2017 Top Plant: Data-driven pioneers

The Rockwell Automation plant in Twinsburg, Ohio combines its in-house technology, the power of Lean manufacturing and a relentless attention to training and waste reduction.

By Jack Smith, Content Manager, CFE Media December 15, 2017
Extraordinary manufacturing companies are more than just a collection of production cells, robotic placement machines, manual assembly lines or visual inspection equipment—they are people who empower a data-driven culture. People and technology have come together to make the Rockwell Automation plant in Twinsburg, Ohio the 2017 Plant Engineering Top Plant recipient.
The Twinsburg manufacturing plant has been in operation since 1979. Its close proximity to the Mayfield Heights, Ohio location of Rockwell Automation and R&D efforts there make it easy to provide quick-turn prototypes and pilots to support the company’s new-product development engine. The Twinsburg plant manufactures products, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), electronic operator interfaces, input/output (I/O) devices, and a variety of distributed, on-machine products.
The combination of metrics and culture is what makes the Rockwell Automation plant in Twinsburg a Top Plant. “The complexity of our products plus the speed of our manufacturing processes, combined with world class quality levels, make us a very high performing plant within Rockwell Automation and within the industry,” said German Mendez, plant manager at the Twinsburg facility.
People make the difference
“I think the people are significant. We have a really strong workforce across all of our plants. We develop our people. The people are committed. And to me, people make the difference,” said Eric Crump, manufacturing operations director for Rockwell Automation. “Team leaders help to continue to ensure that we’re doing the right things, following the standards, making sure we’re continuing to produce a high-quality product at the correct cycle time.”

Cross-training is important at the Twinsburg plant. “We encourage employees to get a breadth of experience for different jobs,” said Lyman Tschanz, vice president of manufacturing, Operations & Engineering Services, Rockwell Automation. It’s a dialogue of trying to create a culture where those cross-trained employees are valued. Another internal system we have is called BRAVO, which is our internal employee recognition system. A supervisor, a coworker, or a manager can award an employee points. When you focus on and reinforce good behavior, you get more of it.

Making automation products in Ohio
In North America, Rockwell Automation uses a distributor model. Distributors and/or direct customers place orders through internal Rockwell Automation distribution centers which, in turn, drive stock replenishment orders from facilities like Twinsburg to maintain target stocking positions and to support targeted service levels, according to Andrew Ceschini, production and inventory control manager at the Twinsburg plant.
The manufacturing execution system (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system operate together to manage product flow through the plant as well as many other functions. “We have a very tight integration between Factory Talk Production Center (MES) and SAP (ERP),” said Brian McCaffrey, project manager at Twinsburg. Real-time data is readily accessible through the MES for work order management, quality information, downtimes, and efficiency. For any product that was built in our plant over the last five years, I can tell you what lines the product was built on, who was staffing the lines at the time, what anomalies were encountered, and what downtimes were experienced.”
The two main processes in Twinsburg are electronic assembly and final assembly. Electronic assembly is where bare printed circuit boards are populated with components, visually inspected, tested, and put to sub-stock. Final assembly is where these printed circuit board assemblies are pulled from stock, assembled into finished product, tested, and packaged for shipment to customers.
“In electronic assembly, we use a variety of high speed surface mount placement machines, solder reflow ovens, wave solder, selective solder, in-circuit-test machines, and routers, which cut the individual modules out of the panels.” McCaffrey said. “In final assembly, we use integrated torque tools, custom-made functional test equipment, and a variety of specialty assembly fixtures and equipment.”

Managing operations

According to McCaffrey, the Twinsburg plant has experienced consistent productivity improvements. “These productivity gains have helped to fund future growth programs for the company,” he said. “An example of this productivity is in our electronic assembly area. Using roughly the same amount of equipment and manufacturing associates, we have significantly improved the quantity of components placed. For all of our production lines, efficiency is measured by comparing the output multiplied by the expected constraint time, then this is divided by the actual time spent working. This is automatically calculated using our MES.”
Mendez said that his plant has made significant improvements and is growing. “We are growing. We are seeing a significant increase in volume and efficiencies,” he said. “But one of the things that we are struggling with is finding local talent to continue that growth. There are opportunities that we are pursuing with the city and state to talk to high schools and universities to attract people to make a career in manufacturing.”
The Twinsburg facility uses a combination of visual and systematic Kanban for point-of-use material. “We are using Kanban via our ERP to keep point of use type materials within the cell,” Ceschini said. When we have planned systematic usage for point-of-use material, our ERP is used to systematically drive replenishment with automated pick generation. We continually leverage Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma principles to maintain and improve the process.”
Data collection through the MES has enabled the Twinsburg plant—and Rockwell Automation as a whole—to identify operations that are not running as efficiently as possible. “The operations and engineering teams look at data hourly to help improve processes from an efficiency and quality standpoint,” said John Halley, manufacturing project engineer at the Twinsburg facility. “This has been the biggest change. Having contextualized access to the wealth of data available to us allows all stakeholders to make meaningful decisions on changes. Conflicts revolving around people having separate sets of data no longer exist. Simply put, if the MES and our Connected Enterprise did not record it, it didn’t happen.”
“The ‘Connected Enterprise’ is the Rockwell Automation term for the overall umbrella of systems that securely connect people, processes and technologies,” McCaffrey said. If you were to reference it to other companies, you could look at it as Industrie 4.0 or smart manufacturing.”
Rockwell Automation in Twinsburg has plant-wide, daily 20-minute start up meetings where supervisors share the activities and main events occurring during the day or week. Topics include safety, quality, service, and cost. “Normally, a startup meeting with all our employees will start with safety because you can have great numbers, but if your employees are at risk, then everything is meaningless,” Mendez said. “Then we will talk about quality, performance from the previous shift or day, efficiency, labor utilization, service, and the priorities for the day.”
Focusing on Lean
“At the company level, Rockwell Automation chose some years ago to create a standard manufacturing assessment and performance foundation that we call Rockwell Production System (RPS),” Tschanz said. “It is based to some extent on the Toyota Production System (TPS). It’s a foundation of standard operating principles, operating techniques, employee engagement techniques, visual flow, 5S, and organization and cleanliness.
“There are a number of areas inside of that, and one of our standards is to implement a yearly goal to improve our performance in RPS in the areas that matter most,” he added. “Part of RPS is the general principle of Lean, meaning waste elimination, one-piece flow, and visual factory. We score ourselves on a zero to five score, zero obviously being the worst and five being best in class. The Twinsburg plant has been doing that for eight years now under RPS and practicing Lean.”
For Tschanz—and for Rockwell Automation and the Twinsburg plant—as one of the Lean principles, it’s visual; you can see the waste. “You can see the status of production,” Tschanz said. “And that has gone through a number of evolutions at our Twinsburg plant. At the very beginning (several years ago), it was white boards where people would track the status of production, status of throughput, and causes for downtime on a white board out on the plant floor. That then transitioned to what’s called “Andon systems,” where you can visually get lights and alerts that would go to key employees. It went from someone writing on a board to an electronic notification, and now to, today, we’re on our Connected Enterprise and MES. And we have an incredible amount of data tracking our performance, throughput, quality, scrap, productivity. And that data is the basis that we use to continue to drive Lean improvements, help reduce waste, improve throughput, and improve the OEE of our circuit board machines in Twinsburg.”
Tschanz refers to the MES as an enabler. “One of the things we encourage with our employees is workforce flexibility,” he said. “We like to see them move between product lines, move between cells, and get a breadth of experience. It’s good for them, it’s good for us, and it gives us flexibility. It makes their lives and jobs interesting—the employees have embraced it. The MES has a certification process that tracks how our employees are trained, and if an employee tries to login to a work center or an operation where he or she has not been trained, that person will be blocked from doing the work. The machine won’t start. The employee can’t do anything. It’s foolproof. If you haven’t been trained, you will not be allowed to do this work. You can’t print the production order. You can’t even start the machine.”
Another example of the way Lean is embedded into what Rockwell Automation does, according to Tschanz, “Say we’re running one of our circuit board lines, and our normal scrap rate on that line is 1%, and at 9 a.m., the scrap rate hits 4%. For whatever reason, the scrap rate is up that particular day. When it gets to 4%, the line is stopped, employees can no longer continue production, they have to get together, and it requires management oversight to intervene. That’s built into the system. The system will stop you from running anomalous products for an extended period of time, if you choose to do that.”
According to Halley, the journey toward Lean at the Twinsburg facility has been long but rewarding. “As with any company who has been around as long as Rockwell Automation, upending certain notions of how things can be accomplished is tough,” he said. “Challenging the status quo is always tough but it is necessary to stay competitive in a global marketplace. Since the launch of the Connected Enterprise here, change has really accelerated. The Twinsburg plant alone has experienced major reconfigurations of its floor space and processes at least four times within the past five years. Constant change and improvement has been accepted as the norm and not the exception.”
Waste reduction is a big part of Lean. “And a big part of waste reduction here in Twinsburg is the principle of ‘genchi genbutsu,’ which translates from Japanese into ‘go and see,’” said Halley. “Instilling that principle with our engineers allows them to validate if waste is actually taking place. By going to the ‘gemba’ or the ‘real place’ of where the work happens, opportunities start to present themselves, either through direct observation or via conversations with floor personnel.”
Let’s not forget Kaizen, the Japanese word for continuous improvement. “One Kaizen was around finding a way to avoid having to send a heat sink sub-assembly to a third-party company,” Halley said. “By using operator experience, line balancing, and process flow mapping, we were able to identify a way to have the current operation absorb this increased workload without affecting output. This resulted in a $25,000 yearly savings. Another Kaizen was around reconfiguring how our post-surface-mount-technology (SMT) processes schedule work. By level loading the work and implementing tools for the operators to understand how jobs should flow, this improved our level of aged work orders to an all-time low.”
Embracing technology
The Twinsburg plant relies heavily on its MES and ERP systems to run not only its Lean-based manufacturing operations, but every aspect of the business. “This facility is a Top Plant in how we’ve embraced technology, and raising technology to make ourselves more efficient,” said McCaffrey. “If you think about Northeast Ohio relative to a lot of parts of the world, it’s a high labor market.
“And we’ve leveraged the power of the Connected Enterprise to make ourselves more efficient,” he added. “We have lots of data that engineers in other companies really have to dig for and go through multiple sources. We have it all on standard reports. I think back to when I started with the company. Some of the data that I can pull up in just a few seconds used to take me days to get. We have a lot of data that’s readily available.”
McCaffrey describes the ERP system as being very structured. “And our software is able to integrate with it, and we are able to take advantage of that,” he said. “Above each of our production lines, we have a display analogous to a scoreboard at a sporting event. Based on the colors on the scoreboard, you know how you are doing. But you can look deeper there and see efficiency by the hour, quality results, downtimes, and time between units—we have all that on a single view. What gets measured gets done because you have that above a line and people who work on the line see that. And they know to keep things moving on the line to keep the display green. Making it highly visual really helps to encourage operators to keep the lines moving.”
According to McCaffrey, “On these lines, we also have automated visual inspection equipment.” He explained, “In the back half of electronic assembly, we have automated lines with test equipment and depanelization equipment. In final assembly, we have automated test equipment that is used to inspect our finished catalog items.”
The integrated MES and ERP allow real-time information access. “In addition to on-demand reports, we also have dashboards that are displayed for each of our major production lines on the shop floor,” McCaffrey said. “At a glance, we can see efficiency and output both for the hour and for the shift. We can see any downtimes that have been experienced. We also can see the next six jobs in queue. From a quality perspective, we can see the top five irregularities that we have had over the past 90 days for the current part type, as well as the top five irregularities on the current work order. We also have what we call the ‘heartbeat chart,’ where we can compare actual time between units versus the constraint time for the build.”
Maintaining uptime
The maintenance department also relies heavily on technology. “Preventive maintenance is the key element of our maintenance strategy,” said Carl “Sam” Reed, manufacturing technician supervisor at the Twinsburg facility. “Limited times that the lines are not scheduled to run must be met with vigorous maintenance to be sure the line runs until the next pause.” According to Reed, the plant has invested in advanced machine training for its component placement machines. “With more than 25 placement machines, we have not required field service support in more than three years.”
The Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) that the Twinsburg plant uses is a collaborative effort with the MES. Maintenance workload—both reactive and preventive—can be managed from a single dashboard. Spare parts inventory is embedded in the CMMS. The system will enable maintenance to be displayed inside the Connected Enterprise.
Looking ahead
“We are competing in a global world,” said Mendez. “It is imperative for us to be as efficient as possible. We can’t afford to do rework or scrap materials. We have a lot of subject matter specialists in this location. We are very close to our development center. It is very easy for us to provide prototypes and pilots in a very quick and rapid manner.
“Being in the same time zone, speaking the same language, and being so close to our corporate headquarters in Milwaukee puts us in a very competitive spot,” he added. “It’s a very good place to be. With that, I can tell you it’s a never-ending story. We need to continue improving. We need to continue being efficient so nobody catches us in the coming years. We want to be the pioneers.”

Jack Smith is Content Manager of Control Engineering at CFE Media.