Capturing Data to Target Errors and Continuously Improve

March 12, 2013
Increasingly complex global supply chains always present clients across many industries with new challenges. Manufacturing companies, in particular, need tools and strategies to efficiently and effectively manage suppliers and warranties, comply with regulations, protect brand and improve manufacturing processes.

A global solar panel manufacturer was recently faced with the challenge of finding common variables when final assembled panels did not achieve expected performance characteristics. As warranty claims surfaced for product already in the field, the company’s paper-based system proved ineffective in discovering the variables. This meant that the company needed a new system to identify and trace common variables for those products.

From the outset, the problem of finding the common production variables created a real business need for the manufacturer to understand questions such as:  Which lot of cells were included in this panel? What other final products contain that same lot of cells? What machines processed this panel? Who was running those machines? What process data was collected throughout the manufacturing process? How can we address that problem quickly and ensure that production gets back on track? Which of these variables can we pinpoint as the root cause of the problem?

>> PM Solar Control: Read other Automation World coverage of solar-industry-related control decisions. Visit

JMP Engineering collaborated with the manufacturer to design and implement a traceability solution for manufacturing operations that enabled the company to achieve its supplier quality management and continuous improvement goals. This is achieved by labeling incoming components with bar codes and tracking them through the automated assembly machinery (stringers) along the manufacturing line. At final testing, quality data is collected into the production record from the automated testing station so that each panel can be graded according to specifications. A rework loop was also established that requires  management via continuous data integrity through both the primary production process as well as rework.

Expertise and off-the-shelf technology
The solar panel manufacturer chose the GE Proficy Plant Applications Quality module along with GE Proficy Historian as the core of its manufacturing execution system. This solution runs on a virtual machine environment to reduce IT costs and footprint. The system’s traceability application is connected via Kepware OPC drivers to Omron programmable logic controllers (PLCs) installed by the stringer’s manufacturer.

At the final quality testing station, the application is connected to a Siemens PLC that manages the OEM test station and a Kuka robot. Barcode scans are delivered to the system by a Cognex Dataman barcode reader. A handshaking module was implemented to ensure data integrity at each collection point. Human machine interfaces (HMIs) are used for manual entry of the manufacturing work order number and manual data collection if the barcode scan fails. 

This combination of integrated technologies delivers a critical traceability matrix report and analysis tool that enables troubleshooting, risk management and quality improvements. Information now traced includes the manufacturing work order, line and machine identities, serial numbers, final product efficiency test results, and a more detailed list of quality test results. If performance problems surface during testing or later in the field, effective root cause analysis is conducted by analyzing the traceability matrix for the faulty solar panel as well as other panels with similar histories or performance characteristics.

By working in collaboration with the solar panel manufacturer, JMP Engineering was able to give the manufacturer the tools and strategies it needs to manage suppliers and warranties, comply with regulations, protect its brand and improve manufacturing processes and first-pass quality.

>> Dan Wilson is director of business development for information solutions at JMP Engineering Inc., a member of the Control System Integrations Association (CSIA). Learn more about JMP Engineering at For more information about CSIA, visit

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