Universal Machine Interface compared to Programmable Logic Controllers

Customers have asked how a Memex Ax9150 Universal Machine Interface (UMI) compares to a typical Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC). In answering, we are faced with the same dilemma as the apple to a tennis ball. Both the UMI and PLC have digital inputs and outputs, but that is where the comparison ends. A PLC is only a hardware component, whereas the Memex Ax9150 UMI is a full system of hardware, firmware, software applications and configuration tools designed to connect to any machine. The Memex Ax9150 UMI is part of a comprehensive OEE production monitoring and control system that ties the Shop Floor to the Top Floor.

A PLC may have no operator interface and cannot be used with just any machine. In contrast, the UMI is specifically designed to connect with ALL machines. Although the UMI collects most data automatically so that operator input is not mandatory, such input is often used to further increase the system’s functionality, an option not easily accomplished without expensive custom services for a PLC.

Memex’s UMI-based comprehensive production monitoring system consists of the following components:
1) Ax9150 UMI with Ax2200 for Ethernet communications.
2) Mx2000 handheld HMI unit.
3) AxConfig software for logic ladder setup, configuration and communications traffic direction (driver).
4) Production OEE machine monitoring software.
5) AxERP interface to bi-directionally connect the shop floor to the top floor.
6) AxEmail alert system to catch small problems before they become big ones, and allow operators to problem-solve.
7) AxDNC for CNC part file transfer, including large amounts of memory stored at the machine with a file system.

To re-create the Memex Productivity system with just a PLC collecting digital I/O points is virtually impossible. Manufacturers would have to add an HMI plus advanced configuration and custom code development services. Moreover, the cost of developing a PLC-based system for use as an OEE shop floor interface historically has cost $15,000 – 20,000+ per machine and has required extensive, support services, and is most often a non starter for a company due to the overall cost of the project. Compare this reality with the $4,000 per machine cost (installed) of the UMI — it is now affordable.

– Automated data collection from machine
– Accurate and objective information
– Not reliant on operator
– Down Time Log – detailed to the second reporting all down time with reason codes
– Historical data from analysis
– Visibility of machine performance in real-time
– Proactive alerts rather than reactive
– Leading OEE Metrics, automatically
– Minimize “Cultural Impact” on operations
– 20% of cost of PLC based solutions
– No need for barcode scanning (optional)
– Connect to any machine
– Supports OPC standards
– Supports MTConnect standards (serve data from machine to the consumer application)
– Event monitoring
– Send job/shift completion results automatically back to ERP/MES

Memex continues its tradition of serving the discrete manufacturing sector, supplying component hardware, memory upgrades, and visionary shop floor communication technology. Memex products allow a manufacturer to realize the impact of OEE Profitability.

Watershed Thinking in our Industry – New Tooling is Only Marginal Improvement

I had some most interesting customer feedback, as it is a watershed in what is going on in our industry – huge productivity gains will come from efficiency on the shop floor production processes, not just the machines themselves.

About 15 months ago, my partner and I presented to the corporate management team of an international machine tool manufacturing vendor – we had the ears of the top execs.  Moreover we had the connection with shop floor engineers in specific plants that wanted to install our OEE Productivity Monitoring systems – they needed our system.  Well nothing happened, and it dragged on – you know the story.

Yesterday I got a call from the main engineer (we had met at IMTS – 2008) the project was on!

He described the political layout, champions, etc., and mentioned the people we met 15 months ago, and pointed out that their corporate boss (CEO / VP MFG) was driving this project.  Yes, this is excellent sales work, sowing the seeds, planning, capital budgets, etc.

But most importantly, the engineer shared with me that over the last few years they have invested in the latest and greatest equipment, fastest this machine and that, better tooling, all kinds of things.  They had noticed that their productivity improvement from new equipment usage was initially in the 20% range and has steadily dropped down to the 2% range.  That means the marginal gain of using the latest and best equipment was really minimal.  So the question then was why – what was happening in their process that meant they could not get a high return on their new equipment.  Was it machine utilization, equipment, was it their processes?  Where could they spend their financial capital to get a maximum return?

They have come to realize now that their huge productivity gain would come from efficiency on the shop floor.

But first, they needed to measure what was going on – and this is where Memex comes in, as this is what we do, automatically at the machine.  This to me is huge – we understand it by being in the industry, and it is like the forest and trees syndrome, but to hear a customer quantify it with real return numbers was music to our ears.

I also believe the economic cycle is at work here, 2011 is the year manufacturers are spending, and it has taken until now to open up those projects.  I can tell you we are gearing up engineering in a big way – for all the right reasons.

We expect manufacturers to be more efficient, we are seeing it with our customers daily in real-time!

Advice on Software for Job Shops

Recently the manufacturing journalist, Derek Singleton published an interesting article in Software Advice that should be of strong interest to Job Shops.

During his research with shop leaders, three areas surfaced as essential components to consider when choosing software: flexibility of bill of materials, work order features and the ability to deliver real-time, actionable data. We at Memex believe in providing real-time data, automatically from the machine and complementing a flexible work order system on the shop floor. Our customers tell us the same things, as we support them to bring true value to their operations. Below is a quick synopsis of Derek’s article.

  1. A Flexible Bill of Materials Fosters Custom Production – Job shop production requires software that supports a dynamic bill of materials (BOM). As such, it’s important to look for BOM functionality that allows the production team to adjust materials during manufacturing processes. At the same time, there should be functionality to substitute alternative materials in an already defined BOM plan. This is a fundamental building block of job shop production and important feature for the high level of product variation in shops.
  2. Work Order Functionality Maintains Workflow – It’s not unusual for a mid-sized job shop to have 200 work orders floating around at a given time. Managing these manually is a paperwork nightmare – not to mention inefficient. With automated software, however, you can deliver work orders directly to machine operators at their work stations. This prevents operators from having to go to the production manager to ask for their next tasks.
  3. Real-time Data Creates a Proactive Environment – Having a flexible BOM and strong work order functionality does little good if real-time data isn’t accessible for employees to make the best decisions. The laundry list of information that needs to be kept up to date can be dizzying. A shop needs to know what’s being fabricated, what’s being scrapped, why items were scrapped, how many parts shipped and so on. Providing real-time access to this data clearly means gathering information in real time. One way to achieve this is to follow Forrest Machining’s lead: Put computers at or near every work station for workers to input data for analysis.

Beyond knowing which software components are the most important, it’s also necessary to understand how to get the most out of your system. In other words, the software alone cannot make your shop successful – you must also be able to make efficient use of the functionality to maximize your outcomes.

MTConnect and Memex Support Legacy Machine Connectivity E-mail Clarification

Dave Edstrom, President and Chairman of the Board for the MTConnect Institute, has requested that we clarify an earlier email where we stated, “A significant announcement at the show was the industry consortium, MTConnect, asked Memex to co-chair the Legacy Machine Tool Connectivity Working Group to develop industry standards, effectively endorsing our product direction.”

Dave Edstrom stated, “We are thrilled that David McPhail is the Co-Chair, with John Turner, of the new Legacy Machine Tool Connectivity Working Group. It is imperative that everyone understands that the MTConnect Institute has never and will never endorse any company, organization or set of products. This is why I asked Memex Automation to send out this clarification.”

OEE in Process or Discrete Manufacturing

The Process manufacturing sector has been way ahead of the rest of manufacturing in adopting and using efficiency metrics, all for a good reason. Discrete manufacturing has not been able to adopt metrics easily in the past and we now have a cost effective solution that can be of huge advantage to companies.

The simple logic here is the Process manufacturing sector, characterized by chemical changes in product often in a continuous environment (eg. Refinery), is very capital intensive using process control MES systems that capture all this information, so it is then easy to report on the metrics. Typically multi-million dollar project implementations, all part of the initial machine deployment.

Discrete (CNC and many other types) on the other hand, which are characterized by making individual parts, have not needed the sophisticated MES controls and could not justify the very expensive implementations of $10,000 to $millions per machine, so they have not done much in the OEE metric area. Up until now, and primarily because of our product, we have brought the price point down to the $4,000 per machine level – which is now cost effective and justifiable. The benefits of 20% or more productivity (our customers say it is much more) pay for this system very quickly.

And we can make this an “Operator-less” input – meaning we pick up signals right from the machine and there is no need for an operator to give some input, unless required for reject or downtime reason codes. We are hearing from our customers that this is very important – you can just imagine all the reasons. Many ERP and other solutions just about all require operator input (bar-code scanning etc.) and this is old thinking and often problematic with operator productivity, errors and even hand writing on a clipboard for entry days later. Our real-time, direct connection is most accurate and saves much labor time – often justifying the hard direct expense in itself, let alone the benefits of increased efficiency, lower product costs and competitive advantage.