ENHANCING SMART AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
Industry 4.0 represents the fourth revolution that has occurred in manufacturing with the adoption of computers and automation to enhance smart and autonomous systems. These systems are specifically fueled by data and machine learning to prepare for the future where smart machines significantly improve operation efficiency.
PTA Plastics has taken many steps to implement smart manufacturing in both of our facilities in Oxford, Connecticut and Longmont, Colorado. Many years ago, the concept of a paperless shop was quickly incorporated which then progressed to the interconnectivity of the molding machines. This interconnectivity, which is connecting the machines to the computer network, permits real-time production monitoring whether these machines are running to cycle or not. Automatic uploads, retrieval of set-up information, and access to historically archived data from the molding machine are a few advantages of this connectivity while simultaneously reducing set-up time.
Information Technology (IT) is a focal point to many Industry 4.0 initiatives starting with the layout and infrastructure of these systems in place along with the ability to connect the equipment. The entire infrastructure in both of our plants has been upgraded to fiber-optic which will vastly improve our networks reliability and bandwidth. As we look to build our reliance on Internet of Things (IOT), and more importantly use that data to make decisions, network improvement is especially important as it relates to storage and processing of data which in turn improves our scalability and capabilities long term. In an effort to protect this data, PTA Plastics has formed a cybersecurity initiative geared towards policies, procedures, and many other IT systems in place such as 2-factor authentication on the Virtual Private Network (VPN) system. Concurrently, we are also working towards achieving 800-171 Certification which is the 110-point government certification process in order to protect this data as well.
Internet of Things (IOT) is characterized by connected devices which makes Industry 4.0 possible and smart manufacturing a reality. As a result of gaining access to more data, manufacturing will continue to grow smarter, more efficient, more productive, and less wasteful. The network of digitally connected machines such as our molding machines, dryer equipment, and temperature sensors throughout each facility, provides a lead of early detection to any potential problem areas that may arise. If a machine is not running or is about to fail, this detection is significantly advantageous to recognizing the problem and the ability to trouble-shoot before it becomes an issue. Monitoring our machines and conditions in real-time is a key component to our Industry 4.0 initiatives to gain predictive maintenance and notably reduce downtime and reduce scrap going forward. Not only does this monitor our process data when it comes off the machine, but it also monitors the temperatures, pressures, and shot-to-shot specifications as well. Further, this connectivity improves our statistical process control of the molding process to maintain history and traceability more efficiently by keeping a record in place should a process change or deviate.
Due to on-going production requirements, PTA Plastics is currently focusing on cell automation using Industry 4.0. The main goal is to ease set-ups and make change-overs less labor intensive while also maintaining a system that gives us (1) more flexibility and (2) the ability to grow functionality as future projects or opportunities present themselves. Monitoring all of the equipment within this cell, as well as using Internet of Things (IOT), provides a closed-loop system that reduces scrap while also bringing attention to any potential problems that may arise.
This implementation has been rolled out by a phased process. Phase 1 is strongly focused on the critical-to-manufacturing function being built and in place. Phase 2 will focus on the connection between all devices in addition to monitoring all manufacturing processes while giving some offline control to the system. Phase 3 will be complete control over the system remotely and start implementing some Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (ML/AI) to change critical parameters in order to optimize the process as well as make automated changes to correct the component.
PTA has also investigated and implemented a virtual Augmented Reality (AR) Light Guide that projects the work instruction right onto the work surface. This was a project focused on bringing in a point-of-use work instruction to aid in training and scrap reduction. We found some of our more complicated assemblies had some escapement of scrap parts to the customer which caused monetary and efficiency loss. In an effort to reduce and eliminate these escapements, utilizing AR made following instructions and training easier for our Operators to use. Content creation is critical to the success of this technology and the overall goal for PTA is to utilize AR in many other aspects of our business from production, to maintenance, in addition to training new employees. Not only can this technology assist with the transfer of knowledge, but can also help fill the gap with experienced-based jobs and familiarity along with potentially assisting new employees to peak efficiency much faster than any traditional method of training.
We have come a long way from the first industrial revolution and the mechanization through water and steam power. The digital connections of our systems and business capabilities are positively re-tooling our workforce to become more productive and efficient. Ultimately, this is the true power of Industry 4.0.