.”

Inventory accuracy has its benefits.

“It’s been over 15 years since we’ve taken a full physical inventory,” says Hrasky. “The accuracy has really helped us improve our inventory turns. With this level of accuracy we’ve been able to eliminate excess safety stock because we can rely on the quantities shown in the system. In my opinion, inventory accuracy is king, the building block of everything,” says Hrasky. “If you don’t have accurate inventory, then you don’t have anything. Solarsoft is our foundation.”

Improved EDI

In order to meet tough supply chain requirements, Cosma left behind the poor EDI support of its legacy system for Solarsoft’s integrated solution.

“We’ve maintained at or near 100 percent delivery rating with our primary customers because of the stability of the EDI package,” says Hrasky. “The EDI package is reliable and robust.”

Improved production scheduling

In the past, scheduling “within the system” had been difficult. In 2002, Cosma and Solarsoft began development of the Visual Whiteboard Scheduler to allow production planners to work within the system, instead of outside using manual spreadsheets. Cosma went live with the Whiteboard Scheduler in 2003.

“Lots of plants use world-class ERP systems,” says Mayo Fottral, manager of materials, logistics and ERP systems at Cosma’s nearby Montezuma Manufacturing operation. “But in order to schedule, they still take the information out of the ERP system and manually key into spreadsheets. They’re not able to use their ERP system to schedule. We use Solarsoft’s Whiteboard Scheduler to create production schedules without taking the data outside of the ERP system. This allows us to eliminate duplicate effort and save time.”

“Being in the automotive industry, we use a customer pull system,” says Hrasky. “An Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) requirement is that when we receive EDI 830 and 862 demands from customers, we have to be able to generate the production schedule and create shipments, all without manual intervention. Not only does Solarsoft’s Whiteboard allow us to meet this requirement, but we also save time and reduce risk of data entry error.”

The Whiteboard allows users to gather, assemble and apply information to production planning, scheduling, execution and cost analysis. Users can view scheduled production runs at-a-glance, and change the schedule in real-time.

Cosma also uses the Whiteboard to manage capacity and material constraints.

“We can locate bottlenecks in advance of production starts,” says Fottral. “The Whiteboard will suggest a schedule, which is most often accurate and can be run as is. If we run into exceptions, then the Whiteboard gives us options.”

The Whiteboard’s what-if scenario capability allows Cosma to put work where it makes sense.

“When we make changes or introduce new business, we’re able to use what-if scenarios to make sure we have the work in the right place,” says Hrasky. “Instead of reacting to release changes, we’re better able to anticipate them and better manage them with this foresight.”

Data analysis with Informance

In 2010, Cosma decided to use their existing investment in Solarsoft iVP to drive even greater factory performance by adding Solarsoft Informance, a system that analyses real-time production data.

“For all of the things we did well because of Solarsoft iVP, we felt we had room for improvement in how downtime data was analysed,” says Hrasky. “We wanted to visualize our shop floor management information.”

At first glance, Cosma felt that the Solarsoft Informance manufacturing intelligence software was like every other manufacturing intelligence package. Then Informance showed what it could do using a sample of Cosma’s actual data.

“We were looking at our data in a visual way through Informance,” says Hrasky. “Informance took us from nothing to an intuitive display of what was happening on the shop floor and a useful way to look at downtime and other data.”

Easy system integration

The integration of existing iVP data with Informance allows Cosma’s plant operators and management personnel to access real-time performance analytics, which can be used to continuously improve performance. For manufacturers that focus on Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) as the primary indicator of performance, it is the only way to dive deeper and uncover the issues that affect OEE. Only then can appropriate action be taken and the right issues resolved.

“People at our other divisions had prior experience in using other manufacturing intelligence products,” recalls Hrasky. “They had spent significant resources trying to achieve the same integration that Solarsoft provided with iVP and Informance within days. Informance is intuitive, but it’s really the integration between iVP and Informance that’s really helped us.”

Near-instant access to key metrics

Cosma’s tradition has been to track key resources and publish weekly reports that show average setup time, production efficiency, and average downtime by reason code.

What Cosma wanted was to make this information available at the supervisor’s fingertips.

Supervisors can now look at their previous shift data and quickly run a report. The intuitive display of that previous shift’s information, together with the graphical display of where the issues were the day before, allows the supervisors to walk out to the machines and address issues immediately.

“Solarsoft Informance gives us nearly instant access to key metrics like cycle time, downtime and trends that we can use to make management decisions right away,” says Hrasky. “Not only that, but our production supervisors now have meaningful analyses they can use all day, every day to make adjustments before issues become problems. The supervisors have certainly embraced what Informance can do for our improvement initiatives.”

Cosma managers use Informance to display OEE, cycle time charts and downtime charts, while machine operators have customized dashboards that focus on the key pieces of equipment. The operators have high level information in OEE, and they can drill down to identify where issues are, should they arise.

At Cosma, the result of the integration of Informance and iVP is real-time insight to evaluate improvement opportunities, align plant tactics with corporate strategies, and the ability to sustain the effects of operational excellence activities like Lean and Six Sigma improvement initiatives.

Empowered employees

The integration of iVP and Informance allows Cosma to retrieve meaningful data, not just a large quantity of data. The next logical step for Cosma will be to link its metrics to shop-floor action plans and employee suggestion plans.

“A lot of systems can show you a bunch of data, which can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’ because it all quickly piles up,” says Fottral. “What we want to achieve with Informance is the ability to tie the data to a corrective action that actually fixes the problem, not just analyse it.”

The idea is that data alone generally cannot determine the best corrective actions.

Although data helps to determine where investigations should be focused, it is the combination of data and shop floor observations that lead to the best actions.

According to Fottral, a good integrated system “empowers the people to use data, make observations and capture suggestions for the purpose of continuous improvement.”

PLC connection to ERP with OPC

With the addition of Informance, Cosma wanted to ensure that its machines were in the proper down mode for analysis.

Solarsoft worked with Cosma to create a standardized mechanism that feeds information from programmable logic controllers on the shop floor to an ERP system.

Using OPC, an industrial connectivity standard that enables the transfer of automation data between automation hardware and software, Solarsoft developed an OPC client with a web browser-based touchscreen interface.

This solution provides a common set of services that can communicate with the shop floor to provide real-time monitoring and production reporting.

That the PLC can communicate through an OPC client and server for the collection of multiple levels of data, and invoke event codes in iVP, provides for better accuracy and better finite information.

As the first step in this integration, Cosma upgraded the PLC of its 2,000-ton transfer press to enable the collection of downtime data triggered by the PLC versus relying on human intervention.

In this transfer system, an operator may set the machine to down status because of a finger fault. The finger is the system that picks up the stamping and moves it to the next station. Ideally, Cosma will be able to track the amount of downtime by each finger because a typical setup includes 10 sets of fingers to move the parts through this transfer press.

“Today, we’re tracking the fact that we have a finger fault,” says Hrasky. “The PLC integration will tell us that the front finger at Station 3 created X-number of minutes of downtime over this period of time. This better data gives our maintenance and tool room teams the ability to zero-in on exactly where an issue is.”

Hrasky envisions that this combination of tools will play a major role in the improvement of Cosma’s OEE.

“The OPC interface will, based on a stroke count, issue to Solarsoft a 40000 report production event code for us,” he says. “The different PLC triggers can enable automated production capabilities in addition to resource-state control.”

Standardization over customization

When corporations have a decentralized structure, some of its plants are likely to implement ERP systems with a high degree of customization, which are expensive to implement and maintain. It is also difficult to transfer knowledge between divisions. In order to work together and use the same systems, these plants need standardization.

Because the Cosma-Solarsoft partnership follows a model of collaboration and standardization, system improvements like the Event Based Reporting System and the Whiteboard Scheduler have been made available to all users of Solarsoft.

“Working closely with Solarsoft has meant that we’re not just improving the iVP software for us,” says Hrasky. “The new enhancements are rolled out to all of the users. Also, the standard version of the software is customizable enough to accommodate differences in the processes for any manufacturer.”

“Solarsoft’s willingness to collaborate with us to add new functionality and value to the core ERP software — so that other divisions can use the software in its new state — is unique and works extremely well,” says Fottral. “The software is ever improving to meet future needs.”

Like night and day

According to Hrasky, the difference between the legacy system and the Solarsoft system is like night and day.

“I don’t know if we had the vision to go as far as we have when we switched to iVP. We were just focused on shop floor reporting. But today we’re using the majority of the Solarsoft modules. We’re very pleased with everything that Solarsoft has done for us.”

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