Automakers have been making strategic investments in flexible manufacturing at their facilities to produce a wider range of vehicle models in a single facility, rapidly change between production of those models, and incorporate design changes faster. For example, Ford Motor Co. has set a goal to be able to produce an average of four different vehicle models at each of its global plants by 2017.

The shift from single-vehicle to multi-vehicle production facilities can streamline production and cut costs per car, but it introduces more complexity, creating more opportunities for errors. Modern manufacturing execution system (MES) software can help manage the change by integrating an automaker’s production and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, allowing them to collect data throughout their operations, contextualize and analyze it, and act.

For example, production order management can help match requirements for assembly and subassembly processes, giving operators better control of everything from initiation to final packaging. Error-proofing can transform a bill of materials, work instructions, and procedures into enforceable work instructions that guide operators through each production process.

An MES also can improve material-management activities. Rather than manually managing inventory and material transactions, operators can use just-in-time material-replenishment triggers to detect when inventory is low. The system can automatically send a request to a supplier with a corresponding purchase order to accounting.

During production, the MES can synchronize material flow in parallel with vehicles as they move through the assembly line, ensuring continued material availability for each production sequence and reducing the likelihood of production gaps.

Flexible manufacturing allows manufacturers to respond to global markets and their propensity for changes, and an MES can support that by helping automakers remain agile, responsive, and able to react quickly to changes, such as a sharp jump in the price of oil that can suddenly affect consumers’ buying habits.

When orders come in, the MES can immediately obtain order information and build data from the business system and convert it into detailed build sheets for each shop. Shop workers can use MES information to look ahead at production sequences and retrieve the corresponding parts or tools in advance of an order. Plant managers and business leaders can use real-time, work-in-progress updates to track order statuses and other relevant information. Engineers can leverage a library of common, automotive work flows and applications – saving time and money spent developing and deploying new applications at each station.

MES error-proofing can improve quality by creating enforceable instructions for workers. Should an error occur, hold and quarantine capabilities can help manage the affected vehicles, preventing defective vehicles from reaching customers.

Genealogy and track-and-trace applications allow automakers to trace processes, production events, and quality information for specific units and assemblies. With forward and backward traceability, workers can identify quality concerns originating upstream and downstream within the supply chain. Real-time product location and as-built data also can help limit the scope of recalls.

Operators can connect real time to automation systems to capture data for process results, defects, and other quality attributes for visual defect tracking, statistical process control, and root-cause analysis.

Rockwell Automation Inc.

IMTS 2016 Booth #E-4357

About the author: Todd Montpas is business manager for Rockwell Automation. He can be reached at 586.850.0270 or

Lincoln Electric buys Vizient

To shore up its automated welding system sales to Midwestern commercial equipment companies, Lincoln Electric Holdings Inc. has purchased Vizient Manufacturing Solutions, a Bettendorf, Iowa-based robotics integrator that specializes in custom engineered tooling and automated arc welding systems for general and heavy fabrication applications.

Lincoln Chairman, President. and CEO Christopher L. Mapes says Vizient’s “system design capabilities not only complement our current offering, but their focus on quality and customer service aligns with our values at Lincoln Electric. Vizient will also help diversify our end-market exposure and broaden growth opportunities globally.”

Lincoln Electric investor relations director Amanda Butler says Vizient’s portfolio of customers in the construction, mining, and agricultural equipment markets were attractive to Lincoln.

“It better helps us serve our existing heavy fabrication customers with broader capabilities. Vizient, along with our 2015 acquisition of Wolf Robotics, addresses our heavy fabrication expansion,” Butler says.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Lincoln Electric Holdings Inc.

IMTS 2016 Booth #N-6520

Multi-axis servo system

The AX8000 dynamic, multi-axis servo system features a modular design and includes various power supply modules, single and dual-axis modules, and a capacitor module. With a height of 223mm and a width of 60mm or 90mm, individual AX8000 modules and complete AX8000 multi-axis systems are compact, allowing space-saving, cost-effective control cabinets and switchgear enclosures.

One-cable technology (OCT) simplifies connection and feedback systems, reducing motor cabling and connectors by up to 50%. Oher OCT benefits include cleaner cable runs and reduced machine footprint.

The EtherCAT-enabled AX8000 compact drive system uses field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology with multi-core ARM processors. FPGA-based control algorithms with multi-channel current control technology enable sample and response times of less than 1µs for current control and velocity control cycle times as low as 16µs.

Two 60mm- and two 90mm-wide power supply module variants are available for different worldwide voltage systems: 100VAC to 230VAC with 20A or 40A for Asia and North America, as well as 400VAC to 480VAC with 20A or 40A for Europe and North America. A brake resistor, brake chopper, and mains filter are integrated in all four versions, eliminating external components.

TwinCAT runtime integrated into the AX8000 series provides convenient software modules for highly precise control of speed and position. The user can program motion control projects using IEC 61131-3 languages, C++, and MATLAB/Simulink.

Beckhoff Automation

IMTS 2016 Booth #E4410