Internet of Things Solution

Photo B dashboard reporting on plant monitorsEnter the Internet of Things (IoT) and a technology solution to automate data collection and analysis based on a manufacturing-analytics system provided by SensrTrx, St. Louis, MO. SensrTrx’s custom-developed systems provide insight into the shop floor, collecting data on what’s happening, what went wrong, what went right and why. Data from sensors mounted to equipment feed into the SensrTrx cloud-based software, which then delivers actionable insights to improve plant-floor operations.

“We looked at several options for gathering data at the machines, and selected SensrTrx in part because it easily tied directly to the PLCs we already had installed on the machines,” says Cushman.  “We initially connected SensrTrx to four of the finishing machines—our biggest runners—where, collectively, we were experiencing 18 hr. of downtime per week.  

“I’m a data-driven person,” Cushman continues, “and after that much downtime we knew we had to act. In fact, we were working a 12-hr. shift on Saturdays trying to get the parts out. While before implementing SensrTrx we knew there was a problem, we didn’t realize just how bad it was until we started collecting the data.”

The quick feedback from the instant data reporting allowed Cushman to go to shop-floor personnel and immediately ask what was happening—why so many backward-facing cans? 

“In this case, and in others, I quickly can get out to the floor and say, ‘Let’s stop the process and try to fix it,’” Cushman says, “rather than allowing them to continue to struggle. Then, when we initially conducted our troubleshooting process, data from SensrTrx immediately let us know if the fixes we were making were improving things or making them worse. Ultimately, we discovered that the culprit was the air nozzles in the bowl feeders—if we set the process to allow too many cans in the bowl at one time, the nozzles could not properly orient all of them and they’d jam. And, too few cans in the bowls would starve the coating line.”

The solution lay in fine-tuning and dialing in the line speed and controlling the number of cans in the bowl, while also dialing in the air jets so that the machine never stops. “Every stoppage is another opportunity for a can to flip around,” says Cushman. “Throughout this trial-and-error process-improvement exercise, data from SensrTrx provided the feedback we needed. And now that we have identified and fixed the problem, we can set trigger alerts should we face recurring and unacceptable stoppages, to catch and address problems immediately.”

Reducing Downtime, Eliminating Manual Reporting

By tracking machine stoppages on the floor and pinpointing the cause—through a Kaizen event and data analysis, and implementing a corrective-action plan—Cushman and his team were able to reduce overall downtime on the finishing machines by 73 percent and eliminate the unplanned downtime.  

“I now can nail down to the day and to the hour when any new trend starts because of SensrTrx,” Cushman says. “Now, if something happens to make the backward-can problem reduce downtime by more than 65 percent, we immediately see this and watch for future improvements or declines, and then we can take action to either fix or imitate. We now have the foundation to match current trend data with historical data, then match with our corrective action. And, now we don’t need to say, ‘I think it’s better.’ Or, ‘Hey, Mr. Operator, is it better?’ We can prove that it is or is not better, which is why we like SensrTrx.”

The firm installed SensrTrx initially as a pilot 2 years ago, and it really hit its stride this past April for production purposes, according to Cushman. Throughout the firm’s pressroom and finishing department, H&T Waterbury now has SensrTrx installed on 14 machines—six coating machines and eight US Baird high-speed transfer presses—“the presses running our highest-volume products,” Cushman explains. “However, the finishing department typically is the bottleneck, so that’s why we focused there initially. Every day we look at press OEE using the data gathered from SensrTrx. And, we also have sensors installed on the presses to monitor issues that can cause a stoppage—oil level, for example.”

Data from the pressroom appear on SensrTrx dashboards displayed on large screens located on the shop floor. This provides transparency throughout the shop and creates a sense of urgency should a press be operating at subpar OEE. In addition, Cushman has set up daily production reports to be automatically sent to all upper management at the end of each day. This means no surprises or guessing as to how the plant performed on any given day. If the plant experienced a significant downtime event, everyone becomes aware; and, likewise, if it performed exceptionally well, everyone knows that, too. 

“This level of transparency creates a residual effect throughout the company,” Cushman says—"a culture of understanding, greater communication and consensus.”

Creating Collaboration Between Production and Maintenance

Part of the draw to the SensrTrx platform, notes Cushman, was its simple integration with the firm’s Fiix computerized maintenance-management system (CMMS), implemented in 2017 and providing H&T Waterbury with visibility and communication beyond production to provide a complete view of the plant. “Not only can production quickly address problems and enable continuous improvement,” explains Cushman, “but the maintenance team also benefits.”

Integrating SensrTrx with Fiix (a Rockwell Automation company) establishes a truly connected and seamless production floor. Now, with a productivity-monitoring solution in place and an integrated CMMS, the team can correct and monitor issues not only to drive continuous improvement but also to enable the completion of maintenance work without inhibiting production goals. Communication also has improved between the maintenance and production teams, Cushman reports, eliminating finger-pointing and blame. 

“The integration was seamless on our side,” he says. “We just plugged in some of the asset numbers and saw the meter counts rise on Fiix.  The highlights are really starting to show.”

For maintenance specifically, the integration establishes condition-based maintenance activities, triggers automatic work orders according to production status and collects process data to detect anomalies.

“The biggest change or shift for us,” Cushman explains, “probably was trying to move from a time-based mindset—because that’s how we’ve done it and had no better option for all of these years—to a meter-reading or count-based mindset.” 

Establishing Visibility and Better Communication in the Plant

At the end of the day, SensrTrx and Fiix help H&T Waterbury approach problems with a data-driven mindset, using the data to help solve problems and improve processes in the plant. 

“I’ve been working with data and solving problems for the last 8 years, but never had anything in place like SensrTrx,” Cushman says. “Implementing this IoT solution started something that we didn’t know before; all of the problems we thought were small actually weren’t.”

Weekly, the production and maintenance teams come together to review the previous week’s data. By discussing data collected from Fiix and SensrTrx, H&T Waterbury gains a clear understanding of how the plant is performing, and what needs to be addressed moving forward. With real-time data, Cushman and his team can understand past performance, implement corrective actions to fix problems, monitor actions taken and use data moving forward to ensure the effectiveness of those actions.

“What gets tracked, gets improved,” he stresses. “And now we have a much better understanding of our stoppages and the frequency of stoppages. When you have a data-driven approach, you tend to work better as a team, too, because it’s fact, not opinion.” MF

Industry-Related Terms: Case, Draw, Lines, Run, Scrap, Transfer
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: SensrTrx LLC dba Mingo

Technologies: Management, Sensing/Electronics/IOT


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