Airbags Blow Up Safely with Best Practices in the Automotive Industry
Visteon Berlin produces instrument panels for the latest Ford Car. The panel has an invisible door for the airbag and the door must operate properly if the airbag is activated. In this project state of the art software is implemented to track the production process, detect errors and make sure no unsafe product is shipped to the customer. By logging all critical process steps Visteon can store the data and provide Ford with production details at anytime. The software used is Activplant from EMT.Activplant is developed with .NET technologies and implemented locally in Berlin by ATS.
Visteon is an $18 billion automotive parts manufacturer with 98 plants worldwide. Originally a spin-off from Ford the company has become a major independent player through acquisitions and internal growth. Fast business development resulted in a wide range of IT legacy systems and the company embarked on an ambitious stabilization, standardization and roll-out plan.
IT Shop Floor Solutions were instructed to investigate the existing solutions, recommend a new strategy and then implement the new strategy worldwide. The investigation coincided with a major shift in thinking amongst suppliers of IT Shop Floor Solutions.
New and relatively low cost tools such as SQL Server and .NET convinced some pioneer companies to develop standard software products for what are known as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) or Manufacturing Intelligence (MI).
Visteon completed detailed investigations of some of these standard software solutions and compared them with the alternative of developing custom made software.
The pressure from customer’s to provide “birth” history reports was also growing – to the point that if a solution was not found then significant orders would be lost. A solid choice had to be made.
Visteon’s product choice fell to a new breed of product from EMT, the makers of Activplant. EMT had understood the power of the Web by creating a Web browser interface to a structured SQL Database collecting information directly from the shop floor.
Visteon recognized the power of this product and has standardized across the world on Activplant. By choosing standard software rather than a custom made solution Visteon significantly reduces the risk of software obsolescence and unsupported implementations.
In a project of this nature the IT infrastructure is relatively simple with an IBM intel server being added to Visteon’s Intranet providing access to users worldwide. The number of PC’s connected and able to view the logged data is unlimited as Activplant offers an asset based licensing structure. In other words Visteon pays a license fee for the number of assets, or machines, to be viewed rather than the number of users. Visteon can offer customers such as Ford direct access to the data over the Internet, if so desired and at no extra cost.
Connecting the Activplant SQL Database to the production process is more complex. Devices such as PLC’s, which control the production process often “talk” to other control devices or PC’s with proprietary protocols. To resolve this problem Visteon has adopted the industry standard protocol interface OPC, or OLE for Process Control, whereby OLE stands for Object Linking and Embedding.
Almost all industrial software products provide an OPC interface. Drivers with an OPC client are developed by companies like ATS and offered as standard products on the market.
Using simple addressing OPC servers can receive and send data to the control devices.
Finally we must not forget that data is being read directly from the production process, plastic injection molding machines, foaming machines, torque screwdrivers etc. A product may only pass from one station to the next when error proofing has taken place.
Error proofing releases the product to move to the next stage ensuring that only perfect products, which have met all quality requirements, can be finally released for shipment to the customer. Operators can enter data through terminals close to the production process. Bar code printers, readers and scanners are all connected thru OPC servers to the data collector (a separate server).
All communication supports MSMQ so if the server goes down the logged data stays in the communication link until the server goes live and the data is logged again.
Understanding the production process, being able to implement the links to the control devices and initiating error proofing is a skill brought to the project by the implementation partner, in this case ATS.
The nature of these projects requires a complex set of implementation skills, in addition to knowledge of SQL Server, Windows 2000 Server, SQL Database the partner needs to be able to program control devices like PLC’s and be able to develop OPC servers and run sub-programs for error proofing calculations in C#. ATS has standardized this software as a snap-in to Activplant to create an easily maintainable system, which can be changed whenever the production process is altered.
Benefit #1 No Paper!
All of the critical process data is logged in the server automatically.
Imagine the cost, overhead and potential for mistakes if this was a manual system. Believe it or not most tracking & tracing systems in production processes are still paper (manual) based. The biggest competitor to Activplant is still an Excel spreadsheet!
Benefit #2 Universal Factory Data Model – Ease of Use
All data follows EMT’s Universal Factory Data Model. Just 4 types of data exist, an identifier, an accumulator, an incident and an event. By defining logged data in this simple way the end user and implementation partner does not need to worry about database design concepts and can just get on with the job on hand. Information for decision makers is provided through more than 60 standard, configurable reports, using a web browser making Activplant a user’s dream product.
Benefit #3 It Works! – Up and running in less than 6 months
New equipment, new control systems, new bar code printers, readers, scanners and new industrial network systems, electrical installation, equipment installation and production testing etc. cost a lot more time than the Activplant implementation. Visteon Berlin can now produce a “birth” history report for any instrumentation panel and with good back up procedures they will be able to keep issuing a detailed birth history 15 years after production.
Data Collection for Visteon