Everyone knows the importance that aerospace engineering and manufacturing have for any launch endeavor from Cape Canaveral, Fla., home to NASA and many other private space companies. This same attention to detail applies to the numerous manufacturers providing components to these aerospace companies—a well detailed audit trail for their products is essential.
Over the past decade, component suppliers for aerospace—as well as pharmaceutical—customers are realizing the capabilities of monitoring process data for their products throughout the entire manufacturing lifecycle, enabled in large part by advanced automation and analytic offerings.
Apple Rubber Products fits firmly in this category, manufacturing O-rings and other critical silicone-based seals for aerospace and pharmaceutical customers from the company’s 65,000-sq-ft facility in Lancaster, N.Y. The component supplier—delivering more than 140 billion components in 2018—leans heavily on its enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) to track its supply and processes.
Founded in 1971, the rubber manufacturer produces the critical components with injection and compression molding machines. Though it has more than 300 million O-rings in stock, customers can also get custom-designed sealing products using the O-Ring Gland Calculator and O-Ring Size Search tools on Apple Rubber’s website to help expedite prototyping. In one case, an aerospace manufacturer found the calculator online, configured O-rings for a future rocket, and began working with Apple Rubber to produce an essential part to its design.
“For compression molded components, the process preforms raw material and the slug goes into a compression or transfer tool,” says John Tranquilli, materials manager at Apple Rubber. “Then the products move to a cryogenic deflashing process and are manually or automated inspected.” Sizes can vary for the rubber-based components—from micro-rings at less than a millimeter in diameter to as large as 20 inches for some O-rings.
Material tracking for these components—particularly for demanding pharmaceutical and aerospace industries—is a monumental challenge, which is why Apple Rubber has been using IQMS’s EnterpriseIQ ERP and MES software for several years. IQMS, a subsidiary of Dassault Systèmes, provided Apple Rubber the ability to integrate process monitoring into its manufacturing schedule planner.
“We were looking for a strong ERP platform that truly integrated the production floor without much customization,” Tranquilli says. “And we wanted to bring all our secondary databases into one system to decrease the need for IT support.”
The ERP/MES platform can monitor a machine’s contact closures, which indicate that a part has been made, and communicate this real-time data to the ERP system for each machine’s part production within the scheduling module. Other ERP modules for the Apple Rubber application include supply chain management, estimating/quoting and automated workflow.
The company also uses the real-time manufacturing process monitoring module for batch production. “Our recipe management is the bill-of-materials structure for making our parts,” Tranquilli says. “We’re able to track all steps and locations of all work-in-progress and final articles through the manufacturing process.”
Apple Rubber uses the MES-based warehouse management software, quality process management, workforce, asset management, forecaster and real-time machine monitoring modules. With the asset management module, the manufacturer can ensure that every gauge, machine and tool is compliant and available when needed to complete a short-notice production run.
“The real-time module feeds the machine operation back into the schedule,” Tranquilli says. “As the machine cycles, production information is being sent back into the ERP system and updates schedules and shows production on the floor level.”
Besides detailed data visibility into the processing stages, Apple Rubber needs comprehensive production traceability for customer and regulatory audits, and to optimize material/production yields. The component manufacturer hosts more than 20 audits a year from customers, the majority of which rely on track-and-traceability to the lot and material level to complete these audits.
Every Apple Rubber customer gets a quality plan created when they sign a contract; and they can request 100 percent parts inspection on every order, all tracked and reported by EnterpriseIQ. “Customers want to see incoming material inspection results, final product inspection and everything in between,” Tranquilli says. “Our system tracks raw material lots, WIP product and final quality inspection.”
Apple Rubber announced recently that it is expanding its manufacturing site by 12,000 sq ft, adding four new rubber injection machines and updating older silicon units. With an invigorated aerospace industry and continuous growth in the pharmaceutical industry, the strong efforts in product traceability for its highly customized products will help the company secure its future.