Q. Why should I consider adding part and data tracking to my existing line or to a new system?
A. Some products require part tracking and logging due to regulatory requirements. For example, in military applications, chemical agent resistant coatings (CARC) require military specifications for finishes and a high degree of tracking and traceability throughout a paint line system. The aerospace industry also requires a high degree of tracking and traceability due to regulatory requirements, as well as its own data quality standards.
Even if you’re not in those industries, you may be able to use a part tracking system to increase system efficiency, throughput or reduce costs. Clients have used data logging systems to improve schedule production, identify remake needs more quickly, decrease turn times, speed up prototype and sample delivery, verify part/order location within the system and decrease power. Ultimately, delivering more data has the effect of sparking continuous improvement efforts that are worth the costs of capturing and reporting that data.
Modern paint systems can use various technologies such as laser eye sensors, RFID or barcode markers to tag load bars and parts as they move through a paint system. Data can tell the system:
- What and when orders and parts are loaded
- What occurred to each order or part as it moved through the paint system
- How to control the entire recipe based on specifications by order or part type
As you load a part onto the line and select a recipe, the recipe provides the system parameters as the part moves through the process equipment. Displaying work instructions, tracking product flow, work task timing/tracking, controlling pretreatment timing and pressure, curing time and system monitoring are just some of the options that can be implemented and vary based on the needs of the operation.
Data-infused systems commonly have search and display options so users can look up each order or any specific part within an order in real-time operation or on a historical basis. Variables that can be tracked include specifications for pretreatment, pressures, color application, liquid or powder formulas, robotic and conveyance control, oven temperature settings, data timing for each stage of the process, alarm history logging and inventory usage.
A data system can also alert users for a variety of situations. For example, it can let users know if orders are complete upon both load and unload steps. This kind of system helps alert upstream stages of production—like fabrication or inventory—of the need for any missing items or parts much earlier than waiting for a downstream discovery and bottleneck at assembly or shipping. It can also let users know if parts fell off in the paint system, which could cause operational problems.
Users often gain insight into how often ovens are idle and alter processes until they find optimal settings and achieve maximum throughput. When handling expedited orders, this type of data can help users handle them with as little impact as possible.
It is also possible to pass data to your customer about the status of their orders. Your customer may appreciate knowing the stage of their order, the specifications applied and the estimated delivery.
Knowing where your parts are, how many parts have been processed through the system, and equipment parameters throughout production also allows quality control to run exhaustive root cause analysis whenever quality issues are discovered and with fewer bottlenecks.
Sophisticated recipe control and advanced conveyor technology can handle directing the parts to receive one or multiple coats. Stored recipes can also direct the parts through the system based on the parameters. Some parts may go through the cure oven at one rate of speed, while others have another speed. Some parts may require a specialized wash and rinse compared to others. Robotic painters can be programmed to paint one set of parts in a certain path and other parts in another pattern. All of these types of variations and others are possible with recipe-based control software.
Operator station instructions can also be displayed as a load bar approaches a station. Everything from part hanging, masking, coating and packaging instructions can be displayed on HMI, tablets or PCs.
Not to be overlooked, modern industrial software systems seek to unite PLC-based data with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other databases. This capability allows direct and indirect accounting costs to be assigned by function, inventory systems to anticipate use and need, HR time systems to assign specific operator costs and efficiency to workstation time, and even to display key metrics or KPI’s back to workers in highly visible monitors, which boost production and unit cohesion.
Keeping track of parts on the line has not only become easier with new technologies and data tracking software, but also less expensive. Legacy PLC, SCADA, and HMI systems are usually interlocked with operating systems and databases. Newer systems can be independent of the operating system. They can run on any platform from Windows to Linux. Some software now offers the ability to share screens with unlimited users, tie into other data systems, and handle nearly unlimited amounts of data (tags) without significant increases in price.
Data tracking and recipes can often be added to existing systems regardless of the type of the conveyor technology, including monorail, power and free or friction-driven conveyor. With some paint systems—especially power and free conveyor with multiple chains or friction-driven conveyors—it is much easier to control and vary all aspects of the recipe. This flexibility can allow paint lines to run different parts through the same line, but apply different processes based on various coating requirements, all without downtime for line system change-outs. In other words, instead of running one type of part per day or shift and having to change the line speed or equipment to run another type of part, a recipe system can set the parameters for each piece of process equipment, which allows you to run various parts through the system while maintaining throughput and quality.
Originally published in the April 2017 issue.