Minimizing downtime is critical in any industrial application. But in dynamic, just-in-time (JIT) automotive manufacturing, any disruptions across the supply chain can quickly cascade and impact real-time vehicle production at the carmaker’s site.
For automotive Tier supplier CpK Interior Products, maintaining a responsive production environment means minimizing reliance on other Tier suppliers. CpK operates three vertically integrated plants in Ontario that produce the key interior automotive components of their offering.
The Belleville facility compounds thermoplastics, which are shipped to the Port Hope plant, home of tooling, production for cast skin and foam, and subassembly. The Guelph plant handles final assembly and sequencing – and ships the product to the carmaker on time.
“Because we have these capabilities within our own facilities, we are able to launch new products and processes much faster than if we had to outsource some of the work,” explained Chris Murray, Belleville Production Manager, CpK Interior Products.
Identifying Improvement Opportunities
The Belleville facility is smaller than the company’s other two plants – and also houses research and development capabilities. As a result, it has become an incubator for manufacturing innovations and production solutions.
“Due to our relatively small size, it’s more cost-effective and faster to prove-out concepts here at Belleville and then deploy them to our other facilities,” said Murray.
Since 2010, JAE Automation, an automation design firm and part of the Rockwell Automation® System Integrator PartnerNetwork™, has worked with CpK to identify opportunities for operational improvements. The first project at the Belleville plant was deploying a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solution, featuring FactoryTalk® View Site Edition (SE) software, to complement the plant’s extensive installed base of Rockwell Automation control products.
“We started with the SCADA and over the years, handled upgrades and safety systems,” said Eric Martin, president, JAE Automation. “Questions started to come up about where the system programs were stored.”
As is the case with many manufacturers, CpK was utilizing a completely manual process to track control system assets.
“Quite frankly, we were using spreadsheets to track equipment and hardware,” Murray said. “For software, individual licenses were deployed on PCs and laptops.”
Skilled trades people would use the laptops point-to-point – laptop to PLC – to maintain the control systems. Any resulting configuration changes were manually saved on that laptop – and in theory – to a consistent location.
The Challenges of Manual Asset Management
Managing automation assets manually introduced significant challenges – especially from a software maintenance standpoint. While the Belleville facility used the SCADA server to store and update software, not all laptops were networked into the system.
“Revision control was dependent on someone updating the software and saving it in the correct location,” Murray said. “It’s not very hard to have different versions saved in different areas.”
“Because the operation at Belleville is smaller than at other CpK facilities, fewer people touch the system,” Martin added. “We felt the server delivered a good set-up for backup. But the lack of centralized revision control introduced risk.”
At the larger CpK facilities where servers were not deployed and more people were interacting with the equipment – the risk was higher. Programs were typically stored on USB drives and could be difficult to locate when equipment maintenance was required.
“Maybe you have a machine jam or a sensor is malfunctioning and you need the maintenance software to take corrective action,” Murray said. “In a busy facility, you cannot afford the downtime to search file drawers for the USB drive that – hopefully – has the latest software.”
A Better Way
Working together, the CpK and JAE teams initially proposed a pilot program to automate and streamline asset management at the Belleville facility using FactoryTalk® AssetCentre software.
“However, the team at Belleville quickly realized this should be a corporate project,” said Martin. “So in the end, our deployment involved all three facilities.”
At the Belleville facility, the JAE team once again used the power of the SCADA system server to deploy the solution. At other facilities, servers were added to the network.
“In deploying the solution, we used Microsoft® Remote Desktop Services to enable access to the software programs through thin clients,” Martin explained.
FactoryTalk AssetCentre provides a centralized tool for securing, managing, versioning, tracking and reporting automation-related asset information across an entire facility. The software is designed to provide secure access to the system, automatically track user actions and firmware revisions – and manage historical versioning of any electronic file. In addition, the solution delivers automatic backup.
“The solution streamlines how workers connect to PLCs and other devices,” said Murray. “Workers can only use the current version of software – and since maintenance workers must check programs in and out, any changes are automatically captured.”
Murray added: “When a problem does arise, I can confidently say that FactoryTalk AssetCentre significantly reduces our Mean Time to Repair (MTTR).”
Success Built on Relationships
Both JAE and CpK credit the success of the FactoryTalk AssetCentre deployment to the relationship the two companies have developed over the years.
“For us, a successful relationship is based on first listening to your customer – and then understanding what the facility needs,” Martin said. “CpK shares their business challenges with us, and we work together to develop solutions.”
Murray added: “Strong working relationships with our partners like JAE and our customers is critical to our success. Relationships are the key to complete customer satisfaction – and that’s our goal.”
Learn more about solutions deployed by our System Integrator Partners.