Automated data collection a must

“In a data driven society, automated data collection is a must,” says John Foley, Network Administrator for Engineering Systems, of Pollak-APD (Actuator Products Division) a Stoneridge, Inc company. “The quicker we get information in hand, the better-off we are.”

With this idea in mind, Hertzler Systems recently added some major new functionality to GainSeeker® SPC: support for OPC (Object Linking and Embedding for Process Control). “OPC is the standard computer protocol for communicating with machinery and process controllers,” says Byron Shetler, Chief Technology Officer for Hertzler. “Supporting OPC creates great new opportunities for collecting data from production equipment in real time, performing statistical analysis on the data and then feeding information back to operators, engineers or to the equipment itself.”

Customer requests drive innovation at Hertzler

Support for OPC came about as a request from several customers in recent years.  One customer that expressed interest was Pollak-APD.  Pollak-APD designs, engineers, tests and manufactures world-class work-enabling devices for the transportation industry based on efficient electro-mechanical actuation technologies.  About 4 ½ years ago, Pollaks’ Foley started automating data collection after he noticed a secretary hand-keying thousands of data points into a spreadsheet.  “Talk about non-value added activity,” says Foley.  “And error-prone!  You can’t rely on that data.”  Foley recognized that there had to be a better way, and so he purchased some software to import the information automatically into a spreadsheet.  That effort wet his appetite to do more.

From there the company began to evaluate software that enabled them to talk directly to PLCs (“Programmable Logic Controllers”, process controllers common in factory automation.) Being an Allen-Bradley shop, Foley found some very expensive software intended for the electric power distribution industry and installed that.  This solution was very fast and very stable, but had a brutal configuration language and Pollak-APD learned that they couldn’t support it over the long term.  From that experience they knew they had to get to an open systems standards, and that led them to OPC.  The OPC standard became commonplace about four years ago.  Pollak-APD purchased an OPC server and client suite from Iconics (Genesis 32).  The suite came with an SPC package, but it was far too limited in functionality.

Meanwhile, Dave Cappucci, Director of Total Quality Management at Pollak-APD, was searching for shopfloor software for tracking product quality.  He had used Hertzler’s GainSeeker SPC at a prior job and knew it was a powerful and reliable system for product data.  When he made his decision to purchase GainSeeker, Cappucci was aware of Foley’s desire to capture process data from PLCs. Together they reasoned that they could find or write a middleware product to move process data from OPC to Hertzler’s database, thus realizing Foleys’ vision of truly integrated SPC on the factory floor.  Their deployment of GainSeeker started in 2000, and has been very successful.  However, the available middleware packages for linking to OPC were prohibitively expensive or had significant setup and maintenance issues. Further, Foley and his team never had time to write their own middleware.  At one point, Cappucci happened to mention to Tom Albrecht, Sales Executive at Hertzler Systems, Pollaks’ wish for OPC connectivity.  Tom connected them to Hertzler’s development team and the new commands were added to the QA/S GainSeeker® 7.2 upgrade.

“They had the OPC infrastructure in place,” noted Tom Albrecht.  “They were logging data to flat files.  Once we had the beta version in their hands with some sample templates in place, they got it working with over 30 variables in a few hours.”

GainSeeker architecture leads to rapid deployment…

Foley was also impressed with the speed of deployment.  “If we had written this interface ourselves, it would have taken us 3-4 man months of intense programming,” says Foley, “and in the end we would have had a system that solved one problem.  Additional solutions or modifications would have taken more time.  With the GainSeeker solution we got it running in a few hours, and we have the ability to modify it quickly and easily.”

… and rapid ROI

And the payoff? Pollak-ADP is a Six Sigma/Lean shop and has put a lot of emphasis on OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency).  They have one particular product with a sub-four-second cycle time. This equates to about 17 parts per minute, 22 hours per day, six days a week.  By analyzing downtime with GainSeeker, they were able to boost OEE from 65% to 75%, representing more than a $130K increase in throughput.  This has enabled them to keep with up with increased product demand without increasing production capacity (no capital investment) or staffing.

Pollak-ADP also sees that the ability to capture and analyze product and process characteristics real time enables them to produce world class products at the highest levels of quality.  This is especially important because of their location (Boston).  According to Cappucci, “We have to be that much better than our competition to enable us to continue to manufacture in this highly paid labor market.”

Superb Support

“The support we receive from Hertzler is among the best in the business,” says Dave Cappucci.  “The fact that they were proactive and listened to our needs…and then met them is incredible. Hertzlers’ level of responsiveness is nearly unheard-of in this era of vaporware vendors who dump products on the marketplace then fail to support them.”