Bar Code Scanners On The Assembly Line Boost VAR's Business
A successful control and tracking systems installation earns integrator additional sales from construction equipment manufacturer.
Bigston Information Technologies (Bigston IT) (Elk Grove Village, IL) is a developer of control and tracking systems for manufacturing facilities. It overcame integration challenges, apprehensions about new technology, and language barriers to provide the second-largest construction equipment manufacturer in North America with the solution it needed.
Komatsu America International, a fully owned subsidiary of Komatsu Ltd. (Tokyo), built a new factory in South Carolina designed to utilize lean manufacturing techniques and third party logistics (3PL). The company's traditional ERP (enterprise resource planning) system used paper-based assembly instructions. Komatsu sought an automated information system to track production, manage assembly procedures, and provide remote monitoring in a Web-based environment.
Integrate Multiple Points Of Communication
"Komatsu wanted to be able to pull up instructions on handhelds and terminals on the assembly line. Because the company produces built-to-order products, each unit has different instructions," explains Norm Plummer, president of Bigston IT. So, Bigston IT wanted to make all of a unit's assembly information available by scanning a bar code on the production order. The information includes parts listings, operations codes, and quality checklist processing.
Also important to Komatsu was the integration of visuals such as warning lights and LED (light-emitting diode) displays. "From their mobile workstation on a Web screen, workers can trigger warning lights or summon a supervisor," says Plummer.
Furthermore, the information system also had to communicate with the corporate ERP system for production order and assembly status. "Real-time production statistics had to be available via a Web display anywhere on the Komatsu worldwide network - down to the status of an individual unit on a line," notes Plummer.
Language Barriers, Technology Apprehensions Eliminated
Bigston IT provided live demonstrations and broke the language barrier by providing detailed information about the project in both English and Japanese. This allowed the production engineers to communicate their exact requirements and helped address technology concerns.
Bigston IT's system solution consisted of an HP E800 running RedHat Linux, Apache Web server, and ServletExec from New Atlanta Corp. The database was an IBM-DB2. Nine mobile workstations included Toshiba notebook computers, Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, NY) LS 4074 wireless bar code scanners, xPower 1500 battery packs, and Viewtronix 15" XT1500 industrial touch screens. Bigston IT also integrated 11 Casio IT-700 wireless handheld computers with Socket bar code readers. To comply with the company's visual demands, various digital blocks from WAGO were installed as well as LED signs from Adaptive Microsystems, Inc. Other components included wireless networking from Cisco systems, light towers from PAT Lite Corp., a Zebra TLP2742 printer with Symbol Spectrum 24 wireless LAN bridge, and the Zebra QL320N wireless mobile printer.
According to Plummer, the biggest challenge Bigston IT faced was interfacing the system with Komatsu's corporate ERP system. "The Japanese production engineers at Komatsu's corporate headquarters had extremely detailed specifications of how they wanted their manufacturing environment to be built. The challenge was taking our engine and adapting around the outside of it without the need for a completely custom-written system."
By using bar code technology, the Bigston IT system pulls together all of the information about a specific unit to be manufactured. As the unit moves through the process, the system provides key information specific to each unit and the operations to be performed at the work center. "The information includes instructions, diagrams, photos, part listings, operation codes, and quality check list processing," explains Plummer. "As a result, there is detailed communication with the line personnel about each individual unit being produced." This system operates without the requirement of a formal IT staff at the plant. It is maintained and managed by production personnel, further reducing cost.
Bigston IT is currently upgrading Komatsu's system to coordinate its just-in-time parts delivery to the production line by integrating it with the current system. Rather than digging through a bin to find the parts a worker needs, a kit will be assembled to include the necessary components. Pickers will assemble the kits and deliver them to the line at a specific time, reducing time and human error. This is all coordinated through the existing system.