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Revving Up Your Business Processes

From product design to operations to asset management,automating manufacturing business involves more thanjust controlling a machine.

Hendrick Motorsports builds cars for several NASCAR racing teams. Here, a technician makes adjustments on an engine bound for hi
Hendrick Motorsports builds cars for several NASCAR racing teams. Here, a technician makes adjustments on an engine bound for hi

Want a fast $60,000?

Just for implementing an improved business process application?

Actually, the story is more involved than loading new software on a computer, but the ending is just as sweet. Scott Lampe, financial controller at Hendrick Motorsports Inc., in Charlotte, N.C., borrows from a current credit card commercial when he says, “Immediate savings from integrating AvantisPro with business operations—$60,000; reduced cash outlay for inventory within six months—$400,000; collecting accurate information to make informed decisions—priceless.”

On its 65-acre racing complex in Charlotte, Hendrick Motorsports builds race cars from start-to-finish for such noted NASCAR drivers as Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Jimmie Johnson and Joe Nemechek. Each year it builds more than 700 engines on site and leases some of those engines to other National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, teams. Innovation has always been a driving force at Hendrick Motorsports, and its current application of asset management technology to motor sports is one of the most recent examples of that innovation.

“While reducing costs is certainly important,” says Lampe, “we’re here to win races and generate revenue. The Avantis asset management solution from Invensys enables us to collect the information necessary to make more intelligent decisions and optimize performance.”

The initial focus for Hendrick Motorsports was on inventory management, which is no easy task considering there are 10 separate buildings on the Hendrick complex, each with its own inventory warehouse. These include individual racing team facilities, such as the 24/48 Shop (Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson, who drive cars numbered 24 and 48 respectively); the 5 Shop (Terry Labonte); the 25 Shop (Joe Nemechek); and the Busch Grand National Team Shop, as well as the engine shop, body shop, and chassis shop.

Eliminate inventory

“Our charge was to establish a central inventory management system to document the inventories available in each of the warehouses,” says Trevor Ruthenberg, value assessment services manager for Avantis, an Invensys company based in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. “By centralizing and automating inventory management, members of each team now have ready access to the entire inventory available throughout the Hendrick complex, saving valuable time and money,” says Ruthenberg. This system further improved efficiency while reducing costs by eliminating the redundancy of over-ordering duplicate inventory and allowing maximum/minimum parameters for the entire complex.

According to Ruthenberg, a major challenge was the unprecedented use of an asset management solution for industrial applications in an automotive application. “Believe me, Hendrick pushed the envelope on this one.”

To help meet the challenge of a four-month implementation process, Avantis applied a structured approach to the project, using a methodology it had developed called InRim (Industrial Rapid Implementation Methodology). “Implementing InRim involved a cooperative effort between Avantis and Hendrick to define the precise parameters of implementation activities, as well as responsibility, timeline and deliverables for each activity. Here again, teamwork paid off,” says Ruthenberg.

The next step of the project, having completed the automated inventory management portion, was to work with the 24/48 team to employ the Avantis maintenance module. Here again, the transition from industrial asset management to a high performance automotive application had its challenges.

“With industrial applications, there are peak times and off-peak times when you can schedule preventative maintenance to assure optimum performance. We didn’t have that luxury with this application,” says Ruthenberg. Reliability is the name of the game, according to Jim McKenzie, applications manager at Hendrick. “If our car breaks down during a race, we might as well have not bothered showing up. With the Avantis solution, we can document parts usage and car configurations to maximize reliability,” say McKenzie.

According to McKenzie, there are approximately 150 components on each car that are monitored by condition (when does component reach failure condition) or usage (cycles or revolutions of engine, laps of track and the like). Hendrick monitors these components on more than 30 cars of the 24/48 team. “This is critical when you consider that Hendrick builds cars specifically for individual race tracks and tries different configurations to see what works best. We can readily track the configuration of the vehicle specified for the race and changes made during practice before the race. At the end of the race, we have a well-documented history of the vehicle configuration. This allows us to duplicate the configuration if the car finished first, or make necessary modifications if the car needs improvement,” says McKenzie.

Business automation can do far more than manage fast cars and inventory. Product design and development engineering, if not managed correctly, can often cost time and lead to unwanted product cost. This becomes an acute problem in this age of consumer product marketing, and is often called mass customization.

From cars to fish

Tetra is a Blacksburg, Va., manufacturer of hundreds of aquarium-related products, and a publisher of books for aquarium fish keeping, reptile and amphibian keeping, and water gardening. Managing and tracking the production-related procedures for engineering and quality control is a challenge for the company, given the size and complexity of the enterprise.

Charlie Lisanti, Tetra information systems consultant, describes an engineering change system that had grown to be a drag on the entire business process. “Any changes to product designs have to be approved by a number of departments before the final product is manufactured,” says Lisanti. “The process starts with a formal request for engineering change from design engineering. Each Engineering Change Notification (ECN) must be reviewed and approved by someone from the quality, regulatory, purchasing, production control, marketing and engineering departments. The process can involve as many as 40 people. We used to have a co-op student running around carrying all the paper, in a process that averaged 11 days to finish.”

A little business process automation was in order to improve this situation. Tetra turned to a product called e-Work, from Metastorm, a business process management solution supplier based in Columbia, Md., which helped the company revamp its process. The system was streamlined, all the while maintaining important input in each change from all people concerned.

Lisanti reports that the new system is electronic, driven by e-mails. Users click a link in the e-mail to go directly to the change application over the company’s intranet. They do not have to be aware that they are in a separate application to do their jobs. In the system, anyone wishing to initiate a project begins by entering the e-Work form through the intranet. Completing and submitting a form initiates an e-mail message to the company Control Center. There, the request is verified for completeness and that it is not redundant before it is then approved.

Approval at this stage generates seven requests by e-mail to personnel who must check and approve the change. The ECN request appears on a “to do” list on the desktop of each affected person. The e-Work application uses timers to alert people and includes a deadline. If action is not taken by the deadline, the system can escalate to the next level of management for action. A Watch List provides visibility into the process for everyone to check progress. Drafters in the engineering department can keep tabs on requests via this list and plan future workloads.

The net result? The ECN process now takes only two to three days versus the previous 11.

Of pipes and steel

Farnham & Pfile Construction is a Belle Vernon, Pa., company devoted to construction projects within the mining and energy production industries. The underlying capabilities include everything from engineering and procurement to design and construction, all performed and serviced by the latest technology for efficient and economical service.

Todd Vander Hill, Farnham & Pfile engineer, says, “We use Catia from Dassault Systems for all of our engineering and design work. Catia AEC Plant software allows us to model equipment and place it in a library. It includes piping and other structural and infrastructure elements, as well. Some customers have had trouble visualizing the entire process at the beginning, then they often have ideas such as moving items or adding items.”

This is where another Dassault application comes in. Enovia works with Catia to allow a “virtual walk-through” of a building even before any excavation is started or the footers are laid. Adds Tom Porterfield, Farnham & Pfile vice president of operations, “Some customers have gone on the virtual plant walk-through and come up with many ideas for improving the design. One looked at a belt line location and pointed out that there was no access for proper maintenance. Sometimes, when we bring in the pipework and structural steel, we find interferences that would have been costly to fix after construction had started.”

Vander Hill notes that there has been a learning curve for Farnham’s designers. Some have been with the company since 1986, laying out designs on drawing boards. For many years, they were used to designing in two dimensions and converting to three dimensions for checking. “Now we design in 3-D,” says Vander Hill, “and convert back to 2-D to make the working drawings. We need the 3-D design in order to achieve all the benefits of the Enovia virtual tour technology. Since converting to the new system, we have fewer mistakes and less time from inception to field drawings. In fact, we have better designs over all. Plus, when we are finished, we have an electronic catalog for maintenance already done.”

Refining platinum

Impala Platinum is one of the largest group metal producers in the world, and a leading miner, refiner and marketer of precious group metals. Based in South Africa, the company each year produces around 1.7 million ounces of platinum, which is equivalent to 25 percent of global production. Impala has implemented a strategy to increase throughput volume to 2 million ounces of platinum by 2006.

Firoz Khan, system engineer at Impala’s Base Metals Refinery (BMR), says, “We concentrated on improving plant performance by optimizing the scope and delivery of plant-wide information to key personnel to bring about more effective decisions. The BMR required a plant information system that would integrate various pieces of information and present it plant-wide simultaneously to key personnel from engineers to managers, allowing them to make informed decisions at the correct time. We worked with Citect application engineers over a 12-month period to implement a suite of Industrial Information Management (IIM) modules from Citect including quality, production, downtime, cost, maintenance, metrics and tracking.”

BMR had just completed an upgrade of its laboratory information management system, so the company began the IIM project with the quality module from Citect, an information management system supplier based in Gordon, Australia.

Khan reports numerous business objectives were achieved with the system. Process sample analyses from satellite laboratories were previously only available on manual log sheets, for example, with engineers required to search for data and enter them into spreadsheets before they could be analyzed. “Now, the automated system pulls data at hourly intervals, making data available plant-wide for immediate analysis and decision-making,” Khan says.

The system integrates islands of information and presents the data as meaningful, user-friendly information on the Web portal accessible via the company’s intranet. It has contributed toward realizing just shy of 2 million ounces of platinum, compared to the previous year of 1.75 million ounces, putting Impala ahead of its 2006 target.

Busting bottlenecks

Manufacturing execution system (MES) software is supposed to help a manufacturer execute. A well-designed MES application with automated connections to the factory floor can mean lots of extra dollars of net income. Such is the case at Southeastern Container (SEC), an Asheville, N.C., manufacturer of blow-molded plastic beverage bottles.

SEC’s plant in Winchester, Va., manufactures plastic bottles used by beverage companies to contain and ship a variety of popular soft drinks. But it also manufactures the “preforms,” or test-tube-like plastic pieces, which are blow-molded into final bottle shapes. It uses a portion of its preform products for its own requirements and ships the rest to the company’s other blow-molding facilities.

An automated material handling system moves, cures and stores the preforms. The key component is an overhead crane system that transports materials. The crane’s control and information system created bottlenecks through downtime. Says Paul Jones, SEC molding operations manager, “The old system constantly presented us with trouble. It could not keep the blow-molding department supplied with empty bins or preforms, and it sometimes sent the wrong product.”

SEC’s crane system also lacked a tracking system, making it impossible to determine when and where production changes were made. With problems or delays popping up on a nearly daily basis, the inefficient system was costing the company thousands of dollars each week in work delays and production inefficiencies.

Interwave Technology, a Rockwell Automation business based in Milwaukee, developed a top-level control and inventory system for the overhead crane. “One of the biggest problems we discovered was that the crane system wasn’t correctly tracking the information it received,” says Mike Hopper, project manager for Interwave. “We found that the crane system was regularly shipping wrong materials to blow-molding stations, requiring workers to stop and literally shovel thousands of pounds of preforms out of the hopper.”

The finished system has helped SEC increase productivity by around 2 percent, representing about $750,000 in added sales in the first year. The company also saved more than $30,000 in material and labor costs in the first year and helped cut operating costs by $70,000 per year.

Whether it’s NASCAR racing, building aquariums, designing power plants, refining platinum or blow-molding bottles, automating business processes can turn a company into a winner.

For more information, search keywords “business process” and “PLM” at www.automationworld.com.

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