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Systems integrator manages multiple-vendor system: systems integrator, working with General Motors Buick City plant, helped improve LeSabre quality.

Systems integrator manages multiple-vendor system

Systems integrator, working with General Motors Buick City plant, helped improve LeSabre quality.

Buick City was born in the mid-1980s on the site of the old Buick plant. It was completely revamped to build an all new front-wheel-drive LeSabre. The new LeSabre was designed by GM to be internationally competitive in quality, cost, and responsiveness.

Achieving these goals demanded installing new technologies. Included were a first-of-its kind electronic scheduling system, electronic-data-interchange, and a Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory-control system.

The automaker selected Electronic Data Systems (EDS), Dallas, TX, as the systems integrator. EDS's job was to select and link information-processing hardware, software, communications, processes, and people throughout the plant.

Total business approach

EDS set out to meet Buick's functional requirements as well as its business objectives. The systems integrator worked with the automaker to provide a competitive advantage through information technology.

Tony Otero, Buick's manager of manufacturing engineering, says, "When we started Buick City, we experienced some startup problems. The technology was in place, and EDS and Buick were in the trenches together to make sure it worked. Between EDS and our engineering group, we have been able to install complicated systems that produce quality vehicles on schedule, and everybody understands what's happening."

Having a systems integrator on-site allowed Buick to focus on its main line of business -- manufacturing LeSabres. Any concerns or coordination regarding information technology services by Buick were addressed to Jim Pesnichak, EDS account manager. In turn, he drew on expertise from his team of systems engineers.

Software and hardware

EDS's next step was to develop software and obtain hardware to move information from system to system. "Our goal was not simply to make computers and automation talk to one another," Mr Pesnichak says. "The emphasis was to build quality into the cars."

Buick and EDS together devised a process driven by computers. The process begins when a customer places an order at a dealership. The order is routed to Buick City, where a computer reviews the model mix and places the order in a build sequence. Build information is downloaded to the plant's production-support system. It disseminates this information to computers in the body shop, paint shop, and trim department.

"We use information technology to monitor vehicles through the entire assembly process," explains Mr Pesnichak. "Most information is in electronic form and is passed between various functional areas of the plant. Systems talk to one another, enabling data to be sent electronically from body shop through final assembly.

"Our relationship is very much a partnership," he continues. "Buick is the manufacturing expert and we are the automation and information technology experts. We work together on issues concerning the factory floor. As a member of the plant manager's staff, I'm involved in Buick's business planning. I attend daily production meetings and work with Buick management to review production concerns and help solve problems from the previous day. I have to know the customer's business to give them the systems solution they need. And looking to the future, we are working with Buick to develop a 1992 business plan."

Flexible processes

From the beginning, flexibility was built into the assembly process. For example, Buick has the ability to re-sequence vehicles during assembly. There are five or six areas where jobs are taken out of production sequence--mostly in the body shop and paint shop--for quality or processing reasons, and later reinstated at random. Vehicles are locked into fixed sequence only in the trim shop.

For this system to work, EDS and Buick City devised a tracking system that uses an Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) tag. The AVI tag, a wallet-size radio-frequency identification device, hangs from the radiator support to track or locate up to 1600 vehicles during the 26-hour assembly process. It is read by nine read stations during the process.

The tag provides build-data to automated devices and other manufacturing systems along the assembly line. As an example, at AVI Station 1, a hidden serial number is embossed on the vehicle in case of theft. Tag information is also downloaded to programmable controllers that control robotic spot-welders at one station and robotic installation of windshields at another.

AVI also generates build information for line workers and suppliers. Stations generate the Build Manifest, a printout that tells the line worker what to install in a vehicle. Another read station at the paintshop exit electronically transmits information to suppliers of seats, struts, floor mats, instrument panels, and wiring harnesses. These stations deliver parts in build sequence just before assembly. A JIT delivery is necessary because at 1.5-million sq ft, Buick City has less than half the floor space of conventional 'Greenfield' plants.

What, when, and where

Because of limited space, about 75% of incoming trucks are directed to a Flow Through Terminal (FTT), a temporary storage building located near the complex. Parts are delivered by truck, stored for up to 1 1/2 days, reloaded onto new trucks, and shipped to the assembly plant. This reduces the number of trucks arriving at the assembly plant from five to one.

"You could literally gridlock yourself with trucks coming from 400 different suppliers," says Mr Pesnichak. "So we (EDS) tell the trucks when to be at which gate, what to have loaded in what sequence, what dock to go to, and at what time to leave. When trucks arrive at one of 20 docks, they are never more than 300 ft from where the commodity is going to be used.

"In so many plants, Just-In-Time is not Just-In-Time," Mr Pesnichak continues. "Materials come in and are stacked on the sidelines awaiting use. We don't have the space to keep more than two or three hours of many kinds of inventory on hand. Because we're forced to keep small inventory lots, lower inventory costs have generated savings. Additional savings will result as more AVI stations are added."

Diagnosing the system

Assembly line uptime is maximized because of computers and sensors that monitor equipment throughout the plant. The system is referred to as the Machine Monitoring And Diagnostics System (MMAD). MMAD monitors more than 2500 points and annunciates and displays faults in a central control room where the fault is initially addressed.

"We have one of the best diagnostic systems in the industry," says Mr Otero. "We have input from all of our equipment, machinery, and tooling. We've always had lights and signals and diagnostics. But EDS brought us the ability to see it all as one."

Mr Pesnichak explains what happens during a failure. "First, the line stops; then the control room display goes to red. The MMAD system delivers a message such as, 'Limit Switch 103 did not trip, Robot #10, Station #3'. GM operators in the control room determine the problem and call maintenance. You're taking most 45-min downtimes and reducing them to 5-min downtimes. Downtime is reduced further because data from this system is used to schedule preventive maintenance."

MMAD involves coordination between four groups: 1) EDS, which oversees computers, communications, databases, and graphics; 2) Buick engineers, who design ladder logic for the programmable controllers; 3) UAW electricians, who modify ladder logic during maintenance procedures; and 4) the GM control-room monitors.

MMAD is only one of 85 systems that EDS runs at Buick City. There are about 40 materials systems alone, as well as receiving, shipping, vehicle control systems, and JIT, among others.

Still other computer systems test engines and transmissions, especially near the end of the assembly process. The Assembly Line Diagnostic Link (ALDL) is an example. Here, a vehicle is started for the first time and subjected to a series of end-of-line tests to verify correct engine operation. The ALDL test system connects to the vehicle's electronic-control-module. All vehicles must pass ALDL testing before leaving the plant to assure proper operation and ensure adherence to government emission standards.

The plant's ALDL testing is reported on-line to the Real-Time Production Monitoring (RPM) system. The system reports pass/fail counts and percentages for the current hour, current shift, and the entire production day; and informs the operator conducting the test of faults detected by the onboard computer. It might find, for instance, that the oxygen sensor in the manifold is defective, instructing the operator to replace it.

When vehicles are driven off of the assembly line, they are ready to go to a designated truck or railcar. Here their position on the transport is predetermined by EDS software to optimize delivery.

Buick City's plant systems also are integrated into GM's corporate specification and price systems. As vehicles complete the assembly process, price labels listing cost and options are printed on laser printers and placed with each car. They accompany the vehicles to the dealer, but the information also goes to accounting for billing. That helps track daily production costs and individual vehicle production.

Buick's use of EDS for its information technology services has allowed the company to successfully concentrate on quality. "We are now the corporate leader in having the fewest discrepancies per vehicle," says GM's Mr Otero. "In 1986 we had 20 defects per vehicle. Now we average 2.6.

PHOTO : AVI system provides build information to plant automation.

PHOTO : AVI system triggers build manifests as cars are resequenced in the system. Printout tells the line worker what to install in the vehicle.

PHOTO : AVI system provides build information necessary to robotically dress and install windshields and back lights.
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Article Details
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Author:Wilson, Michael J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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