Mazak Uses MERLIN MES and MTConnect at Kentucky Plant

July 28, 2014 – The American manufacturing renaissance is in motion at Mazak’s plant in Florence, Kentucky with the help of MERLIN (Manufacturing Execution Real-time Lean Information Network) from Memex Automation. MERLIN is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications platform that quickly and cost-effectively isolates productivity issues so everyone from the shop floor to the top floor is able to understand what must be done to maximize efficiency.

Mazak plant in Florence, Kentucky, USA

Mazak produces the world’s most advanced Multi-Tasking, 5-axis turning and milling machines at a rate of 200 units per month in its 800,000 square foot North American Headquarters and Technology Center in Florence, Kentucky. Mazak’s quest for productivity recently extended to a search to improve manufacturing efficiency, particularly in regards to machine availability and associated downtime.

A Mazak Slant Turn Nexus 600 big-bore turning centre machine and MERLIN display screen at left

Mazak’s IT department started the efficiency drive by implementing the MTConnect protocol to accurately determine machine availability by using Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) as a standard measurement. “This total embrace of MTConnect is intended to make a statement,” said Brian Papke, President of Mazak, who personally drove the project. “We want to be a leader in both promoting and implementing MTConnect.  We want our example to show the importance of moving toward data-driven manufacturing.  MTConnect is an essential part of what makes data-driven manufacturing possible.”

MTConnect is an open, royalty-free standard intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software applications. Introduced at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in 2008, Mazak executives recognized its potential to facilitate plant-wide integration and enhance automation. Memex Automation’s Dave Edstrom, who was instrumental in creating the MTConnect vision in 2006 as well as was being the President and Chairman of the MTConnect Institute for three-and-a-half years, joined Memex in January of 2014 as its first Chief Technology Officer and has worked with Mazak for years on MTConnect.

Ben Schawe, Vice President of Manufacturing, began the hunt for a commercially available software package that could produce meaningful reports that both production and management teams could act upon. The company formed a task force to evaluate commercially available software solutions.   After an exhaustive search, Mazak selected MERLIN. The evaluation committee included senior executives from President Brian Papke on down, and ultimately they all voted for MERLIN, with 10 out of 10 votes in favor of the Memex Automation product.

“We ended up choosing MERLIN for its ability to collect data using MTConnect adapters and through their Universal Machine Interface circuit board for legacy machines. This advanced technology board can capture direct signals from the machine and translates it into MTConnect standard code. This combination meant that every machine on the shop floor could be MTConnect compatible for a common technology analysis platform. In particular we liked MERLIN’s ability to display and report on information related to downtime and answer questions such as ‘Why is the machine not running and what can we do to get it running?’” said Schawe.

With MERLIN collecting and reporting Mazak’s production data in real-time, Mazak’s cross-functional task-force team had what they needed. Following the axiom “you are what you measure”, MERLIN made an almost instant impact at Mazak. A series of 60-inch display monitors presented real-time utilization data in a test section of the Florence plant. The test section contained a cross-section of equipment and helped establish a performance benchmark and related training protocols that could easily expand across the massive machine-tool manufacturing plant.

Display screen data streamed  in real time to monitors on plant floor

Mazak’s large displays cycle through a series of reports that are viewable for short periods of time using MERLIN. The majority of the reports focus on a specific machine as well as performance-based gauges and readouts, which resemble a car’s speedometer. Other reports present graphs that compare all of the machines connected to MERLIN according to a variety of critical metrics such as uptime, and stoppages by category.

For the first time, top management and everyone across Mazak’s shop floor have access to the same actionable MERLIN reports. “Almost as soon as we had the reports out on the plant floor we saw a 6% increase in utilization,” said Schawe. “This was true low-hanging fruit. Not doing anything else – just having our operators aware of how their time management affected machine utilization – we got dramatic payback.”

MERLIN’s easily interpreted, visual report format provides shop floor operators at-a-glance information on how machine tool conditions are influencing efficiency. Bar graphs that summarize activity across a number of machines simultaneously inform supervisors and managers of trends useful for decision-making and long-term planning, such as when to schedule refresher training.

MERLIN can show program stops, feed holds, spindle overrides, tool changes and other reasons why a machine is not running. Analyzing this data provides opportunities to reduce or eliminate many of these stoppages, which improves overall utilization.

At team production meetings Mazak personnel are able to identify and easily fix several downtime-related inefficiencies.  One specific example indicated that some tools were frequently wearing out, and the simple solution was having duplicates ready at tool magazines.  This quick fix saved time because operators were no longer wandering the plant enabling the machines to keep operating at peak capacity.

Some of Mazak’s analysis of MERLIN data was surprising, according to Schawe. In one instance, a number of part programs included optional stops, originally added so that operators could check tool wear periodically or measure a critical part feature during the prove-out phase. When the part went into production, however, these optional stops were never removed from the part program, or operators simply got in the habit of restarting the machine at these points in the program. The high occurrence of stoppages linked to these programmed stops showed up in MERLIN reports and were easily identified. Systematically editing the part programs to remove these unnecessary optional stops was an easy way to recover lost production time.

A similar pattern was detected in stoppages for tool changes. Some operators were stopping the machine every time the access to the tool magazine was opened to replace or check a cutting tool. Instead of using the feed-hold button, which stops the machine, they should have been using the magazine manual interrupt switch, which enables the machine to continue running safely while they perform tool maintenance. Training that addressed this issue took care of the problem.

Analyzing stoppages also revealed more subtle situations. For example, an unusual number of machine stops were reported with a certain run of part castings. Checking with the operators revealed that castings of the same part sourced from two different foundries were not identical. Dissimilarities in the foundry patterns created excess stock conditions that required the operator to interrupt the part program to manually add a second tool pass on the affected castings.

“Rather than offering an expensive, custom-built MES to go after specific issues, we’ve produced an affordable M2M toolkit that easily adapts to machines from all manufacturers and also produces a myriad of data reports our global customers find useful,” said David McPhail, president and CEO of Memex Automation. “The technological breakthrough here is that MERLIN’s hardware and software module requires zero programming or PLC set-up. MERLIN leverages every customer’s existing investment in plant, equipment and enterprise software, and lets them get on with the job of maximizing OEE.”

At Mazak, Schawe stated that MERLIN-related efforts to reduce downtime have so far yielded a 42% improvement in utilization for the monitored machines. In addition, his company reduced operator overtime by 100 hours per month and 400 hours per month of previously outsourced work was returned to Mazak. He also praised the advantage of MERLIN’s ability to take the guesswork out of tracking machine utilization. “We can tell at a glance how we are doing, and the basis is in real-time and historical data,” he explained. “There is so much information, accurate and detailed, all easily accessed whereas before we were it was difficult to find information if it was even available,” he added.

Rocky Rowland, Production Manager, uses the system as a valuable tool to understand exact status of production.  “I am a stickler for accurate information and we use it to make ongoing pro-active decisions in a real time basis.  As a bridge between management in the office administration and the actual shop floor, this tool helps me get things done and delivered on time,” he said.

Schawe’s management team also likes automatically receiving some 50 standard MERLIN reports that are sent out automatically to a variety of departments, cells and management on a daily, weekly and monthly basis through an email alert engine – including daily production, quality, constraints, throughput, operator and utilization metrics. “The data just flows,” he said. “We have full visibility of production both electronically and posted on production boards. The office staff can see statuses and we can relay direct information to customers. Utilizing the web services capability of MERLIN even enhances information dissemination as various devices can access data within their browsers and dashboards.”

“Creating a comprehensive machine monitoring system is a big step forward, but universal connectivity and reporting for shop floor and plant-wide communication is truly powerful,” continued Schawe, who points out that MERLIN is also showcased in its technology centers across North America so Mazak customers can see it in action. “We think we’ve only scratched the surface with MERLIN’s transformative possibilities. We’re working closely with Memex Automation to bring more and more equipment online with MERLIN. There’s more productivity for us to discover, and that’s what we intend to do.”

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