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Medical Device Maker Increases Throughput by 230 Percent with Manufacturing Intelligence

Integrated control and information system also helps reduce scrap and cycle time

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  • Custom software applications with long lead times and little standardization resulted in an increase of operational tasks and a decrease of high-value products



  • Increased throughput by 230 percent
  • Reduced time spent manually controlling process, increasing operator productivity
  • Cycle time reduced by 40 percent and scrap reduced by 20 percent, improving facility space usage

Powering Heartbeats

Human hearts have their own electrical systems, controlling every aspect that goes into pumping blood throughout our bodies. Like any system, when a heart’s internal structure is disrupted, it cannot function. Defibrillators treat irregular heartbeats with electronic pulses. The life-saving power behind each shock lies within its battery.

At one of its U.S. facilities, a global medical device manufacturer makes these batteries and other components, such as high-voltage capacitors, feedthroughs and electrodes. Recently, the company anticipated an increase in product demand that would require doubling its current output at the site. Yet, the company’s manual assembly process was experiencing delays and challenges that forced the company to consider a new, lean path.

Inefficiencies Uncovered

Before components go into medical devices, the manufacturer must validate its product design and manufacturing process to meet federal regulations. Additionally, the company’s production facility must maintain less than 2 percent humidity at all times due to the reactionary potential of the batteries. Making any changes in this environment would be a costly investment. To verify personnel tackle the root cause of cycle delays, the company videotaped processes in action and what it found was astonishing.

“What we discovered was that it would take up to 25 seconds to acquire a mass during the simple weighing process,” said a process-development engineer for the manufacturer. “Operators were staring at their screens waiting for the MES transaction to take place. The automated system that we owned was obviously wasting time.”

Between waiting for the completion of each MES transaction and assembling devices, operators looked up at the screens so frequently that many left work with sore necks and stiff muscles. “We noticed operators’ heads bowing up and down, looking up at screens,” the engineer added. “Your own neck would get sore watching them.”

Once the company recognized the challenges, the team concluded that 40 percent of the current operational duties were not adding value to the product.

‘No Fault Forward’ Production

While on the hunt for a solution for the facility, the manufacturer’s engineers attended the Rockwell Automation TechED user training event. One of them attended a session by Cybertrol Engineering, a Solution Partner for control, process and information within the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork program. The application outlined in the Cybertrol case study discussed the concept of “no fault forward” production, giving the engineer hope that Cybertrol could offer a fresh perspective to the company’s challenges.

With the help of Cybertrol, the medical device maker implemented a manufacturing solution standardizing on Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix programmable automation controllers (PACs), even in areas where the assembly was entirely manual. Now, instead of operating 12 workstations and seven different data collection apps, operators can use one of seven identical workstations. The controller manages the interaction with the existing, company-built MES, so the operator is not required to engage – or wait – directly.

“The sequence is the same for every process,” the process-development engineer said. “The basic six things happen no matter what the process is – automated or manual assembly. The programmable logic controller is there to enforce the standard sequence of events to know that everything is happening in the right order, every single time. If a step is skipped or any event is not recorded, the operators aren’t allowed to move the product forward until the issue is resolved – no fault forward.”

The Rockwell Automation products installed cleanly. You get it, install it and it runs. We did it all in one afternoon. It was a big, added benefit that the servers are the corporate standard and can be supported by IT when it comes to security updates and more.

Because the controller directly manages interaction with the MES, operators aren’t forced to work on its schedule. The controller administers the interactions through a server dedicated to MES communication, making the interactions seamless for the operator.

On top of this improved control infrastructure, the company layered the FactoryTalk® software suite from Rockwell Automation for visualization and manufacturing intelligence, including FactoryTalk View Site EditionFactoryTalk Historian and FactoryTalk VantagePoint® software from Rockwell Automation. Operators interact with runtime data through FactoryTalk View software. FactoryTalk Historian software automatically identifies, gathers and stores production data from the control system. FactoryTalk VantagePoint software aggregates this data, and correlates and presents production information to operations via easy-to-read dashboards so variances are easily identified and corrected in real time.

The FactoryTalk suite also added remote access to the medical device manufacturer’s machines for the first time. With browser-based interface options, engineers can now program from the office or through a VPN connection from home, rather than going to the plant floor for a direct connection.

“The Rockwell Automation products installed cleanly,” the engineer said. “You get it, install it and it runs. We did it all in one afternoon. It was a big, added benefit that the servers are the corporate standard and can be supported by IT when it comes to security updates and more.”

According to the engineer, IT support has been an added benefit throughout the entire process. The proliferation of Ethernet-connected devices in the plant has fortified steady collaboration between plant operations and corporate IT. For the manufacturer, this partnership resulted in long-term supportability, the utilization of the existing infrastructure, and the end of the proliferation of PCs in the plant. 

Boosting Throughput, Cutting Waste

In less than a year, the upgrades paid for themselves. Through reduced cycle times, the manufacturer was able to increase throughput by 230 percent without extra labor. Tighter process enforcement via the no-fault-forward system reduced scrap by 20 percent. Use of controllers and HMIs on even the manual processes allowed the company to dispose of keyboards and enhance the operator experience through universal training methods and ergonomic improvements.

Manufacturing intelligence provided by the FactoryTalk applications provides diagnostics of plant-floor issues. Before the enhancements, the company experienced slow transaction times during each shift, but struggled to nail down the cause. After the implementation, it identified that the issue occurred at precisely 5 p.m., which was during a scheduled server backup that suspended the system.

“Once we realized the problem, we worked to reschedule the backup,” the engineer said. “It gave us a way to start measuring and breaking down the problem by the hour. We started to ask the right questions to boost productivity.”

Without MES transactions slowing them down, operators are now able to run all seven modules each week, with roughly seven to 12 changeovers, allowing changeover time to be cut by approximately five minutes.

While there was skepticism about integrating a PAC system in a manual assembly process, the manufacturer vowed to only operate on a value-added approach.

“There is some payback for taking the risks,” the engineer said. “Make the easy way the right way. If you could format an infrastructure where the easiest way is the correct way, then people will do that. People will probably prefer a plug-and-play solution versus a complicated, multi-PC system – and that’s what’s starting to happen.”

The results mentioned above are specific to this company’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

Allen-Bradley, CompactLogix, FactoryTalk, PartnerNetwork, TechED and VantagePoint are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.

EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA Inc.


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