Ford UK has increased output by 50% on engine production lines at its Dagenham plant using sophisticated analysis of data captured from machining operations.
Software that constantly monitors the performance and status of hundreds of machine tools on its engine production lines has enabled Ford to produce an engine block every 38 seconds, reorganise staffing patterns and reduce headcount by about 75%.
Analysts said companies outside the motor manufacturing sector could learn from Ford's approach to technology.
"By collecting detailed information about your good and bad days you can find out what combination of factors enable you to do better," said Simon Bragg, an analyst with ARC Consulting. "It is a simple, practical way of continuously improving and has implications for any sector where you can monitor processes - as, for example, call centres are beginning to do - and see how a task affects overall performance."
The Posmon software, which was developed in-house using Visual Basic, C and Factorylink, provides real-time and historical analysis of machining operations, alerting staff to problems and production bottlenecks by visual alert and radio pager alarms.
Posmon is connected to Ford's intranet, enabling historical analysis of machine performance and downtimes by any authorised person from plant engineers to executives in the US.
Real-time alerts let staff quickly identify problems, rank machine performance and prioritise issues so that the line can be kept working at optimum efficiency.
Mo Pervez, IT consultant for plant floor systems at Ford, said, "Without data we cannot understand what is happening in the manufacturing process. Through historical reporting we discovered that smaller events were causing bigger problems - that it was not just one machine with one big fault but six or seven with smaller faults that were affecting production the most."
Posmon is a key plank of Ford's Process Operating System method of electronically enabling manufacturing operations.
IT on Ford's Dagenham production line
Ford produces 3,000 diesel engines a day at Dagenham for the Transit, Focus, Mondeo and Galaxy vehicles.
Posmon software monitors the production lines that carry out machining operations on the castings which form the main engine components. Each line, which can be up to 1km long, comprises dozens of machines carrying out automated operations on engine castings as they pass through.
Thousands of sensors, registering cycle times, blockages, waiting times, emergencies and tool changes, are picked up by Posmon via Allen Bradley programmable logic controllers at each machining operation. These are linked by a data exchange device running NT4 to the Ford intranet and the Posmon server (IBM Netfinity/NT4) and its database (Oracle/HP9000/HP-UX).