Engineered Machined Products is North America’s leading producer of pumps and components for the heavy duty industry. AMS reports on how its adoption of PC-based automation is securing manufacturing efficiency across its operation

Ever since Engineered Machined Products (EMP) started moving towards a PC-based front end for the automation control of its machining cells a couple of years ago, a lot of new windows have been opening up on its operations – from the HMI, to maintenance, all the way up to the company’s enterprise resource planning systems.

Based in Escanaba, Michigan, EMP is a North American leader in the design, manufacturing and assembly of thermal and oil management products for the global diesel engine industry. EMP’s products consist of highly machined precision metal components and include mechanical water and oil pumps, high-pressure fuel and oil rails, cylinder heads and a variety of advanced electronic components including electric water pumps, electric fans, thermal kits, electronic thermostats, oil management systems and electric oil pumps.

PC-based automation

Important to EMP’s recent growth has been its efficient manufacturing operations and product quality. Over the last five years, the company has invested over $24m in automating its manufacturing and assembly processes.

All of EMP’s factories are cellular based and designed to minimise labour costs, maximise efficiency, quality and flexibility. They are fitted with advanced equipment including highly integrated workcell technology, robotics and other high tech equipment for high volume production.

Key to this integration has been EMP’s push to use PC-based automation control in the form of Allen-Bradley’s VersaView technology.

The company recently acquired some new Akuna lathes in support of a contract to machine parts for Sauer- Danfoss. The two new machining cells use vision-guided Fanuc robots for machine tending and the company decided to incorporate the vision system components into a new (for them) PC-based human machine interface (HMI) using VersaView.

“We took a jump recently with the way we’ve been doing our cell controllers,” says Gabe Kluka, an EMP automation engineer. “We’re using VersaView as the HMI for the cell, but we’re also using it to run the vision system for the robots. Plus we’re using the architecture to share data to our statistical process control system, we have links that we’ve taken off our ControlLogix and we’re doing monitoring of everything else that’s going on via VersaView.”

Previously EMP had been using teach pendants or a simple kind of panel view setup for monitoring its machining cell operations. With the addition of VersaView, the handful of operators that tend the cells can check out any one of the HMIs around the cells and see what’s going on anywhere on the other lines.

“We kind of changed our thinking there because of the flexibility the PC-based architecture provides you. All of our manuals for the cell are available via the HMIs, all our paper trails have gone to electronic format – work instructions, documentation – everything goes onto the PC and it becomes a one-stop shop for the operators.

We’re also looking for ways to pull information off the cell controller and throw it up onto our business reporting systems for part counting and all that good stuff – that’s all being driven through our HMIs. That’s very new for us.”

Quality control

In terms of quality control for the machining cells, EMP engineers have rigged up some gauging to the lathes that provides automatic feedback to compensate for tool wear – all done via the HMI. “We’re doing all of our feedback using file sharing versus the old fashioned way, which was a kind of serial port or binary coded decimal system. The old system required a lot more thinking. It was effective, but not what I would call elegant,” says Kluka.

In addition to talking back to the lathes, the network is sharing the same information with EMP’s statistical process control system on the fly because it’s also running on the same HMI. The operator can pull up the SPC software and see how his or her process looks.

(N.B. Statistical Process Control (SPC) is a methodology for measuring and controlling quality. Measurements are collected from products as they are being produced; the data is plotted on a graph with pre-determined control limits. Data that falls within the control limits means all is well. If data falls outside of the control limits, it indicates an assignable cause is likely the source of the variation, and something’s wrong with the process.)

Since implementing a broader use of VersaView in its machining cells, Kluka says visibility into the cell has changed remarkably. And it’s proven to be a much more user friendly front end for everybody involved – operators, engineers, maintenance, and especially the IT department. “IT understands what we’re doing now,” he says. “In the past we’d get them involved with some things on the plant floor, but they were limited in what they could do because they’re not PLC guys, they’re PC guys. Now we’re speaking their language.”

Future trends

In terms of machining software, EMP is currently looking into some Akuna software that would allow the firm’s maintenance engineers to get more data reporting from the lathes. Kluka says the software enables maintenance to set up the lathes so they can monitor fluid levels and other maintenance items that are usually performed via visual check. “There are sensors on the machines and we’d be able to pull diagnostic information from the sensor, onto the network, and on into someone’s Blackberry or email alerting them to low oil levels or something amiss with the machines,” he says.

Another item on EMP’s wishlist is a PC-based interface for the Job Boss tool vending system. Currently, the company is using the Job Boss system where an operator swipes a card and takes machine tool inserts (carbides) as required.

“With Akuna’s interface, you can tell the Job Boss that an operator is on their way to get an insert. When they log on to the machine, it’ll ask if you require an insert for a particular job and then open the door automatically for the insert. When they get back to the CNC, it’ll ask if you want to install the insert – that kind of thing,” says Kluka.

“There are some neat things we’re looking at doing over the next couple of years with that type of control interface. Things like ballast chip IDs in the tools where we can preset the lengths and “wand” them into the machine tool. Or a scan laser bar code on our tool with a bar code reader at the machine tool that scans it, and puts it in; as opposed to a specialty chip that we currently use.

“Having that PC front end gives you access to a database where you can push tool information into it, you can tie that tool information back into your ERP system – it’s all highly integrated. We’re trying to integrate our shop floor more and more into our business systems.”