As advanced manufacturing factories gain importance, manufacturers must prioritize what benefits and supporting programs will prepare their factories to best meet the evolving needs of their customers.
The benefits of smart manufacturing facilities are immense.
Successful factories need a shared vision of achievable goals throughout the organization. They align their technology assets to benefit strategic business functions for OEM assembly, testing, and aftermarket needs. They collect and use the right data sets to support wise decision making that maintains high product quality and productivity. They educate the entire organization on what is possible.
At Parker Aerospace’s Hydraulic Systems Division (HSD), factories of the future begin with the design of their products, and the components they purchase to manufacture products. Products strengthened by big data not only help manufacture, process, and validate new products, but also track, troubleshoot, and maximize the entire life cycles of products.
Within HSD, Parker customers range from large aircraft OEMs to small businesses making one-of-a-kind machines. Meeting many types of progressive manufacturing objectives from customers means starting with a clean sheet of paper and re-imaging pretty much everything about the HSD factory and operations in Kalamazoo, MI.
Priorities at the HSD headquarters included accelerating the velocity of products through the facility through equipment optimization. With purchases of new, universal hydraulic test stands, the Kalamazoo facility will go from 83 tests stands to less than 40. The reduction in test stand configurations is changing from more than 70 down to just 16.
The new test stands are strategically deployed for optimum operational efficiency. They require less service than previous equipment and ease operator training burdens. In multiple cases, a single test stand that performs multiple tests replaces multiple tests stands. All common stands are now capable of running all part numbers.
Test stand configurations The reduction in test stand configurations went from more than 70 down to just 16. The new test stand configurations include:
Logistically, HSD products now move on a simplified, linear path through the Kalamazoo factory, which streamlines processing instead of bouncing products from corner to corner multiple times before they leave the building. Faster throughput speeds Parker’s ability to respond to customer needs. Overall, the HSD facility will reduce required floor space by 10,000 square feet. Fewer machines taking up less floor space also gives this HSD factory the flexibility to reconfigure the overall floor plan in the future and continually improve the flow of products through the plant to further increase efficiency.
The collection and use of data at many additional points in a product’s lifecycle are also improving Parker’s ability to meet and exceed increasing customer expectations. New types of data are collected before the product goes out the door, thereby establishing a digital “fingerprint” for each product.
“We integrate product data collected during manufacturing and acceptance testing into our new test stands, so when a product leaves our factory, we have a baseline ... If a pump were to come back from the field, we don’t have to go digging through paperwork to compare test and performance metrics. The product itself tells us its history via a cloud-based data storage and access.”
— Chad Vliek, engineering director, Hydraulic Systems Division
In aerospace applications, for example, Parker monitors parameters like pump temperatures and pressures to help predict when aircraft operators are likely to see a failure on an aircraft. Working in concert with Parker’s on-board predictive analytics, we can significantly reduce the operator’s unscheduled maintenance and dispatch interruptions. “When we connect a product to a new test stand and have all the data, it’s like a doctor listening to a heartbeat,” says Vliek. “It allows us to look inside, compare the data to standards, and diagnose much more quickly.”
Parker’s new test stands allow dynamic pump data to be saved from the test stands, creating a profile for the individual pump that can be referenced over time. When a component returns from the field, the saved test data can be referenced for comparison. The component-specific data also allows for insight into the overall part family or from changes to manufacturing processes.
Understanding what fails, why, and when, reduces needed inventory and the time it takes to return a customer’s product to service. Documenting big data also supports Parker Quality systems like AS9100 for aerospace and ISO 14001 for environmental compliance, enabling real-time statistical process control and continuous improvements on future products.
Becoming increasingly data-driven is linked to cost savings, quality improvements, and improved customer satisfaction. The proper collection, use, and management of data has always been part of the culture within Parker Hannifin. Today, we are working to integrate our digitized designs, operations, and quality inspections to provide a comprehensive dataset for each product we manufacture.
In recent years Parker has implemented a Likely to Recommend (LTR) process, also known as a “net promoter score,” across the organization to receive timely feedback from customers. The LTR process has been applied to manual and digital transactions, customers looking up specific support information online, requesting a general quote, and many other touchpoints across all Parker divisions. The sea of data provided gives valuable insight for analysts to understand and prioritize how to continuously improve the customer experience.
Change can be disruptive. So before change began at Parker’s HSD factory in Kalamazoo, the company held numerous Kaizen events to integrate “lean,” safety, and training considerations into the transformation process.
“We took equipment operators with us when evaluating new test stands,” explains Vliek. “We asked for their input and worked collaboratively.” Involving employees at this early stage created excitement for the new facility and helped people embrace the program.
Nearly every employee had opportunities for input. Some produced “value stream” maps. Others used PVC pipe and cardboard to simulate the new machines and create their assembly line of the future. By demonstrating the new operational flow through the factory, they improved assembly and testing processes.
Training employees on how to operate new test stands resulted in the largest benefit to HSD. Previously, Parker had to train each employee on 10 to 15 stands. Now, each employee becomes an expert in the operation of a single test stand. This one change will result in reducing employee’s test stand training time by 80 to 90 percent.
Worker safety also improved by moving to our universal test stands. Unlike old test stands, new test stands utilize full lockouts during operation and maintenance. Locked glass doors create a physical barrier to keep employees safe. Noise output is also being reduced.
With fewer, more efficient machines, HSD also expects to see reductions in energy usage and cost.
In some cases, HSD automated tasks with simple robots to improve safety (e.g., pressurization process). Other “dirty, dull, or dangerous” tasks are performed by “cobots,” to remove tedious and repetitive motion activities that lead to carpal tunnel and other medical/health issues. These and other improvements move the factory closer to our zero accidents and zero-defect goals.
Looking ahead, Parker will evaluate using vision systems for inspecting products and other automated equipment for aiding assembly. “Our quality inspections begin with materials received before we begin production,” says Vliek. “This technology and future investments will help us identify potential issues earlier.”
One such sub-tier product is steel barrels for Parker’s large 5,000 psi pumps. Parker has recently invested significant capital in advanced machinery to produce the steel barrels and another machine to apply bronze plating to the barrels. Maintaining barrel manufacturing and plating capabilities in-house as a core competency ensures our differentiated products remain competitive and of the highest quality.
HSD customers expect quality products. Investing in equipment, people, and process improvements reduces the opportunity for product variability. Using big data to prioritize improvement initiatives creates maximum quality and the agility to go beyond today’s expectations and achieve what is possible tomorrow.
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This article was contributed by Matt Webster (left), business unit manager, and Chad Vliek (right), division engineering manager, at Parker Aerospace’s Hydraulic Systems Division.