Epicor Advanced MES drives continuous improvement

"In the old days, we couldn't do true Statistical Process Control (SPC), because we need material, pressure, heat, and mold temperature data from 300 cycles before we can set up the control limits. It's impossible to do that manually with the amount of equipment we have," he says. "All we do now is query Advanced MES after 300 cycles and it sets the control limit. I monitor the real-time screen from my desk or at home and I can see how each machine is performing against those control measures."

Prior to Advanced MES, Rose's group would collect data only once per shift, requiring three to four shifts before he could perform statistical analyses on the processes.

Epicor Advanced MES is just an awesome tool.

"Now, I take a snapshot of every cycle to see if the process is in control. Epicor Advanced MES is just an awesome tool."

From a quality standpoint, Rose analyzes key part dimensions, such as weight, setting up target values in Advanced MES. Each shift then does a part check against those targets. Significant deviations could point to a problem with the mold or lead to machine shut-down.

"I haven't gotten to true Statistical Quality Control (SQC) yet. Our parts don't vary by much, and we've got four people measuring dimensions, so there's some natural variation. We're looking at getting a coordinate measuring machine, which will interface with Epicor Advanced MES, allowing us to do SQC."

Advanced MES' Reach Extends Throughout the Organization

Advanced MES is deeply integrated into nearly every aspect of the plant's daily operation, monitoring machines and production processes, as well as synchronizing and monitoring robot-controlled packing, labeling, and transfer processes within the facility.

Rose hosts a morning meeting with representatives from eight different operational disciplines, where he reviews scrap reports from the previous day and previous shift to see if known issues have been resolved, and if not, assign resources to take further action. The result, by Rose's measure, is a scrap rate on the threshold of world-class.

We used to run 3% to 4% scrap. Last month we were down to 1.37%. You can't get much better than that.

"We used to run 3% to 4% scrap. Last month we were down to 1.37%. You can't get much better than that; that's world-class and is largely attributable to Epicor Advanced MES. It's the tool that gives us the numbers we need to make good decisions."

Kenzie Beard, Johnson Controls' IT/IS Technical Service Specialist, agrees. "Epicor Advanced MES gives you the black and white; good or bad. It provides snapshots of machine settings, and when you graph those snapshots out you can identify problems early and go straight to the problem rather than using the old-school trial and error. It lets us be proactive and fix a problem before we make a bad part."

Productivity Up, Costs Down

According to Beard, this ability to identify trends early has allowed Johnson Controls to institute more effective preventative maintenance procedures, decrease machine downtime by 3.1%, increase productivity by 8%, and decrease the cost to produce each unit by 13%. Particularly in challenging economic times, such continual improvement is critical to remaining viable in the automotive industry.

"We can't just run product, have dead money sitting in our warehouse and wait for our ROI. [Epicor Advanced MES] has helped us automate, downsize and get lean, not just in production, but throughout the organization."

[Epicor Advanced MES] has helped us automate, downsize and get lean, not just in production, but throughout the organization.

Beard estimates that Advanced MES is monitoring between 250-300 machines and processes at Johnson Controls, from the injection molding machines to final product bagging.

The company's most important productivity initiative at present is what Beard terms the "38-Second Vision". Johnson Controls has recently moved from using single-cavity to double-cavity molds. Historically, using the single cavity molds the company could move one part every 38 seconds through every work station in the production and handling process. Their vision is to produce two parts in the same 38 seconds. Using Advanced MES to monitor all equipment involved in part production, picking, hot stamping, handling and pressure testing, Beard says they've reduced the time to run double the parts from 54 seconds to 47.5 seconds-less than 9 seconds from their goal.

Transforming Cost Into Profit

At the same time, the company's annual cost-of-quality, the cost of ensuring a quality part, which includes raw materials, labor, customer credits issued for bad product, has decreased by over $600,000 annually. That cost is typically figured into the price charged to the customer.

As counter-intuitive as it seems, cost-of-quality has actually become a profit center for Johnson Controls, thanks in part to Epicor Advanced MES. "Part of the cost is raw material, plastic, but the system helped us determine that we could make a quality part containing a certain amount of reclaim material, material from recycled scrap," says Beard. "So with the money we save on raw materials we justified purchasing a grinder to grind scrap, and because we have excess capacity on the grinder we contract with other companies to grind their bad parts. We're using that material and putting it back in the system."

Whether speaking of specific initiatives like this, or of company-wide continuous improvement, Beard believes Johnson Controls' success lies in individuals and ideas, using tools like Advanced MES to inform their decisions. "[Epicor Advanced MES] is the crutch we lean on whenever we need to decide what we want to do."