Accuride is a supplier of wheel end systems to the global commercial vehicle industry. It operates steel and aluminum wheel manufacturing plants in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Considering Accuride’s Steel Armor coating and corrosion warranty and a focus on developing highly durable products, testing and validation centers are central to Accuride’s business.
In 2015, the company sought ISO-17025 accreditation for its four test labs dedicated to destructive testing of new and existing products. Accuride knew the limited data and processes in its legacy systems would be a barrier to accreditation at this level. The systems used by Accuride at that time consisted of multiple on-premises systems used to execute and manage manufacturing operations. The most common technology used in the testing centers was BPCS 6.1, a green-screen system aided by custom applications and manually created spreadsheets.
During the company’s investigation of new software systems for its test labs, engineers and management changed their way of thinking about the kind of software they needed. They realized that if they thought about their testing operations as manufacturing operations—rather than a separate function—they could use the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform the company already used to manage its wheel and wheel-end manufacturing and distribution operations.
Though the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes ERP (enterprise resources planning), MES (manufacturing execution system), and supply chain management functionalities, Dave Morfas, vice president of product marketing and corporate communications at Plex Systems, said Accuride was able to “take advantage of the modularity of Plex’s platform to extend just the Plex MES production management capabilities into its testing/validation facilities.”
Core Plex MES components, such as the job system and control panel, proved to be a good fit for test requests, schedules, and operations, as the hardware and setup procedures needed for each test could be tracked and displayed.
“While test deviations were painful exceptions in the legacy system, in Plex they flow into the standard dispatch queue, with one-off instructions provided in real time to the operator,” said Morfas. “Additionally, because program management, suppliers, and parts were already integrated into Plex workflows, they could include natural validation points such as new products, product revisions, and new supplier material as steps in those workflows.”
Digitizing Accuride’s test lab process using Plex has delivered several positive results, in addition to helping the company achieve the ISO accreditation it sought in 2015 and sustain it for seven years now.
“Whereas Accuride’s legacy application recorded only basic failure groupings, Plex’s classifications are dynamic, and tests can store images, resulting in tests recording precisely where, when, how often, and at what cycle cracks and failures occur,” Morfas said. “While this enhances Accuride’s ability to recognize patterns and analyze details, the company also uses Plex APIs (application programming interfaces) for PLC integration and VisionPlex for reporting, giving them holistic visibility into live station status and cycle counts, and near-real-time visibility to test summaries and analytics that had been impossible to extract from the legacy system. Plus, each test center can now review on-hand and in-transit inventory and request missing inventory in real time while creating schedules.”
Other business functions within Accuride also benefited from digitizing the testing centers. Previously, when a plant needed to ship samples to a test center, the entire process was manual, with communication, scheduling, picking, and shipping performed offline. This required company accountants to monitor the in-transit inventory and manually adjust it out when it arrived.
“However, because sample requests are now treated like standard intercompany orders, this has become a standard process, and the shipping plants work off their usual dock schedule,” said Morfas. “This reduces logistics labor but also eliminates the accounting labor, as SCAR (standard cost activity report) in Plex handles the accounting. More importantly, it has provided Accuride with opportunities to recognize and consolidate intercompany freight rather than shipping samples on expensive LTLs (less-than-truckload shipments).
In 2021, Accuride’s test lab operations became the first in the company to transition to Plex UX—the newest version of Plex’s software. Since all Plex software products are delivered via SaaS (software as a service), the software “provides a modern user experience to manufacturing shop floor and front office workers on par with the software experience they can expect from their personal devices and other industry workplace software,” Morfas said.
The SaaS delivery of Plex software enabled Accuride to launch two new facilities in Europe in 2021.
“This would not have been possible for on-premises software or systems that are not equipped for global use,” said Morfas. “Because Plex is cloud-based and serves as a single, consolidated source of truth, Accuride can provide each of its facilities with immediate visibility into each other’s current and historical tests, as well as the path of products through production and testing sites.”