Manufacturing execution system captures factory floor data at Cummins

Operators provide vital MES data for manufacturing processes as global engine maker Cummins standardises manufacturing execution system

In manufacturing, sometimes the people on the shop floor can hold vital information that can be difficult to capture. Releasing information held by workers making diesel and gas engines for global manufacturer Cummins has been a goal of an IT project which began at the firm’s UK plant in Darlington, north-east England.

Cummins has been seeking to replace a number of legacy manufacturing execution systems (MES) – some of which date back 25 years and cost a lot to support – in a programme which will include operations in Turkey, China and Korea during 2013.

In 2007, Cummins decided to link the manufacturing workers’ workflow into the ERP system and offering them an opportunity to feedback suggestions on how to improve quality and processes in the Darlington plant.

The company turned to software from Apriso – whose customers include Volvo, Thales and Isuzu Motors – for a system that could capture production data and allow operators to become more engaged with the manufacturing process.

With the previous system in Darlington, data about the manufacture of each engine was lost when the product was shipped from the factory. The data only comprised the bill of materials necessary for the operators to complete a task on the production line.

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Generating manufacturing data to improve productivity

Mike Snaith, manufacturing systems IT group manager, says: “The legacy MES was 20 years old. There was no interaction with the operator and no graphical display.”

Nor did the old system measure the time taken by operatives to complete each manufacturing task. Industrial engineers would have to use their own measures and judgement to improve productivity.

The Apriso system allows Cummins to measure the time taken for each stage of production. “This system allows us to investigate the data then use that to drive the appropriate improvements for the assembly process, such as identifying bottlenecks. The system does not do it for us but it is a good tool box to take information, analyse it and identify where the problem lies,” says Snaith.

For example, a cycle time at a particular work station may be 200 seconds. If an operative exceeds the allocated time because of a quality problem or lack of parts, there will be a knock-on effect further down the production line.

“It may not be apparent to the eye and it can create big problems if it is not rectified,” Snaith says.

Since the introduction of the next-generation MES system, adapted from Apriso’s FlexNet software, productivity has improved 25%, Snaith says.

Increased engagement for operators

The new MES system receives work orders from an Oracle enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in a sequenced number which best reflects the assembly operation. It then creates the work order – which includes a bill of materials – for each operative. Cummins factories will make a range of engine models at the same time and the system must cope with this complexity.

At the work station, each operator uses a graphical interface which displays diagrams to help with the job. It also allows operators to input data.

“If for whatever reason there is a parts shortage, it can be logged. This sends information back to the ERP system so the inventory stock is maintained at the correct level,” Snaith says.

“If there is a quality issue, we can log defects. If there is a casting problem we can log that. The system captures all of that information from an operator perspective.”

These data, along with the cycle times, can help engineers adapt production plans more rapidly than ever before. The added benefit is that operators feel more engaged in the whole production process and feel that their feedback is valuable, Snaith says.

Global opportunities for IT professionals

Since going live in Darlington during 2009, the manufacturer's MES has been rolled out at the Beijing Foton plant, at Cummin’s joint venture with Tata in India and in the US. Snaith says this has offered opportunities for IT professionals to move around the world.

“When MES was first introduced at Darlington, I was part of the implementation team,” he says. 

“I have since transitioned to the global manufacturing team. My team deploys the systems within the Cummins world. I have guys who have been out to China and India.”

Cummins plans to roll out the new MES system to around 79 factories around the world. Improved productivity, as well as lower costs through standardisation, will generate significant return on investment, he says.

Snaith says he is pleased the Darlington IT team has played a part in the success. “Like any good thing, it has not been easy, but you do gain an awful lot of knowledge which you can share,” he says.

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