Wireless I/O stamps out press machine downtime

At the McCalla, AL, plant of Gestamp Automoción, a tier one automotive supplier based in Spain, everything is oversized. The floor is a vast concrete slab, bare but for two giant 2,000 metric ton transfer presses stretching into the air. To accommodate these beasts, the manufacturing plant ceilings are built so high that the lights above appear dim.

12/01/2008


At the McCalla, AL, plant of Gestamp Automoción, a tier one automotive supplier based in Spain, everything is oversized. The floor is a vast concrete slab, bare but for two giant 2,000 metric ton transfer presses stretching into the air. To accommodate these beasts, the manufacturing plant ceilings are built so high that the lights above appear dim. In the cavernous space, nothing can be heard above the overwhelming roar of the ram as it slams into sheets of metal, molding the shape of what will soon be structural automotive parts.

Hiss, ka-JUNK, hiss, ka-JUNK, hiss, ka-JUNK….

Suddenly,…silence.

Mike Mullins, press maintenance team leader, breaks the news to his crew: “Alright everyone, call your wives and tell them you’re going to be late tonight. By the time we get these presses up and running again, we’re all going to have to work late just to meet production requirements. This is going to cost us.” And this wasn’t the first time.

In 56 production centers located in 17 countries, Gestamp Automoción produces metal components for most of the leading automobile manufacturers in the world, including high-end Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Bentley and BMW, as well as high-volume Ford, GM, Nissan and Suzuki. (Much of the production at the McCalla plant goes to a Mercedes-Benz facility in Tuscaloosa, AL.) The company owns and operates more than 70 transfer presses and 100 progressive presses, but the two transfer presses at McCalla had been become a problem. At least once a quarter, the hardwired network supporting the machines suffered breakage or damage. This frustrated the team on the plant floor, and cost a lot of money.

The sharp angle of the bolster cable (shown in close-up left) inevitably caused wear that resulted in outages. Radio communication proved a solution, despite the extensive solution, despite the extensive presence of 10-inch-thick steel plate. Source: ProSoft

The sharp angle of the bolster cable (shown in close-up left) inevitably caused wear that resulted in outages. Radio communication proved a solution, despite the extensive solution, despite the extensive presence of 10-inch-thick steel plate. Source: ProSoft

The sharp angle of the bolster cable (shown in close-up left) inevitably caused wear that resulted in outages. Radio communication proved a solution, despite the extensive solution, despite the extensive presence of 10-inch-thick steel plate. Source: ProSoft

Quantifying the loss

The two presses produce up to 1,800 parts per hour, and each occurrence caused the entire operation to shut down for up to two hours. “The RG-6 coaxial cable we were using cost $57 per foot, and we had about 165 feet to replace each time the system went down,” said Mullins. “The cable alone cost between $9,400 and $9,500 to replace, and that’s not including the cost of the system shutdown.”

Mullins said they once estimated the overhead costs of downtime at about $2,500 an hour—and it typically took a couple of hours to replace the cable. In total, it cost Gestamp approximately $14,500 each time it had to replace the cable—plus the value of the 1,500 to 2,400 parts that could not be produced during the outage.

“It wasn’t uncommon for this cycle to repeat every two to three months per press,” said Mullins.

Analyzing the application was the beginning of the solution. The application involves two presses that each consists of one ram, two dies, and two bolsters. The bolsters are large, mobile metal plates on which the dies are mounted. A die is used as a mold that defines the shape that the part will take. In this application, each die is roughly the size of a one ton pick-up truck.

During the stamping process, a metal sheet is fed across one bolster and comes to a rest above the dies. The ram rises and drops with a force of 800 to 1,400 metric tons, sandwiching the metal sheet between itself and the die to stamp out the parts. While one of the bolsters stamps a part, the second is loaded.

The network cable that kept breaking wasn’t as much the problem as the demands placed on it. The cable ran in a trough on the bolster, subject to intense vibration. The cable’s path ran along a corner that required it to achieve a sharp angle, which inevitably caused wear that resulted in outages.

The ram rises and droops with a force of 800 to 1,400 metric tons, causing intense vibration that caused cable wear. Source: ProSoft

The ram rises and droops with a force of 800 to 1,400 metric tons, causing intense vibration that caused cable wear. Source: ProSoft

Could wireless work?

Gestamp engineers knew they needed a more reliable network, and the physical constraints were obvious. Could a wireless network solve the problem? Mullins said there was a question about whether a wireless system would be effective in such a harsh environment. Wireless I/O points would need to be affixed in a partially obstructed location beneath the bolsters. “We’ve got a unique application here, involving large moving hunks of steel,” he said. “What we really needed was a radio that could communicate through a ten-inch-thick steel plate.”

The machines are controlled by Rockwell Automation ControlLogix programmable automation controllers (PACs). Since finding a radio that could penetrate steel was not really an option, Mullins asked his local Rockwell Automation distributor for a suggestion. The distributor recommended using six frequency-hopping Ethernet radios (model RLX-FHE) from ProSoft Technology, a Rockwell Automation Encompass partner.

Kevin Zamzow, ProSoft Technology’s strategic product manager for wireless technologies explains how the radios work: “When the direct path (line-of-sight) is obstructed, a signal will reflect off of other objects, taking an alternate path to the receiving radio. Because there are multiple reflections, the signals arrive at the receiving radio at different times, so the radio needs to be able to distinguish between the different signals. ProSoft Technology’s frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) radios are able to work with reflected signals because of the narrow band “hops” and changing frequencies. This makes them less affected by multi-path interference when compared to higher speed, wider band technologies such as 802.11.”

Ethernet to the rescue

To replace the hardwired system, four Allen-Bradley Flex I/O ControlNet communication adapters—one for each bolster—were replaced with EtherNet/IP adapters and a ProSoft Technology Ethernet radio. Each PAC was fitted with a second 1756-ENBT Ethernet card and an Ethernet radio.

“EtherNet/IP was designed as a media independent solution,” said Cliff Whitehead, manager of strategic applications for Rockwell Automation. “Gestamp has been able to directly take advantage of this flexibility in its wireless application.” Harry Forbes of ARC Advisory Group elaborates: “One of the key advantages of Ethernet-based automation networks is the wide variety of solutions for wireless Ethernet bridging. These solutions can have enormous value in manufacturing applications.”

Mullins said, “Our initial concerns that the steel would impede the radio performance turned out to be unfounded. When the bolsters interfere with line-of-sight, the radios continuously try to read through the bolsters.”

This specific application shows that though the laws of physics cannot be changed, the obstacles they present can be circumvented when armed with the right technology—in this case, the right industrial wireless solution. After two years of the system being live, Mullins continues to be pleased with its performance and says, “the radios work better than expected. We’ve been very happy with them.”

By using ProSoft Technology’s industrial, frequency-hopping radios, Gestamp has been able to eliminate the downtime plaguing its McCalla facility. This has translated into a savings of up to $174,000 per year, plus the value of parts produced during that time.



Author Information

Adrienne Lutovsky is a marketing writer for ProSoft Technology.




No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
Strategic outsourcing delivers efficiency; Sleeve bearing clearance; Causes of water hammer; Improve air quality; Maintenance safety; GAMS preview
World-class maintenance: The three keys to success - Deploy people, process and technology; 2016 Lubrication Guide; Why hydraulic systems get hot
Flexible offshore fire protection; Big Data's impact on operations; Bridging the skills gap; Identifying security risks
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me