Cornerstone Automation designed an automated remote monitoring system for a leading medical device manufacturing company running a “lights out” operation to keep up with supply and demand.
Cornerstone Automation provided a solution for a leading medical device manufacturer that produces screws and plates for use inside of the human body. Working between heavy industry and medical device manufacturing, the company utilizes CNC (computerized numerical control) and EDM (electrical discharge machining) machines throughout their facility. These fully-automated systems require zero input from the operator once a job order has been scheduled, leaving production runs unsupervised. Typically, this manufacturer uses this to its advantage and sometimes schedules larger orders to run unmanned over weekends.
Over time, the production equipment began faulting more frequently. During normal business hours, the operators could see the faulted stack lights and bring the machine back up. However, during the “lights out” production runs over the weekend, the team was gambling on whether the equipment would produce all of the parts needed before faulting. When weekend production was infrequent, they resolved the issue by assigning team members to stop by the facility during the weekend to verify that production was still running. However, once production demands increased and staffing challenges surfaced, the company was eager to have a more reliable means to notify operators when a problem occurred.
This medical device manufacturer had researched many solution options to resolve this issue including discussions with the OEM. When those conversations turned to high-priced add-on packages per machine and other pre-packaged options required considerable downtime and man hours, the ROI was just not there. Cornerstone Automation, who had in-depth knowledge of the facility, was brought in to help design a custom solution within budget.
Cornerstone Automation developed a custom monitoring solution to provide the necessary remote visibility of the machine state. The new monitoring system alerts operators when an error occurs that causes the machines to fault and cease production. This real-time solution eliminates the need for an employee to be “on call” and the risk that production runs are accidentally left unfinished over the weekend.
Cornerstone Automation programmed an Allen Bradley CompactLogix PLC and PanelView Plus HMI to send SMS text and email alert messages through a gateway to key staff members. These messages report whenever a machine has entered a stopped state, allowing personnel to respond quickly and bring the equipment back into production. The system also provides valuable insight into the operation’s performance while unattended and helps ensure that production runs are completed on time.
A new electrical enclosure was built to house the new hardware. Special consideration and safe electrical practices were used when designing the panel, like utilizing interposing relays, to ensure that all of the equipment was connected correctly.
The PLC connects to the existing “machine stopped” discrete output for each machine which significantly decreased the downtime for the installation and meant that no programming changes were needed in the existing equipment.
The add-on HMI was integrated to allow the medical device manufacturer the ability to control and update their message recipient list and the alert message information on their own. Future planning was kept in mind throughout the build so that as new machines are added to production, they can be easily integrated into the monitoring system.
The following general list of hardware is included:
- Electrical enclosure
- Allen Bradley CompactLogix PLC
- Allen Bradley PanelView Plus HMI
The following services are included:
- Design and build control panels
The installation of the new equipment was a very fast and simple process as Cornerstone Automation completed as much work off-site as possible. The machines connected to the monitoring system only had to be powered down for 15 minutes while the electrical wiring was updated and the entire installation took less than one day. After a few simple tests of the I/O, the equipment was validated and ready to alert staff members when production was stopped.
“Cornerstone’s remote monitoring solution has been a huge payback as far as not losing production time,” stated the maintenance manager. “I think this project was completed in November, and in December, we might have had the best month we had ever had here in the record of the company. It’s not only the monetary benefit. We make a promise to our customers that they are going to get their product at a certain time. There’s a lot that goes into planning for that starting with tooling, time, material, and personnel.”
Cornerstone Automation was able to offer this entire solution within budget, including installation, to help the manufacturer meet its production goals. The company is now able to get real-time feedback from its existing equipment when it enters a production stop state. This gives them valuable insight into their facility and eliminates the need to require their workers to check on the system during off hours. They can now run production on the weekends with the peace of mind that if an issue arises they will be notified and they will not have to scramble come Monday if the machines faulted on Friday night.
At the close of the project, Cornerstone Automation walked the maintenance staff through the equipment drawings and HMI screens and explained the steps for adding in new machines and additional I/O cards so that they can fully maintain the equipment themselves. With the future planning that Cornerstone Automation integrated, the medical device manufacturer has increased flexibility and can scale this new monitoring system to include hundreds of machines as they grow their business.
As opposed to purchasing an off-the-shelf product, Cornerstone Automation offered a more customized solution that ultimately provided this manufacturer with cost savings and greater flexibility and capability for future growth.
“It’s been a couple of years now since Cornerstone Automation implemented the remote monitoring solution. Now, when that machine stops, somebody gets a text or an email, and they’re on their way in to get production back up and running,” stated the maintenance manager. “That was really huge for us. Before that, we had no idea if things were running or how long things were stopped.”
“In one instance, we found out that a machine had stopped at two o’clock in the afternoon Saturday, and was sitting dormant the entire time until Sunday morning. Things had been stopped for eight to ten hours! At that point, the machines are not even warmed up anymore. It was just a huge loss of production. Implementing that remote monitoring, and being able to have better insight and control of the equipment was huge.”
“When we flipped that switch and the first weekend that we saw that machines were stopped, Cornerstone’s solution started paying for itself immediately. The first weekend that we got an email or a text, one of the operators came in and dealt with it. These parts can take up to 45 minutes to run. That’s a lot of time when you’re crunching time and numbers to deliver the promised product to customers on time.”
Cornerstone Automation’s scalable solution has been implemented on six machines with minimal downtime and allows the medical device manufacturer to utilize hundreds of inputs easily as needed. Their solution was more cost-effective than the “pre-packaged” machine solutions, which would require additional downtime and setup costs. Though those solutions seemed an attractive proposition initially, Cornerstone Automation ultimately provided a more customized and flexible solution that offered the opportunity for future growth and utilized the existing machinery’s stack lights instead of creating new visual communications.
“At a glance,” the cost of Cornerstone’s solution was similar to that of the “pre-packaged” solutions, however, Cornerstone Automation also wired and set up the system. This not only offered money and time savings but had the added benefit of easy access to local support that knows the ins and outs of the line. Having been part of this solution planning from start to finish, Cornerstone engineers have the experience and detailed familiarity with the technology to make on-the-fly adjustments quickly and efficiently, without the need for additional time and cost to find and train outside sources.
The turnkey solution provided by Cornerstone Automation was the custom fit that this medical device manufacturer needed to ensure that their production goals could be met in a timely manner. The quick installation and minimal downtime made this solution the most practical choice and with the training offered by Cornerstone Automation, they have the knowledge and flexibility to grow their business.
Without this new system, this medical device manufacturer was risking not being able to fulfill orders and an inability to properly scale their production to meet the ever-increasing product demands. As a medical device supplier, they are able to keep their production deadlines and create strong relationships with their clients.