The Manufacturing Execution System sets the pace in special machine construction
AWM AG | Arnstadt, Germany
Now processes instead of people control manufacturing: special purpose machines are created over a long period in a complex engineering and manufacturing process, accompanied by repeated often unplanned changes. To make planning and control digital, transparent and agile, and to reduce the risk of errors and lead times, Thuringia-based AWM AG relies on a Management Execution System (MES) from Hummingbird.
With success: Since then, overtime, search and waiting times have been drastically reduced.
A special machine is unique, consisting of up to 20,000 parts. Its assembly alone can take a year. Beforehand, the machine and parts have to be designed, and the latter manufactured or purchased, if possible on schedule for specific use. When parts, materials and personnel or machine resources are needed, this must be planned module by module. Challenges are aplenty with design changes, sudden supply bottlenecks, and the creation of a smooth logistical supply cycle. Or the quick answer to a simple question: Where is the part needed right now?
“Hummingbird is the only truly agile planning system we know of on the market. ERP systems are too static and cannot map our high dynamics.”
Board Member Dr. Scharn
There is a lot of explosiveness in good solutions for this highly complex task. "We give the customer a price for a machine in advance without knowing exactly its final design, and we have to produce it in a set time. And we want our customers to achieve higher productivity and quality than with competitor solutions. That's why we have to be highly efficient and economical ourselves," says Dr. René Scharn, describing the demands of the Special Machinery Division, which he heads at Arnstädter Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau (AWM) AG. The Thuringians have been manufacturing turnkey manual workstations, hybrid assembly solutions and complex assembly lines for five decades with currently 147 employees, mainly for the production of sensors, chassis and engine mounts, mechatronic products, automotive lighting technology and oral care products. In doing so, the internationally active, owner-managed medium-sized company relies on its tool shop.
Learning from series production
A central question for special machine manufacturing was: How do we create transparent manufacturing processes, in particular agile planning and control, reduce errors, and at the same time maintain our flexibility in the event of changes as well as our adherence to schedules? The answer followed in two major steps: Dr. Scharn hired Dipl.-Ing. Jens Böhme as production manager, who came from a well-known German industrial company and applied principles from series production to special machine construction. The Manufacturing Execution System (MES) from the Nuremberg-based companies Hummingbird Systems and Hummingbird Services came on board as the digital planning and control system. The system is used especially in make-to-order manufacturing plants with fewer than 15 to more than 400 employees across Europe. "It is the only truly agile planning system we know of on the market. ERP systems are too static and cannot map our high dynamics," says Dr. Scharn, explaining the selection.
At the beginning of 2020, Jens Böhme started a value stream analysis and initially used networked Excel tables to map the workflow. In joint work with Marcus Kalbacher, Managing Director of Hummingbird Services, a specification was created and the adaptation of the standard Hummingbird MES to the AWM needs was worked out. Hummingbird reimplemented the control of assembly picking and internal logistics for the AWM project in the MES software. At AWM, a logistician now distributes assemblies and parts to the various workstations according to the so-called milk-run principle and takes material away again. "These supply runs, which were previously unscheduled and carried out as needed, could be limited to two runs per day at fixed times with the help of MES control," says Jens Böhme.
Suddenly no more overtime
The MES has been running since the beginning of 2021 and controls production from drawing output to the finished picked part. All processes, parts, resources and capacities are now recorded and are transparently visible in the system. This is what makes online production planning and agile process control possible in the first place. The benefits extend to all areas: when a customer inquires, it is possible to quickly determine when the required resources will be available, and binding deadlines can thus be confirmed immediately. In production, the designers and project managers no longer have to coordinate the input of the many parts at great expense. The MES now controls the respective tasks and processes based on the planning. It signals bottlenecks or delays and reacts immediately to changes. MES and standardized storage locations also put an end to the search for parts, which previously consumed around 23 percent of working time.
The success of it all: On-time delivery is more reliably achievable, and throughput and waiting times fell. "Despite a heavy order load, we suddenly no longer needed overtime," says Jens Böhme. Soon, assembly planning will also run via the MES. "These are giant steps for a mechanical engineering company," says Dr. Scharn, who sees one step as crucial: Previously, production was in the hands of the designers and engineers. They now had to completely change their approach, handing over control to the MES and at the same time opening up to the mindset of a series producer. "But if we want to become more competitive, we need shorter lead times and a system that is binding and transparent for everyone and that also works when someone is down," explains Dr. Scharn.
Marcus Kalbacher is familiar with this problem: "With the introduction of an MES comes the changeover from people to system-controlled manufacturing. This requires a transitional and familiarization period. But after that, it quickly becomes clear: A good MES is a real pacesetter in the digital age."