MTU’s Graniteville plant embraces “manufacturing 4.0” technology
MTU knows the importance of assembling their motors without a hitch for the safety of their customers and their business. Implementing the future of manufacturing through the use of smart tools is just another step towards ensuring their motors have even less of a chance of being defective when they leave the factory floor. In this article by The Augusta Chronicle, learn how MTU America’s Graniteville is setting the stage for industry 4.0.
Like any motor, the gigantic diesel engines at MTU America’s Graniteville, S.C., plant get put together one bolt at a time.
But when assembly line worker Nathan Spencer torques one down, he’s not using any ordinary wrench.
Spencer reaches for an electronic “smart” tool that wirelessly transmits data to a computer less than 10 feet from where he stands.
Within a split second, the computer knows whether the bolt has reached its targeted Newton metres (the metric version of foot pounds) of torque. The computer can tell whether Spencer made a mistake, such as forgetting to install a washer or using the wrong thread lubricant. It can even detect whether the fastener is defective based on its “bolt stretch” during the torque trace.
Welcome to the future of manufacturing – what some are calling “industry 4.0.”
The first iteration of the industrial revolution was harnessing the mechanical power of water and steam. Electricity and assembly lines provided the next leap forward. Computers and automation drove manufacturing into version 3.0.
Now, big-data analytics are the next frontier, and MTU America – a subsidiary of German-based Rolls-Royce Power Systems AG – is blazing a trail through the 4.0 forest to improve its quality, increase its productivity and reduce energy consumption and waste.
“This is not about replacing people with machines – that’s not it at all,” said Steve Blaszczak, MTU’s senior manufacturing engineer. “It’s how do we make it to where they can go home happier and healthier at the end of the day and make a defect-free product that is out the door and on time.”
Producing just one of its 800- to 6,000-horsepower engines – which are used in everything from locomotives and ships to utility-scale generators – creates millions of data points on the plant’s computer systems. But that data has largely been ignored because the technology to analyze it didn’t exist.
“Three years ago, we didn’t have the computing power,” said Melissa Steinkuhl, regional vice president for the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which gave MTU a $70,000 grant to serve as a test-bed for 4.0 technologies. “Now we’re able to sort all the data points and eliminate the noise and see the things that are predictive of what’s happening in the system.”
For example, MTU’s data-analytics firm, Rock Hill, S.C.-based Delta Bravo, is helping the company develop software that can predict within a matter of minutes whether an engine will fail its post-assembly test run. MTU hopes to use the data to identify and correct problems before the the 90-minute to 4-hour tests get too far underway.
“If it fails after four hours, that’s four hours wasted,” Blaszczak said. “For us, the quicker we can build and ship (engines), the faster we can make turns and make more money.”
MTUs 12-, 16- and 20-cylinder engines – the largest of which are 12.5 feet long and weigh 10 tons – come in 80 different configurations. To reduce the chance its 300 workers might install the incorrect part, the company is working on digital spec sheets that are viewable through smart glasses and tablet devices.
It also is working on using “augmented reality” technology, which superimposes computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world, to teach workers how to do a job before they actually touch the engine.
And paper reports are being replaced with cell phone- and tablet-based apps that can record the data quicker, more thoroughly and pair it with digital photos.
“I’ve got a ton of paperwork,” said Tim Neibarger, an MTU quality control inspector. “If I have to spend 30 to 40 minutes filling out forms and sorting pictures, that’s time I could have spent on another engine.”
Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East has made digitization a priority, and MTU’s Graniteville plant is ahead of the curve because it isn’t bound by the data-security and labor-union regulations of its German factories.
Ryan Herbster, regional sales manager for Atlas Copco, the Swedish company that makes most of MTU’s industrial tools, said many manufacturers are becoming interested in data analytics and what the company calls “smart-connected assembly” processes.
Area manufacturers such as John Deere, Club Car, E-Z-GO and BAE Systems attended Atlas Copco’s “Industry 4.0” smart tool demonstrations Thursday at the MTU plant.
“It’s been truly a really big curve,” Herbster said. “It’s amazing how fast it’s taken off.”
This article is written by Damon Cline from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.