Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Improvement through engagement

March 28, 2018
By Mary Del Ciancio

Manufacturer boosts machine uptime and productivity through employee involvement

Mar. 27, 2018 – Successful manufacturers understand that in order to make productivity improvements, they need a clear picture of what is happening on the plant floor. Massiv Die-Form is no exception. The Brampton, Ontario-based company, a division of Magna International, knows how important plant productivity and shop floor transparency are when it comes to fulfilling orders and meeting the demands of its customers, such as automotive manufacturers like Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota, Honda and General Motors. With 24/7 operations, it’s critical that the producer of doors, hoods, body sides, hot stamp tooling and more keeps track of what’s happening on the shop floor, so that it can prevent costly downtime and determine opportunities for improvement.

This need for transparency and increased productivity was behind the company’s recent technology update in its hot stamp machine shop: the implementation of machine monitoring equipment and the development of custom software to enable interactive scheduling. The results of the implementation were increased productivity and decreased downtime, but that comes as no surprise to machine shop manager Jason Sultana. He ensured the project’s success by consulting with the machine operators every step of the way, so that the technology — and how they interacted with it — met their exact needs.

Operator input is key
Massiv Die-Form began tracking machine downtime in its hot stamp machine shop, which produces the tooling to manufacture automotive parts, about eight years ago with some success. However, as a specialist in hot stamp die manufacturing, an approach to forming lightweight, ultra high strength steels, the machine shop felt pressure to increase its efficiencies further, and decided to transition from the manual scheduling process it had been using — an old-fashioned whiteboard that detailed the machines and jobs — to a digital scheduling process. The problem was that the machine tracking software it was using at the time could not integrate with any scheduling software. That prompted Sultana to seek out a new, more flexible solution.

In the hunt for new technology, however, one thing was very clear: the system wasn’t going to work if it didn’t engage plant floor operators.

“Systems like this can be, for machinists on the floor, looked at almost like Big Brother — like someone is always watching them,” explains Sultana. “It’s always hard to get the buy-in from the guys on the shop floor.”


That’s what made FreePoint Technologies a good fit. The London, Ontario-based provider of machine monitoring products has a focus on engaging the operator and capturing the knowledge on the plant floor. Its technology, ShiftWorx, is an analytics and information sharing platform that tracks machine downtime so that manufacturers can measure, analyze and share information in real time. However, before ShiftWorx was even implemented on the plant floor, FreePoint consulted with Massiv’s machine shop operators to determine what they wanted out of a machine monitoring system.

“We got the operators’ input before we got any management input,” explains Paul Hogendoorn, FreePoint president. “The wishlist was built by the operators and what they wanted the system to do for them.”

This approach was important in order to ensure success, says Sultana.

“When we switched to FreePoint, we made the transition about the employees and about what they wanted to see, and made them understand that it wasn’t there to track their performance, but it’s there to help us as management make their job easier, and make their lives easier while they’re at work.”

The same approach was taken when determining the must-have features for the company’s custom-made scheduling system. Sultana, along with the FreePoint team, spent hours talking to machine operators to determine what they wanted to see, so they could make the system work for them.

“We had a lot of input into how we wanted it built,” says Van Goe, day shift lead hand in the company’s machine shop. “Jason asked us what we wanted it to look like. He let everybody [provide] input into what needed to be added and what was missing. From the ground up, we had a say in what we wanted it to be.”

The result? Massiv’s machine shop got a flexible solution that enables operators to easily communicate downtime issues back to management, emphasizing the importance of operator expertise when analyzing machine performance. In addition, they also got an interactive scheduling system that simplifies the scheduling process, while adding increased efficiencies.

A flexible solution
ShiftWorx is installed on almost every machine in Massiv Die-Form’s hot stamp machine shop — including vertical mills, horizontal mills, five-axis machines, boring mills and gun drills — to record downtime information. It features a little black box, which connects easily and non-invasively with any type of machine to pull data from that piece of equipment, regardless of its age or manufacturing process. In fact, it can be installed in an hour without any modifications to the machine.

Once installed, ShiftWorx can monitor start times, cycle times, stop times, down times, parts per second time and more, and has a screen at each workstation with a running bar graph so that operators can easily see this information in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to them. If the machine stops, the operator is prompted to input a reason for downtime, a task designed to engage the operators and take data collection to the next level.

“Data from the machine is information, but information from the operator is knowledge,” says Hogendoorn. “Our operator engagement modules are designed to really bring the operator’s knowledge into the database and to engage the operator by really letting them know that their knowledge matters.”

With this data, Massiv can now focus on the work that adds value, and find the actionable information that can make an immediate difference. ShiftWorx also enables the information to be shared to all team members in real time. As this solution is web-based, Sultana can view these details in real time on his computer — or any computer or mobile device by logging in — and see how the machines are running, their percentage of efficiency, whether there has been a maintenance breakdown, and if there’s something holding these machines up.

In addition, Sultana can receive daily, weekly or monthly reports on how efficient the machine shop has been and the main reasons for downtime. Armed with this valuable information, he can target certain machines or processes to try and improve the efficiency of the shop.

Next-level scheduling
The second part of the implementation was a scheduling system that would allow team members to easily schedule jobs in the machine shop. It was developed with FreePoint, and customized to Massiv Die-Form’s needs.

The new scheduling system allows the team to schedule jobs on machinery as far in advance as they need to (compared to the 36-hour forecast of the company’s former manual scheduling system). The jobs and machines are listed on the new system — a “smart board” — and operators can simply drag and drop the job to the machine that has capacity for it. When changes are made and jobs are moved around, the system can recalculate completion times, making this process much faster and smoother than the previous manual calculation.

Data derived from the scheduling system tells Sultana how accurately they’re planning and how far in advance they are able to forecast the machine shop. It also tells them whether they need additional equipment or workers, depending on the workload and downtime and uptime of each machine. The scheduling system allows users to keep a history of the data they have collected, and enables them to see trends.

“It provided a lot of clarity for me, and I think it made, for the lead hands on the shop floor, it easier to manage their time and the time of the guys on the machines,” Sultana explains.

Gauging success
Since adopting ShiftWorx and incorporating the custom-made scheduling system, Sultana says he has seen an increase in uptime and efficiency on the shop floor and, thanks to the ease of scheduling, the team is much more efficient in how they organize and plan the machine shop. The company is so happy with the results, that management is looking into incorporating ShiftWorx, and eventually the scheduling system, into different areas of the plant. In fact, ShiftWorx has just been installed on some of the die presses in Massiv’s press shop so that similar actionable data can be pulled from that machinery. Next, the company is planning to target the assembly area to provide more clarity on its overall productivity.

“I think that would be the best gauge of success,” explains Sultana. “Now we’re starting to see the machine shop pull ahead in terms of productivity, and other areas are looking to implement the system.”

Of course, staff in those areas will be engaged every step of the way to determine if the system needs to be tweaked to meet their unique requirements. After all, the key to the machine shop’s success, says Sultana, is that employee engagement and communication were — and still are — a priority.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2018 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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