Walk the Talk: Automation Suppliers Improve Their Own Manufacturing Capabilities

As Part of a Five-Year Plan to Overhaul the Supply Chain and ERP Puzzle, Rockwell Formed an APOS (advanced process operations support) Group With Subject Matter Experts

By Joe Feeley

I'm happy when a major automation supplier demonstrates how it uses its products and services to improve its own manufacturing capabilities. There's some credibility to be gained when it shares stories about confronting the same issues and concerns as most any other global manufacturer.

Rockwell Automation took a shot at that during its RSTechED conference this past June.

"Today, we produce about 387,000 catalog-level SKUs across 20 plants," said Bob Murphy, vice president of operations. "It's a configure-to-order and engineered-to-order product portfolio ranging from a $100 stack of LED tower lights that might have a two- or three-day lead time to a $500,000 large, medium-voltage drive system with a 22-week lead time."

At the manufacturing process level, the middle layer of MES was pretty much missing.

As the company grew, it was also growing the number disparate ERP and other supply chain systems it was running to the point that it no longer could keep up. It had to change the structure. "In one case there were five ERP systems interacting in one plant and countless custom software applications. And at the manufacturing process level, the middle layer of manufacturing execution was pretty much missing," he said.

Read Also: Inside Industrial Automation North America 2014

As part of a five-year plan to overhaul the supply chain and ERP puzzle, Rockwell formed an APOS (advanced process operations support) group with subject matter experts from a variety of disciplines to create a small, dedicated group of MES specialists. They standardized core workflow processes, and that meant winning over local loyalties to embrace a global standards approach and give up locally created solutions that blurred the global picture.

"We had the machine level down, but we were lacking that MES level," Murphy said. A good example of the success of the company's FactoryTalk ProductionCentre MES solution is the company's printed circuit board assembly process. Taking the Monterey, Mexico, plant as example, he said, on a single day, they place about 1.5 million to 2 million parts on boards. They'll use 6,500 raw materials, assemble 10,000 to 15,000 different boards off 300 different workorders that necessitate 65 to 70 different line changeovers.

"If we were dealing with older technologies and custom application programs for these 55,000 transactions, we simply couldn't do it effectively, productively and accurately. This new MES layer provides us a highly automated, predictable means."

Murphy noted similar success at the Mequon, Wisconsin, plant that produces low-voltage drive assemblies, then closed with the benefits the manufacturing group has seen, noting that at the plant level, inventory was reduced from 120 days to 82 days; at the supply chain level, lead times came down by half; and it realized a 50% reduction in ppm quality failures.

All of these intitiatves, Murphy said, added up to 4% to 5% productivity gains/per year.   

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