adimas - Fotolia
With roughly 7 million doors and 1.5 million exhaust systems rolling off its production lines each year, HIROTEC AMERICA Inc., a tier-one automotive supplier, is all for exploring initiatives that might eliminate downtime on the plant floor.
Historically, HIROTEC didn't have condition-based monitoring capabilities on its factory equipment, so when any type of failure occurred, there was little advance warning and lots of pressure on personnel to assess and address the problem as fast as possible without causing major delays to the production schedule. The reactive maintenance strategy was clearly a disadvantage, and as the internet of things emerged, HIROTEC saw an opportunity to turn all of its untapped machine-generated data into actionable intelligence that could drive improvements across a variety of processes, including predictive maintenance.
While the automotive supplier was sitting on a wealth of data specific to each piece of equipment on the plant floor, it was difficult to collectively utilize the information, let alone present it to plant floor personnel or other users in any kind of contextualized, meaningful format, said Justin Hester, senior researcher at HIROTEC. "The large amount of available data usually meant that it took a long time to create meaningful reports," Hester explained. "This means that the industry has largely made decisions based on days-old, if not weeks-old, data."
Justin Hestersenior researcher, HIROTEC
Given the scope of its production and tooling environment, HIROTEC required an IoT solution with the scalability and flexibility to cover its heterogeneous landscape without requiring a lot of heavy lifting around integration, Hester said. PTC Inc.'s ThingWorx IoT platform and Kepware industrial data collection solution fit the bill, delivering enterprise-wide device-to-cloud connectivity along with data management, visualization and analysis functionality through a single tool set. ThingWorx provides the platform; what the Kepware gateway brings is a way for shop floor devices to see the cloud connection as a RESTful web server. "The combination of Kepware and the ThingWorx IoT platform provided us with the scope to cover our entire production and tooling needs, as well as the flexibility to make the IoT solution fit our organization -- not make our organization match the IoT solution," he explained.
Achieve an agile development approach with the ThingWorx IoT platform
Unlike some companies committing to an IoT implementation roadmap, HIROTEC opted for an agile methodology where capabilities were rolled out in short, six-week agile sprints. This approach ensured there was regular, visible and quantifiable progress while also allowing HIROTEC to stay current with IoT technology as the field is still nascent and evolving. "We find a lot of companies get stuck in the initial planning phases as they try to understand how they can go from zero to a fully connected enterprise with full predictive analytics capabilities," Hester explained. "The truth is, it's impossible to complete that journey in one step. Technology will change, ideas will change and you will learn things along the journey. Only through executing small sprints are we able to stay flexible."
Since implementing the ThingWorx IoT platform and the Kepware IoT Gateway, HIROTEC has gained increased visibility into its CNC shop and deeper insights into its operations, allowing for greater accuracy in the scheduling process and a better handle on asset and resource allocation, Hester explained. For example, improving visibility into the operational metrics of its machine shop lets HIROTEC modify workflows to accommodate higher throughput without investing in another CNC machine, he said. In addition, there have been softer ROI benefits, including a clearer real-time picture of how operations are performing.
Moving forward, HIROTEC plans to use the sprint-project approach to connect its IoT solution to its ERP system, allowing it to examine real-time and historical operational metrics of any machine and compare the findings to assigned workloads. This will be the stepping stone to predictive analytics, both to move workloads around from different machines to achieve the highest levels of efficiencies in its CNC shop and to enable remote equipment monitoring and management from a centralized dashboard to foster predictive maintenance.
"By implementing both the ThingWorx IoT platform and the Kepware IoT Gateway as well as new business processes, we are able to drive down decision time while maximizing those decisions' financial impact," Hester said, underscoring that the ability to show real-time data in a conceptualized format is the real game-changer. "This means our decision-makers are able to transition from making conjecture based on historical data to making more impactful decisions based on the current state," he explained.
Check out more about PTC's push into the IoT world.
Learn about PTC's augmented reality/virtual reality initiatives, as well as how IoT and AR mix.