Automakers Seek to Simplify, Standardize

Automotive manufacturers strive to reduce new product development cycles to maximize sales opportunities.

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They also must find ways to reduce production costs, meet global regulatory requirements, and produce a wide variety of consistently high quality products with a minimum of manufacturing assets. Addressing these challenges requires that manufacturers adopt new strategies that take into account the expanded role of their suppliers, the increased use of flexible manufacturing equipment, and the need for better information management solutions that integrate into workflow technologies.

Such was the essence of the Automotive Industry Forum this week at Automation Fair.

Create Global Standards and Tools

Juergen Kuebler, manager controls technology, Daimler, kicked off the session, introducing forum attendees to the Mercedes Car Group Center for Materials and Process Engineering, as well as the Production Planning Strategies, Methods and Technology, corporate headquarters groups that are key to the company’s success.

In 2006, Kuebler took on expanded responsibility for developing new control technology systems within the Materials and Process engineering groups. He focused on methods and technologies for automation and simulation, including control architectures and systems, communications technologies, safety technologies, HMI systems, and the development and deployment of engineering tools for implementing the Daimler Integra standard globally.

“We had controllers for safety and controllers for the machine--now we have one for both.” Daimler’s Juergen Kuebler on the carmaker’s ongoing efforts to streamline and standardize its automation platform complexity.
The Daimler Group has been reducing vehicle program launch cycles and costs through the creation and deployment of global control standards and tools, Kuebler said.

“Not 10 years ago, we were dealing with many different platforms,” said Kuebler. “We had several different buses, as well. If a new technology came up, we might have to develop it seven times. That’s crazy.”

They’ve made great progress. Now they’re down to two platform standards, one of which is called “Click” and is based on Rockwell Automation technology. Kuebler outlined the approach to standardize key areas including components, subsystems, diagnostics, training, and others. “We had controllers for safety and controllers for the machine,” he said. “Now we have one for both. We had seven fieldbuses, now we have EtherNet/IP. We had 4,000 motor variants, and now we have less than 200. We had 10 HMI and operating systems, now we have one operating and visualization system.”

 The future still has challenges for Daimler and Kuebler. “We want to reduce engineering costs,” said Kuebler. “The first wave was components. Next were systems and architecture. Our third wave will be the high percentage of engineering costs in electrical design and implementation.”

Simplify Your Life

Troy Blevens, commercial vehicles manager for Metalsa, outlined his thoughts on rationalizing and fixing a much too old and much too customized MES and ERP during his “Designing a Manufacturing Execution System” presentation.

Blevens has been with Metalsa, which forms, joins, and assembles steel parts for major car, truck, and heavy truck builders, the past 10 years working with the business unit’s critical systems. He led several key projects including a system conversion of engineering and order configuration applications from a legacy system running on Alpha OpenVMS technology and custom written C code to Java J2EE using Oracle Technology running on Linux OS. The past two years, he has been working on the ten year vision for the future for Metalsa commercial vehicle systems.

Blevens is in the process of defining, designing, and deploying a manufacturing execution system for Metalsa’s Roanoke plant. The primary objectives are to enable manufacturing to increase production and flexibility to meet future demands while reducing overall system complexity through the use of Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk technology.

“We had to give business to a sister plant because we couldn’t do it,” Blevins explained. “We needed increased flexibility, and a big reduction is complexity.”

The obstacles were well-defined. Two manufacturing units used three customized MES systems with no common database. “Just to track the movement of a part from point A to point B involved three different systems to manage and control flow.”

The systems also lacked expertise. The systems were built in the ‘90s and the suppliers had largely stopped supporting the software.

“I was shocked that we had all the electronic data we could use, but we still printed out paper and tacked it on the wall,” he lamented. “That’s not real-time information. By the time you post it, it’s old news.”

Blevens currently has four major goals he’s pursuing. “We’ll build the foundation of our MES based on ISA 88/95 standards and have a common platform for global operations,” he said. “We’re developing strong partnerships with suppliers, so redundant, unsupported systems will be eliminated. And we’ll have real-time shop-floor visibility.”

And, most importantly, he concluded, “we’ll have one database, a single source of truth.”

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