Friday, June 6, 2014

Auto Manufacturers’ Need for Speed Puts Kepware in the “Driver” Seat

Posted by Patrick Gilligan

In 1914, Henry Ford’s vehicle assembly line produced an average of twenty Model Ts an hour. In 2014, some manufacturers roll more than eighty vehicles off one assembly line in the same amount of time. We have come a long way from the days when you could have any color Model T—as long as that color was black.


In today’s highly-configured environment, multiple models, brands, and colors are produced on the same line thanks to the use of cells (or stations). Each cell is tasked with a different function to perform. When the process is complete, the partially-assembled vehicle moves on to the next cell. If there is a complication or problem with a vehicle, it can be quickly removed from the line to allow production to continue. Kepware enables this build-to-order environment by optimizing productivity through communications.

The time a vehicle spends at each cell varies depending on its configuration. In most factories, when a vehicle enters a cell, an RFID reader identifies the vehicle but the PLC must wait until it receives specific instructions from the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) before starting. When the cell work is complete, the PLC must communicate this to the MES and provide key metrics and measurement values for logging and analysis. Identifying when that cell has finished working on the vehicle requires precision.

Two of Kepware’s more popular communication suites for KEPServerEX (Allen-Bradley and Siemens) support unsolicited (or slave) communication. This enables the PLC to initiate communication when it is ready instead of KEPServerEX polling it for information. KEPServerEX achieves this by having the server simulate a PLC on the network and utilize native M2M communications between the devices. By utilizing unsolicited communications, the MES is able to receive and respond to activities in a work cell with the lowest latency and lowest network traffic—which allows for the vehicle production to be optimized.

Having KEPServerEX broker the communications between the shop floor and top floor allows data to be delivered faster, more reliably, and effectively. As the demand increases for improved efficiencies in production and for configuration options that satisfy fuel efficiency and vehicle telematics, so does the need for sophisticated automation systems. It is imperative that these systems leverage smart sensors, optimized PLCs, mobile information access, and have a robust communications platform capable of managing the information. Stay tuned for an upcoming webinar that highlights the unsolicited communication functionality available in the Allen-Bradley and Siemens suites. Download the Linamar case study to learn more about how our products are utilized in the Automotive Industry.

Download the Linarmar Case Study