Manufacturing Data Collection and Management Transforms Swiss Shop
A New Hampshire high-volume precision solutions manufacturer and an innovative software solutions provider have collaborated in upgrading the shop’s data collection and organization methods, maximizing output and competitiveness.
Dan Villemaire, C&M Machine Products president and owner, says the company consistently strives to drive decisions based on data.
Digital data management is increasingly driving manufacturing strategy, operations, and asset allocation in contemporary manufacturing companies, however, collecting and comparing machining data in a uniform way can be a challenge for shops with a mix of new technology and legacy equipment. Dan Villemaire is owner and president of C&M Machine Products. Founded by his grandfather and father as a Brown & Sharpe screw machine shop in Hudson, New Hampshire, 40 years ago, the business has grown to house about 100 machines including more than 73 CNC Swiss-type lathes and 19 larger CNC turning centers. C&M serves industries ranging from aerospace and defense to copper consumables, fluid handling, medical, robotics and optics with production runs of precision machined products up to 1,000,000 pieces or more.
Mr. Villemaire perceived that detailed manufacturing data management and analysis would help facilitate growth into new markets through more efficient scheduling and use of manufacturing resources. “One of the things that we consistently strive to do is drive decisions with data,” he says. But because the shop’s machines are of widely differing age and operation, it was difficult to collect accurate, consistent and comparable data. “We wanted to have a better understanding of what our machines were doing. We knew that some of our machines had the capability to talk to us and give us information in a dashboard type of format, but not in a uniform way.”
Almost all of the company’s 73 CNC Swiss-type lathes and 19 larger CNC turning centers are now equipped with a display tablet that gives the operator easy access to the data supplied through the ERP system.
C&M sends CNC programs to its machines via a DNC (distributed numerical control) system, but the shop traditionally documented machine output using time cards filled out by hand. Operators manually recorded the hours they worked and the parts they produced, and then submitted the cards for entry into the shop’s ERP system. That process did not work well with multiple opportunities for error.
C&M acquired its DNC system from WireFreeCNC, a unit of Macdac Engineering. Macdac provides manufacturing software and hardware products including Mastercam, Catia and a variety of networking equipment. The software provider proposed installing the Excellerant MDC (Manufacturing Data Collection) at C&M. Excellerant is a universal decoder that connects machines and captures CNC data as it is generated. The product enables a manufacturer to connect all of its CNC machine tools and controllers (regardless of brand) and monitor and manage each machine’s data in real time and transmit that data to the company’s ERP system
Excellerant MDC builds on MTConnect, FANUC Focas, OPC-UA, Haas MNET Q-Codes and other machine control connecting protocols, and it also communicates with legacy CNC machines. The package consists of a software license and hardware that includes a graphic display tablet located at each machine controller. The system counts parts as they are created. At the end of each shift, the operator qualifies the number of good parts completed, and the total is automatically entered into the ERP system.
Shawn Bergeron, C&M’s continuous improvement leader, says, “The accuracy of information that’s coming into our ERP system is exponentially better than what it was before. From a scheduling perspective, it’s improving a lot of things.”
Such occurrences affected profitability. “Our yield is impacted when parts are lost in the machine. We’ve spent cycle time, and we’ve consumed material and labor to make something that we can’t turn around and sell to a customer. It’s scrap regardless if it’s in the machine or not, and it needs to be accounted for that way. Now, through reliable data collection and root cause analysis, we know the issues we need to correct,” Mr. Bergeron says.
The goal is to automate data collection as much as possible. Then management can start to analyze the data and find ways to deal with yield issues. “Use of the system also adds value from a customer satisfaction point of view, as we are able to improve accuracy of our costs and increase our value to our customers,” Mr. Bergeron says.
Wholesale adoption of automated data collection represents a significant cultural shift for a 40-year-old business. Mr. Villemaire is moving C&M away from the older ways of doing things by surrounding himself with fresh resources and ideas. Mr Bergeron explains, “We recently hired an operations manager and a quality manager with a different skill set than what we’ve had previously. We hired a finance manager as well. Dan is trying to surround himself with a core team to bring this organization to where it needs to go based on facts and data, not based on emotion and a ‘we did it this way 30 years ago’ attitude. If we continue to do it that way, 30 years from now we won’t have a place to go.” The company is looking to hire 55 people over the next three to four years.
Employees, and operators in particular, have bought into the implementation of the Excellerant system more openly than what Mr. Bergeron anticipated. “I’ve had operators notice that we’re keeping better track of the information,” he says. “They’re seeing the value. It’s not a tool to reprimand people. That’s the very last thing we want to do. We’d rather use it as a tool for root-cause analysis and corrective and preventive actions going forward. The future benefits are tremendous.”
One of the objectives of adopting automated data management is to move toward a paperless environment, especially on the shop floor. A key element of that effort is a graphic display tablet mounted on each machine tool. On the tablet, which displays a simple user interface designed for clear and logical function, machine tools are represented by graphic icons.
Paperwork reduction also contributes to regulatory compliance. For example, Mr. Bergeron says use of the Excellerant system facilitates compliance with NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) standards, particularly cyber-security standard SP800-171. Large fines are possible in the event of a data breach. “That requires us to be very careful with our customer intellectual property such as specifications and drawings,” he says. “In many cases it is part of our contractual obligation to customers to control their information and guarantee it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.” Storing information on the tablet on the machine limits the number of customer prints and specifications present on the shop floor. “In some cases, the cyber-security standard is sort of a barrier to entry to a market for other shops,” Mr. Bergeron continues. “A lot of our customers, specifically in the defense realm, are asking us if and when we’ll be compliant.”
C&M operates more than 73 Swiss-type CNC lathes including machines from Star, Citizen and Tsugami. Larger CNC turning centers include machines from Miyano, Eurotech and Hardinge. Machine controls are from FANUC and Mitsubishi. Mr. Bergeron says the number and variety of machines in the C&M shop posed a challenge in collecting and standardizing data. “Each one’s slightly different than the next, and we
have a lot of older machines. On the newer machines, implementing Excellerant is pretty quick and easy; it’s kind of plug and play. There was a lot more interaction with the older machines to get the system set up. But now it’s on just about every machine we have, and we have six new Citizen CNC Swiss lathes that we’re adding it to.”
Mr. Bergeron says input on use of the system comes largely from the shop floor. “It doesn’t come from me or anybody in management; it comes from the employees using the system every day. And that’s where the success is going to lie—in the employees adopting it and seeing the benefit of the system,” he explains. Some of them can dig in and do a root-cause analysis for part count issues. For others, once it’s up and running it just works, as long as people are following directions. “It is essential that employees trust the system. All that is required is fine tuning and paying attention to detail. Our machinists are extremely detail-oriented and produce very small parts with extremely fine tolerances. I know they can do this.”
Mr. Bergeron notes that an important feature of the system is called the Eagle Eye View, which provides complete job detail such as customer information, part number, print number, revisions, job status, when parts were ordered, due dates, and updated order quantities.
Value of Accessible Data
The data enables jobs to be scheduled on the correct platforms. C&M had incidents in the past where a job was scheduled on a machine that wasn’t available. The Excellerant system shows where each job is going and gives insight into what’s going on at the moment. It can be used to direct traffic and make decisions.
Shops considering employing automated data management technology will find it helpful to make their processes as consistent as possible across the board. As an example, criteria for part counts should be standardized if possible. Considering the nature of C&M’s parts and machine tools, part counts in general are based on cutoff operations. When parts are turned from
In preparing for the change to automated data collection, naming a project leader or champion is crucial in assuring that the effort stays on track and that there is a clearly defined point person for communications on any delays or other occurrences. Good rapport with the supplier of the data management system is essential.
The Future of Automated Data Collection
The “Four Cs” of C&M
In parallel with adopting automatic data collection and management technology, C&M sought ways to clarify the organization’s identity and purpose. Dan Villemaire says, “We spent the better part of the last two and a half years defining the values of C&M. We arrived at ‘The Four C’s of C&M,’ namely customer focus, continuous improvement, collaboration and community.”
“Obviously customer focus is our primary objective; making our customers happy and making sure we do what
they need us to do,” Mr. Villemaire says. “Collaboration and continuous improvement go hand in hand; teamwork is essential to move ahead. Continuous improvement is an overused term, but we always strive to do better. The Excellerant system allows us to collect the data we need to be able to measure improvements. Previously we didn’t know if we were doing better or not because we didn’t have the data to say so.”
In regard to the fourth “C,” community, “It’s two-fold,” Mr. Villemaire says. “We are committed to being there for each other and to giving back to the local community. In our company’s internal community, people have personal issues or events in their lives where they need support and we take that very seriously. We consider ourselves a family. We’re there for our people; we’re there to back them up.”
Regarding the local community outside of the company, Mr. Villemaire adds, “We do food drives, we adopt families for Christmas, we’re a sponsor for the Boys and Girls Club and many other non-profit organizations. ln 2019, our objective is for each of our employees to do eight hours—one paid day—of offsite community service work. We’re incorporating that attitude more and more into how we do things here. We do a lot of things that people don’t know about. I try to make giving back part of our public policy with our employees and our customers. We’re giving back. It’s important to us.”