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Information system: key to competitive edge.

Growing sophistication in engine and vehicle design has prompted equally sophisticated instrumentation at the parts machining level. But a high-tech shop is not enough for machining operations to stay in business. The internal operating systems of a company, including Total Quality Management (TQM) and Statistical Process Control (SPC), have to be just as sophisticated as the shop machines themselves if a company is to stay competitive and grow in this changing environment.

Since 1946, Paragon Precision Products has specialized in the manufacture of complex, precision-machined parts from standard and exotic materials such as titanium, inconel, and waspaloy. Paragon's four- and five-axis machining centers handle precision machining of impellers, stators, and high-production jet-engine blades as well as complex machining of valve bodies and manifolds for hydraulic and pneumatic flight controls.

Paragon's 60,000-sq-ft facility in Valencia, CA, a northern suburb of Los Angeles, hosts both the Turbomachinery and the Fluid Systems Group and houses a state-of-the-art Quality Control department and in-house penetrant station. As a result of its intricate machining capabilities, Paragon has participated in some of the aerospace industry's most prominent projects: the Atlas, Delta, and Titan rockets and the US Space Shuttle. The company also handles general industrial application projects such as those in the commercial air transport industry.

Paragon's management has paid special attention to establishing state-of-the-art information systems at every level of the organization. The fully integrated system accomplishes more than its main function--to control data throughout the production process. The system permits Paragon to meet customers at their level of sophistication.

The nature of our work mandates careful production and data controls. When customers such as Garrett, Boeing, Pratt and Whitney, or Allied Signal have a question about their job, we have to respond quickly.

To insure that data is current and consistent throughout the life of an order, we developed the Paragon Information Control System (PICS). Information is electronically recorded, manipulated, and transferred at all phases of operation, from estimating to parts programming, production control, manufacturing, delivery, and billing.

PICS didn't occur overnight. It took planning, vision, and commitment to make the system a reality. A planning and evaluating committee, comprised of key management whose departments rely on computer reliability, was formed to select computer hardware and software and installation. Committee members included Barbara Dore, financial controller; Dwight Groom, production controller; and myself, representing operations control. Formal recommendations were then provided to Paragon's chief officer, Lawrence R Smith, for final review and approval.

Which system?

The PICS committee approached the problem by looking at the company's and customers' long-term needs. We narrowed the field of opportunities by limiting our search to UNIX-based hardware and software with personal computer (PC) capability.

For software, we conducted a cost-benefit analysis of adapting a "shelf" product versus creating programming from scratch. We opted to install Symix Computer Systems' Syman software, which offers a good foundation yet allows flexible adaptations where required. For example, programmers may customize a variety of report forms such as backlog reports, milestone charts, manufacturing outlines (MO), "travelers"-all of which are critical in keeping information accurate and production efficient.

The PICS network is utilized by employees at 18 workstations throughout the company with the ability to increase to 24 stations. The system runs on UNIX-compatible 386 AT machines with great hard disk storage capacity (260 MB) and an average running speed of approximately 16 Mhz.

Getting the order

A walk through the process shows the extent to which PICS has elevated the entire production process. PICS goes to work at the very beginning of a project with the request for quote. PICS is used in pre-production planning so that prospective business can be accurately analyzed. One of the Syman modules is devoted to the estimating process and includes setup and run times, materials specification, quantities, tooling time, and variances for special requirements. PICS can also handle "what if" scenarios and what if" quantities for longer term contract situations. A preliminary MO is created, and an estimate is generated. The data is then stored until the order is received.

Once Paragon receives an order, the MO module provides the accounting setup and required control numbers. Project specifications are routed online to engineering, which assigns a four-digit project number. An engineer then electronically creates a detailing package that incorporates data on tooling numbers, shop support, manufacturing sketches, evaluation of the specifications, review of standards and requirements, the sequence of operation and inspection.

The detailing package is then forwarded electronically and by hard copy to Paragon's quality control (QC) department for final approval and verification. When the package has been approved, QC electronically affixes its quality "stamp" to release the order for production. No order can be released without this electronic buy-off on the package. This protective mechanism is one of many quality controls Paragon introduced to the system; the system had to be as fail-proof as possible. Other quality controls include 100% inspection conducted on all outgoing parts and frequent quality review meetings on new and existing jobs.

Into production

Via PICS, the approved package can now pass electronically to production control. At this phase, hard copies of the detailing package are printed; the paper traveler will accompany the order throughout the production process. Data is now reflected on a real-time basis to permit Paragon operators up-to-the-minute tracking ability at every stage of the project. This capability insures that setup, run times, and delivery schedules are met efficiently.

Protection of data becomes extremely important at this phase. While no computer system is immune to "crashes" due to factors such as sudden loss of power, Paragon has built in daily back-up procedures to protect systems data. Should a systems crash occur, losses would be contained to one day of information. Using the average project fulfillment timeframe of 16 to 20 weeks as an example, maximum downtime due to systems failure would be less than 1%.

Data is also secured by controlling access to the system. Only specific personnel can access specific PICS modules.


Before hitting the floor, an order must pass through engineering and programming for CAD/CAM/Mahine center translation. Paragon introduced CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacture) in 1986 to streamline design and manufacturing planning and significantly reduce the margin of error found in more conventional methods.

Three workstations comprise the CAD/CAM system, which uses both Unigraphics II and Hectran software. The latter is completely dedicated to five-axis impeller and blisk machining. This affords total control of the work in the factory and production control accordingly.

The CAD/CAM system provides multiple advantages for maximizing production efficiency. The system's flexibility enables it to translate customer design and specifications data which we receive in many different formats. Unlike other systems, data can be inputted by various methods--even transferred by modem--so that a client's part can be easily built in the computer.

The system's strength derives from its interactive menu which permits powerful yet easy usage. Once customer design data (such as sketches, fixture and tooling designs, and mylars) are received, Paragon programmers enter the data into the system. A CAD/CAM screen is capable of displaying up to 256 layers of information so that data can be corrected until the exact component design is fixed. The screen shows the programmer a 3D or 2D "wire frame" image that can be rotated, manipulated, and produced in full or partial form on a plotter. These visuals are then compared to PICS's electronic MO.

We also use the CAD/CAM system to create a tool path. The design is created from the model through a computerized path to visually stimulate the part's machining process. By seeing how the part will look at various stages, the right manufacturing procedures can be selected.

Once the tool path is designated, the same database is used to make machine tapes that will drive the machining process. Information is downloaded onto floppy disk for loading onto the appropriate tooling fixture. CAD/CAM's DNC (Direct Numerical Control) capability also allows us to transfer data electronically direct to machines on the production floor.

On the floor, the part begins to take shape as machining is conducted on CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machines including conventional EDM; five-axis Bostomatic; five-axis rigid; four-axis, four-spindle Boston Digital; Bostomatic 400 multispindle; Mitsubishi wire EDM; multi-axis conventional EDM; four-axis Mori Seiki vertical mill; and four-axis Fadel and Mori Seiki NC lathes.

Inspections are noted on PICS and duplicated on the back-up paper traveler. Because of the electronic interface, we know the exact status of any order at any time of day, at any point in production.

Benefits versus costs

In the brief time it has been in use, PICS has provided real time savings. In tracking, a single inquiry to the system is made to determine a project's status instantaneously. In design and engineering, CAD/CAM minimizes time and reduces the margin of error in transferring data from the customer to the system and eventually to the machining centers. Project estimates can also be prepared faster and more accurately as a result of PICS, and changes and "what if" estimates can be computed in a matter of keystrokes.

A system such as PICS is unquestionably a major capital expenditure, but the benefits of PICS have far outweighed the costs. The implementation of the system has provided us with essential tools for managing the entire production process.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Paragon Precision Products Information Control System
Author:Bassett, Richard
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:company profile
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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