Automotive Solution Provider 'Validates' with OPC

By deploying an OPC server suite from Kepware Technologies, APS helps its automotive customers seamlessly validate data from multiple suppliers’ machinery, without having to develop custom drives for each brand of PLC used.

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Advanced Production Systems, Inc. (APS) is a solution provider based in Louisville, Kentucky. APS has been providing solutions to the manufacturing industry since 1986 and is now positioned to help manufacturers and their associated trading partners capitalize on emerging economic and technological trends in manufacturing. Typical APS solutions have an emphasis on optimizing and automating manufacturing operations and processes, and enhancing front-line employee productivity through better information flow and communication systems. A few of the manufacturing strategies APS focuses on include: Lean Manufacturing, Real-time Data Collection, Error-Proofing, Traceability, Product Quality Tracking, OEE Analysis and Process/Machine Automation.

While working with a major automotive manufacturer earlier this year, engineers at APS were asked to provide an interface to validate data within the programmable logic controller (PLC) programs provided by machinery suppliers to the manufacturer. The ultimate goal was to provide a portable software application or “Validation Tool” which would be installed by each supplier at its engineering and production facility. This Validation Tool would provide self-validation by suppliers prior to onsite commissioning, thus eliminating travel expenses and dramatically reducing the overall cost of the machinery validation process. After identifying the application requirements of the validation tool, it was determined that of the more than 25 machinery suppliers, there were a total of approximately 10 different brands of PLCs incorporated into the various machines. APS engineers would need a way to seamlessly connect the validation interface to each of the PLCs used by suppliers. Custom driver development would be too expensive due to the go-to-market timeline, as well as the shear quantity of drivers needed.

For the final solution, APS engineers tailored the Data Transport Utility (DTU) by I/Gear to handle the validation interface requirements, and connected the DTU’s OPC client interface to the OPC server suite, KEPServerEX, from Kepware Technologies, based in Portland, Maine. Since KEPServerEX provides a single OPC server interface with more than 100 plug-in device drivers, the Validation Tool would be able to connect to the machinery suppliers’ PLCs, without requiring additional interface changes in the DTU. The additional benefit is that the final Validation Tool provided to the automotive manufacturer would be composed of only two products, thus simplifying order delivery and support as well as reducing long-term maintenance of the solution.

According to Don Korfhage, owner of APS, Inc., “Today’s global economy requires that most manufacturers need to respond to rapid change. To do this, manufacturers need to continually optimize operations and reduce costs throughout the entire supply chain.” Continues Korfhage, “APS engineers are skilled at combining the appropriate application of information technology with process/plant-floor knowledge to close the gap between business planning systems and shop-floor production systems. This Validation Tool is one example of closing gaps in the supply chain using standards-based technologies such as OPC.”

For more information about OPC solutions from Kepware Technologies, visit www.kepware.com.

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