Automate Your “Dumb” Machines with These Sensors and Start Being a Factory of the Future!

3-axis factory robot

IMAGE CAPTION: 3-axis robot waiting to do work for its owner. Photo by Kitmondo.com

The Factory of the Future brings visions of robots dancing on the shop floor.  Wake Up! It’s not all about robots! Read this to use your current machines, on the cheap, increase production, and grab more profits with sensors that will make your dumb machines brilliant.  All while setting the stage for a full IIoT transformation.

Aside from Robots being an expensive investment, there is a lot more to them than just setting them down on the floor, and walking away. Do not think its all-or-nothing, as most changes are best done in small steps anyway.  You are more likely to have success and move to the next level. So you might ask us (your guide and trusted source) “What can I do to be a Factory of the Future, with just what I have now?”

Imagine this scenario: You have just been blessed with some great product orders, so right now you need to increase production in short period of time!  What are your options given the time crunch?

Option 1:  Buy New Equipment

The new equipment dealers tell you to buy their equipment and finance it. They say new equipment has the ability to talk to each other and tell you when maintenance is required, then generate reports. This option works if you can pay cash, or have a friendly banker! You will still need a data collection program, to translate the machines talking to something useful to you.

Option 2: Sub-out the work to Someone Else

Do you really want to do that? It could get messy and you might miss the delivery dates.  Plus you will also not make as much profit on the products.  Let’s not spend time dwelling on this option.

Option 3: Automate by adding “Sensors” to What You Have

We believe your maintenance people can help get your old equipment running more productively into the future with the proper use of sensors for preventive and predictive maintenance. This can be accomplished by using The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, to send a text or email to open a work order when an event occurs.

We believe your maintenance team can get your old equipment running more productively with proper use of sensors for preventive and predictive maintenance.

These sensors will reduce breakdowns so your production automatically increases (less downtime = more production time!)

Current amp sensor
Clamp-on current sensor

Running Dark

By using sensors you also can run some of your equipment un-attended during off shifts. “Running Dark” can make use of hours when no one is in the shop. But how to do that?

There are many ways to do this, but the one critical element is to know your machines, know their reliability and to set yourself up for success from the start.  Few shop owners would “set-it-and-forget-it” without some controls, monitoring or feedback.

Less downtime = More production time!

Sensors can look for amperage, voltage, presence/distance, hours, cycles, and a host of other conditions. When something happens, the sensor texts you, or your maintenance people. If your equipment runs out of material or stops early in the shift, you can make a decision to send someone in, or go in yourself to restart the equipment.

The giant manufacturers are doing this on a large scale. Smaller manufacturers need to start because the benefits are well worth the effort.

You can upgrade your existing equipment without spending a lot of money. Sensor technology costs are continuing to drop all the time, typically requiring around $100.00 – $250.00 worth of equipment per unit. Get a machine to run an extra hour per day could mean an average of $80/machine/per hour.  Look at the whole year off “Run Dark” on just 3 machines, and that’s $360,000 / year you could have on the ledger without hiring anyone new!

Look at the whole year of “Running Dark” on just 3 machines, and that’s $360,000 you could have on the ledger without hiring anyone new!

3 Easy Steps to Get Started:

1. Know Your Uptime Now

Do you know how much downtime you currently experience? Tracking this and charting it over several weeks will tell you. You will know when  the most downtimes occur and how long each is. Drill down on this hand-collected data until you can tell which 20% of your machines (or product runs) cause 80% of your down-time. For a clear picture that you can show to everyone, make a Pareto Chart. If you have not made a Pareto Chart before – It’s easy: see this article as a reference.

2. Begin Making Changes to Your Most Critical 3 or 4 Machines

Set up an hour meter, so you know when the equipment is actually running, you can receive a text message when it stops, even during off-shifts. This total hour figure will also tell you when it is time to schedule some preventive maintenance, instead of using less effective calendar-based scheduling.

Next, put on a cycle counter so you can be alerted when milestone production numbers are achieved, thus stopping from overrunning a job to get to the end of the shift. This number can also be useful for maintenance to use condition-based service verses reactive maintenance or waiting until your equipment breaks down completely and expensively.

These sensors can also be helpful for stamping or molding operations. Tools for these operations are typically dumb stand-alone units. A cycle counter can text your tool maker when a tool reaches time to sharpen, so they can generate a work order for the tool room.  This helps level the work load in the tool room, reduce unnecessary inspection time, and increase wrench time (maintenance work on machines). This is better than the alternative of waiting for a shutdown period to sharpen all the tools, which only allows repair of your high priority tools, with the balance getting a cursory look.

For your maintenance department and tool room, it is equivalent to doing PM’s while the equipment is running (but without the risk).

When the tool is changed during a setup, the person hits the reset button on the sensor and starts counting cycles for the next tool. A laptop can change the counter total if required. The tool room can determine if the total cycles are too short or too long, then mark it on the tool. The same thing holds true for injection molding tools. For your maintenance department and tool room, it is equivalent to doing PM’s while the equipment is running. This system can eliminate manual tic-sheets which are often inaccurate.

3. Step Up Your Game

A next step can be to put on a sensor to measure the amperage load of this critical equipment, this tells you if the load starts to climb, so you can begin to troubleshoot the actual cause.  If you can plan your maintenance instead of reacting to breakdowns, you can reduce maintenance costs and improve equipment output, at the same time.

By logging your amperage draw on a 24-hour basis you may find ways to reduce your energy bill by determining your equipment is still drawing substantial power even when it is not producing any parts. This action can pay for the entire sensor program.

Additional Benefits

These cell phone messaging sensors can communicate via wifi in the shop, if available and secure, or by sim card cell service, or FM radio to a receiver in the office tied to the internet. Because messages are sent as soon as an event occurs, you get immediate feedback on your equipment condition. These sensors can be a simple as micro switches, magnetic or hall effect sensors, clamp on amp meters, temperature, presence and vibration sensors.

By tracking some simple properties on your critical equipment you can increase production, reduce maintenance costs and cut your energy bills.

The goal is to automate your critical “dumb” assets by the use of sensors.  Track whatever will give you the data you need to be proactive and predictive with your maintenance dollars.

The Maintenance Geek is a Connecticut-based product and services provider to the smaller manufacturer.

Productively Yours,

Robert Kravontka

Photo by Kitmondo.com

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