Productivity and efficiency have not only become key words in industry today but are of necessity the undisputed goal and target of any successful business enterprise.
Modern production equipment also offers the facility to measure this data which is then processed through a networked central system. However, again, these systems are usually imported and, as a result, are costly. Furthermore, if different equipment manufacturers are used, the production data processing software from one manufacturer is usually incompatible with competitor software.
On top of this, much of the production equipment in use in South Africa is of a prior generation that does not provide the facility to measure and monitor production data. To retrofit these systems from the equipment manufacturer is often clumsy and also through importation rate of exchange costs, expensive.
Design Solutions, a Durban-based company which has specialised in hardware and software electronic product design since 1989, has developed an innovative solution to the need for reliable and accurate measurement of production data. The answer, an ingenious though relatively simple device called an Intelligent Hour Meter (IHM).
The IHM is a compact, microprocessor-based, robust data recorder that has an integral battery and vibration sensor. The unit can be attached to virtually any machine by two screws and is set up to the specific idle and operating vibrations present on the machine. The IHM then logs the state of the machine based on the vibration level, which is time and date stamped.
The data logged in the IHM is downloaded through a contactless design that utilises RF as the data transfer medium. The WAND (device for data download supplied by Design Solutions) is clipped onto the IHM for the duration of the transfer. Power is provided to the IHM through the WAND during the transfer of data, preserving the battery life. The need for external wiring is eliminated through integral essential components (battery and vibration sensor) and contactless data transfer. This, combined with the waterproof casing (manufactured from a tough composite plastic), renders the IHM and, therefore, the data tamper-proof and impervious to the often harsh environment of industry.
The compact size of the IHM, together with the self-powered and contactless data transfer features enables the IHM to be applied to moving or portable machines (eg forklifts). The low voltage, cable-free (with the contactless data transfer device) design also makes the IHM suitable for intrinsically safe applications.
A RS485 data transfer option is proposed by Design Solutions that will enable up to 200 IHMs to be networked for direct transfer of their data to a PC.
A further model in the range has been developed to include a production counter, to include measurement of unit production rates over time. This feature enables analysis of actual production efficiencies together with actual machine utilisation.
The IHM is supplied with free IHMSOFT Lite software package for data analysis and reporting. This software will generate a number of basic tables and graphs that can be viewed or printed for the user. The data can be exported from IHMSOFT in a CSV text format to enable third party software analysis, so if existing software systems are in place, these systems are able to analyse the data from the IHM. The IHMSOFT Professional software package will offer a number of industry-specific software modules suited to the specific needs of the users from those industries. The modules will evolve as feedback is received from the users.
Design Solutions, together with its appointed agents Automation Techniques, have installed a number of the IHMs in KwaZulu-Natal. Their initial focus has been to promote the units within the textile industry and, as a result, a number of units have been installed on weaving looms, forklifts and circular/warp knitting machines. Examples of results from an installation are shown, illustrating the very real benefits these customers have realised from the IHMs.
The data downloaded from the IHM can be either printed or viewed as a daily summary report, detailed shift activity report or detailed shift activity graph (bar graph). The sample graphs illustrated are typical of the bar graph report generated by the IHMSOFT Lite software.
These illustrations are representative of the improved efficiency that a client in the circular knitting sector of the industry realised by installing IHM. There are obviously a number of factors that can be attributed to improved machine efficiency. What interested this particular client was the fact that improved timekeeping at the beginning and end of shift brought them a 5% improvement in efficiency and it was this improvement that formed the basis of the justification forwarded to management. A payback of nine working days was realised.
The information from the bar graph can be cross-referenced to the detailed activity report, in numeric format, where the operating and idle times are logged, thus affording management further insight into the duration of each stoppage. Operating and idle times are totalled, by machine, at the end of each shift. The data from the detailed activity report can also be overviewed in the daily summary where the daily utilisation is expressed as a percentage, shift by shift.
A further benefit of the IHM arises from the fact that an accurate log of machine utilisation is recorded. This information will assist the maintenance engineers to analyse the number of operating hours per machine to assess and plan a preventative maintenance schedule for those machines.
The IHM is independent of machine types or brands through its method of data acquisition and the options offered for data transfer and open software platform allows for a seamless implementation into existing systems/plants. In conclusion, the IHM is a cost-effective and viable solution for the modern production manager to view production efficiency/utilisation information of the production plant.
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