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Ten years after: CIM leaders revisited.

Here's a look at how CIM has evolved at plants that were pioneers in 1986.

The original crop of CIM Leaders Award winners announced in our December 1986 issue appear to have become even more computer-integrated - though not necessarily more automated. (In some cases, they are less automated than before.) Instead, the focus has been on automating the flow of information rather than of parts or raw materials. Information networks have been extended beyond the plant walls to communicate with remote operations and with subcontractors.

On the occasion of our tenth annual award, we checked in on the CIM pioneers of 1986 and found that some are still pioneering in computer integration. The stories they tell say a lot about where CIM is headed from here.

CIM Unites Far-Flung Plants

GW Plastics in Bethel, Vt., has seen its custom injection molding business soar by about 20% a year since 1986. The firm has greatly expanded its CIM installation to embrace its added capacity, including new molding plants in San Antonio, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz.

As the business grew, GW replaced its original mid-range computer with an IBM AS400 mini-mainframe for greater processing power, says MIS director Lee Hurd. GW still uses the same CIM software, Plastics Advisor from Keller Schroeder Associates, Evansville, Ind.

Besides adding computer capacity, GW installed a wide-area network that will manage data for all three facilities from the same computer, including financial and manufacturing information, engineering files, sales, shipping, backlog, and forecast data.

Both the volume and quality of electronic data interchange (EDI) has expanded greatly since 1986, according to senior v.p. Ben Riehl. GW Plastics can now share electronic scheduling, purchase orders, and billing directly with its customers.

GW's bar-code system is integrated into the AS400 to provide real-time verification of shipments to customers. GW's customers - a growing number of which demand just-in-time (JIT) delivery - want that shipping confirmation in real time. Customers are now asking to have their computers talk directly to GW's computers on the shipping dock.


GW Plastics plans to install an automated gauging and SPC software package from Applied Statistics, Inc., St. Paul, Minn. It will provide statistical analysis - including X-bar and R charts, moving-range charts, P charts, and other relevant formats - of the molding process in real time. As parts come off the press, a quality auditor measures sample parts at prescribed intervals, and raw data is automatically entered into the computer, which analyzes the information. Control limits are automatically recalculated for each new sample. The results are communicated to the molding technicians to make necessary process adjustments. Information is networked on Windows-based PCs and can be accessed by anyone in the operations group, which encompasses manufacturing, quality assurance, production control, and scheduling.

A real-time production-monitoring system from Mattec Corp., Loveland, Ohio, has been installed on all presses in the Bethel facility. It provides job scheduling and real-time monitoring of materials, scrap, and preventive maintenance. The Mattec system is used in addition to the Plastics Advisor system, which provides more general business-administration functions.


Since 1986, GW has doubled the size of its tool shop in South Royalton, Vt., and has made several equipment upgrades. Four Unigraphics 3-D CAD workstations incorporate EDI, allowing tool designers to communicate directly with customers through each other's CAD systems. GW's cost estimating is often done directly from the customer's part-design disks. Likewise, tool machining proceeds directly from those disks. GW typically produces prototype tooling from CAD designs in three to five weeks.

CIM Keeps an Eye On All the Details

Ford Motor Co. believes in automation and uses CIM to make it work better. Ford s Milan, Mich., plastics plant, which manufactures 10,000 bumper fascias a day, is in the final stages of a $20-million upgrade of its CIM installation. The project will double the capacity of the system that was installed in 1985.

Ford is automating its scheduling system to coordinate batch runs of numerous styles and colors of fascias through the plant. After molding, parts are placed by robots onto automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which bring the parts over to an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS). When needed to fill an order, fascias are picked out of the automated warehouse and placed on automated electronic monorail (AEM) conveyors, which carry the parts to assembly and painting operations.

This system has been expanded since 1986: There are now six more molding pick-up and drop-off stations, 18 more AGVs (for a total of 32), 2000 ft more AGV guidepath, 20 more overhead trolleys, 1100 more feet of mono-rail, 25% more delivery points, five more crane aisles, a larger sorting area, and 20 more bar-code scanners. The importance of the CIM upgrade is that it links the various manufacturing cells together so that Ford can track parts continuously after they leave storage for secondary operations. Parts-tracking ability was sketchier before the upgrade.

Right now, when customer orders are received, schedules are generated manually. The new system will automatically upload customer orders into Milan's scheduling system, which will alert the AS/RS to find the parts and deliver them to assembly and painting stations.

One software package provides a graphical overview of the entire AEM conveyor system. It alerts the operator to faults in tracks and switches and dispatches maintenance to fix problems. A second package does the same for AGVs.

Several new computer "inquiry" terminals have been added to the molding floor, allowing operators to access the status of orders and find out what parts are coming to their workcells. Twenty-three marquees have been added to workcells throughout the plant that identify parts being processed at a particular station.

Original computers have been replaced with new ones to handle the increased workload, says David Price, manufacturing systems section supervisor. These include five DEC VAX computers (three primary, two backup) to run the manufacturing operations, AS/RS, and AGV/AEM systems.

CIM Reduces Inspections

IBM's Charlotte, N.C., facility, which manufactured the company's computer printers, was highly automated, with plantwide monitoring of 23 injection presses, automated parts handling, and robotic assembly. IBM's printer business was sold to Lexmark International and moved to Lexington, Ky. Lexmark abandoned IBM's highly automated assembly in favor of manual operations. The most significant reason is that product life cycles have shortened to less than a year, making the retooling and reprogramming of automated systems prohibitive.


Because Lexmark now farms out almost all of its molding and subassembly work, it uses CIM to establish strong links with its suppliers, treating them as an extension of its own plant, says Bob Vines, who was involved in the IBM project at Charlotte and is now a plastics purchasing manager at Lexmark.

For example, Lexmark installed PCs at its parts suppliers that monitor and convey real-time production data directly from their molding floors back to Lexmark. Before a supplier can ship parts, it has to receive an electronic shipment authorization number for a particular lot of parts. Lexmark's quality engineer reviews the last lots of manufacturing quality data before authorizing the shipment. This system has replaced incoming parts inspection by Lexmark, thereby eliminating some 400 q-c jobs over a five-year period.

Now Lexmark is moving beyond real-time monitoring at its key suppliers to rely on them to monitor their own quality without Lexmark's supervision. "We can eliminate this data link and close follow-up by our engineering people as knowledge gets transferred and trust is established," says Vines.

Lexmark has also established electronic links between its in-house part and tool designers and its outside tool makers. Lexmark uses IDEAS software from SDRC, Milford, Ohio, and several of its mold makers are equipped with the same system. The software enables Lexmark engineers to design parts using solid modeling and then transmit those designs electronically to the tool maker. Production tools are cut directly from Lexmark's CAD database in as little as 10 weeks, says Vines.

Emphasizing JIT (just-in-time), delivery, Lexmark is hooked into the production management systems of its key parts suppliers, enabling it to see in real time what parts will be molded and when.

Scaling Back Automation

Back in 1986, Electrolux Corp. overhauled its 65-year-old plant in Bristol, Va., adding high-tech materials handling with AGVs and extensive use of robots in molding and assembly. Since that time, the plant has reverted back to manual labor in some molding applications, according to Bert Smith, manager of manufacturing fabrication. Electrolux removed part-removal robots from its molding area because they cost an extra 6-15 sec per cycle, says Smith. The problem was exacerbated by frequent product changeovers, which required time-consuming reprogramming and expensive changes in end-of-arm tooling.

In Smith's view, plant automation has not proven to be cost-effective, partly because of the need for skilled labor to maintain the system.

Smith says the original CIM system was implemented by a new management team working under a tight deadline. They may not have foreseen the long-term needs of the plant, he says. He also attributes problems to poor technical support from some software and hardware suppliers.

However, automation appears to be working for Electrolux in materials handling. The company has expanded its automated system from one to five assembly areas.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Gardner Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Plastics Technology's Annual CIM Leaders Award; computer-integrated manufacturing
Author:De Gaspari, John
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Nov 1, 1995
Previous Article:CIM is part of the big picture at Kodak.
Next Article:More erosion in PE, PS, PVC.

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