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AMRC Factory 2050 Visit

Martin Griffiths our Technical Director, visited the ARMC Factory 2050 in Sheffield organised by the Northern Automotive Alliance. He spent the afternoon viewing some of their advanced manufacturing technologies.

During the visit, he witnessed advanced robotic CNC machining; assisted assembly processes and automated vision inspection systems. These technologies are solving challenges for large manufacturing companies and SME’s.

CNC Robots

The tour started in the ARMC Factory 2050 machine shop. This houses several Kuka robots which have been modified to perform CNC machining operations. These machines are designed to give more flexibility to the machining process. They also give the ability to machine large items that would not fit into a CNC machine.  Engineers in Factory 2050 are working on improving the machining accuracy of CNC robots. At the present time, this is typically lower than in a CNC machine. They are tackling this with improved control software.

Collaborative Robots in Assembly

There were several examples of small (7kg – 14kg payload) collaborative robots (cobots) that assist in the assembly processes. These are used in applications where they can improve accuracy and cycle time. However, human assistance is still needed to complete the assembly process, due to the skill required.

Collaborative Robots in Inspection

One demonstration cell showed how cobots can be used with cameras and lighting, to move around a large assembled product and perform multiple vision inspection checks. The robot starts by finding a datum point on the product. It then moves a robotic arm through a sequence, to find different components that require visual verification.

Re-Configurable Shop Floor

A re-configurable shop floor demo showed how cobots, robots and UAVs are used to automatically move components around a factory floor. As a result, custom products can be assembled in low volumes. The ability to move production machinery for low quantities of product, to new locations quickly, is essential for low quantity, high value and high quality manufacturing processes.

Guided Assembly Processes

Finally, the ARMC Factory 2050 wing assembly cell showed how complex assembly processes can be simplified, by guiding operators through each work process. Firstly, the demonstrator used work instructions projected onto the production items. Secondly, Manufacturing Execution Software selected the instructions to display the item in production. It also connected to electric nut-runner tools, selecting the correct torque cycle for the operation; collecting data and moving onto the next assembly process.

ARMC Factory 2050

 

Metis Automation Joins The Northern Automotive Alliance

Metis Automation has recently joined the Northern Automotive Alliance (NAA). The NAA supports companies throughout the North of the UK, that work in and also supply to the automotive industry.

Joining the Northern Automotive Alliance

This has been important for Metis Automation. We are strongly focused on software and technology for the automotive industry across OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers and SMEs. Our goal is to help improve the manufacturing capabilities of all involved in the automotive industry and as a result, help bring better quality products to consumers.

Connected Manufacturing in the Automotive Industry

We are working with several Tier 1 and SME suppliers in the automotive industry, using our manufacturing control software Tascus, to improve their manufacturing processes. The suppliers are being driven by OEM manufacturers to implement Connected Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 processes in their factories. OEM manufacturers see this as important to maintain high quality standards in products supplied. They also find that product tracability helps to contain any component failures that may be found in the field.

Test in the Automotive Industry

Many automotive companies use our test software Metest and our systems, to improve time to market during R&D Validation tests. They also use Metest for functional end of production line testing. This helps to ensure that products leave the factory defect free, maintaining their brand reputation with automotive OEMs.

Automotive Alliance

LabVIEW Libraries

In my opinion, LabVIEW Libraries are one of the biggest productivity improvements in LabVIEW. Consequently, most of our template code is organised into LabVIEW Libraries (.lvlib) or Packed Project Libraries (.lvlibp). These allow developers to easily package, distribute and organise code modules.

For Metis Automation, a typical library is a fully functional code module. That is, a queued message handler that does one specific task e.g. acquire DAQ inputs, log data to disk, or communicate with a hardware device. It may also just be a group of sub vi’s that do a specific function. Once packaged into a library, we can thereafter benefit from several features:

Public and Private Scope

Libraries allow the developer to set the access scope of functions within the library. The main scopes are Public and Private:

  • Public – The sub Vi can be used inside or outside of the library
  • Private – The sub vi can only be used inside the library

This is useful when trying to reduce coupling between sections of your software application. By setting scope to private, it means the Private sub vi’s cannot be called from external code. This helps to enforce modular, loosely coupled software that is as a result, easier to debug and maintain.

Template LabVIEW Libraries

Most of our code templates are organised into libraries in a central, reusable code repository. When starting a new project or adding a new feature to an existing project, our first step is to look for a template library that is a good starting point for this new feature.

LabVIEW Libraries

Creating a new module for a project from a template library.

By organising this code into libraries, it is easy to copy, move and organise our template code as it gets moved into a new project.

Name Spacing

In the final example of using code templates for various tasks, it would not work as smoothly if there were duplicated names in our templates. For example, LabVIEW will “error” if we have more than one function named Enqueue.vi in our project. It will think there is a conflict. Libraries however, provide name spacing which solves this issue. If you were to make 2 copies of a template, Library 1 and Library 2, the Enqueue.vi function will be named as follows:

Library 1.lvlib::Enqueue.vi

Library 2.lvlib::Enqueue.vi

LabVIEW Libraries

LabVIEW Libraries provide name spacing to all functions within the library

This is a big benefit as you no longer have to rename all of your new code created from the template, or add name spacing manually.

LabVIEW Libraries

 

 

 

Managing Large LabVIEW Applications with LabVIEW Projects

At a recent North West LabVIEW User Group, I presented my experiences of managing large LabVIEW applications. I covered how to help keep your LabVIEW projects organised and manageable, using a series of tools within LabVIEW.

Firstly, let me answer the question of what the challenges are that developers are facing when creating large applications. Also, how are these are different to smaller applications?

With a small application, there is typically a limited set of inputs, outputs and logic within the program. This can be managed by a single developer, in a simple structure like a state machine or event driven structure. As the scope of an application grows the inputs, outputs and state logic grows making it more difficult to manage. A key problem is that adding or modifying one part of the program, will affect multiple other areas. At this stage a modular, well-structured application is needed. Also useful are some tools to build this application.

Luckily LabVIEW has some great tools that can be of use here, the first of which is the LabVIEW Project:

LabVIEW PROJECTS

Since LabVIEW 8.2, LabVIEW Projects (.lvproj) are required to build executable applications. National Instruments encourage you to do much more with projects. They recommend that you use projects throughout your development process, to handle source code, devices and support files. I find a few tricks with projects really help me to keep track of:

Empty Projects:

When I am developing, I have a project for my main application. I like to create empty projects occasionally, to check dependencies within libraries and classes.

When I have a fully populated project with many VI’s, libraries and classes, it’s difficult to view what the dependencies are between code modules, within the project. But, if you create a new empty project and drag in your library or class, you can immediately see it’s dependencies.

LabVIEW projects

An empty LabVIEW Project can be used to quickly identify dependencies

The image above shows a before and after view of a class ‘Scan Part.lvclass’. I wanted to ensure that Scan Part.lvclass had no dependencies on other code within my project. So, I copied it into an empty project and used the dependency view. I then went about removing all vi’s within the class that were causing dependencies, until the dependency view was empty except for vi.lib.

This was important in this instance, as I wanted to create a packed library from the class that I could use across multiple projects. This technique is also useful when making reusable code from existing source code.

Moving VIs with the Projects ‘File View’:

I came across this feature completely by accident. If you press Ctrl + E when you are in the LabVIEW project, you will change from the Item View to the ‘Files View’. This shows how your source code is located on disk, rather than how it is grouped in LabVIEW libraries, folders or classes. This is interesting, but the real benefit of this view is for moving and renaming multiple LabVIEW VI’s, libraries and classes.

LabVIEW projects

The LabVIEW Project Files View is essential for moving multiple files on disk simultaneously

Before I started using the Files View, renaming classes was a risky challenge that I ended up avoiding doing. This was due to many corrupted references within the class.  Renaming and moving LabVIEW files, is much quicker and easier if you use the project Files View. This lets you select multiple files all at once and move them on disk.

For example, in the screenshot above I can rename Scan Part.lvclass.  I can then select the class and all vi methods within the class, to move to another folder on disk all at once. As well as being much quicker, this helps LabVIEW to understand that the class name has changed, as well as the location of the method vi’s. You can move multiple files simply by selecting a group of flies, right clicking and selecting ‘Move on Disk’.

Named Projects:

We now use multiple named LabVIEW projects during our development phase, for a few reasons.

When developing, using Real Time targets like CompactRIO or PXI, we often create a Virtual Machine. This simulates the Real-Time target before we have the actual hardware.

LabVIEW projects

Named Projects allow you to run your source code under different conditions easily.

Using a dedicated project that contains the VM target is useful because we also use libraries. A library will become locked if it is open under multiple targets at the same time.

All the code modules within the projects are identical – there is no duplicate code. The multiple projects just allows us to easily run the code under different targets. This is also useful when combined with the Conditional Disable structure. We often have a series of conditions for Virtual Machines and simulated hardware. By having these in different projects, you can run the same code under different conditions, then easily run builds in your main project, with real hardware enabled.

Project Hyperlinks:

This is a small but very useful, feature of LabVIEW projects – you can add hyperlinks to the project.

LabVIEW projects

Hyperlinks in a project can help you to remember that essential forum post where you found technical advice.

This feature really comes into its own when you are doing online research. It can solve a bug or tackle a new feature. We often have links to online forums or blog posts, that have outlined a solution to a specific problem. By posting the link within the project next to the code that we have implemented, it reminds us what the solution was based on and why those decisions were made.

SUMMARY

These tips and tricks for using LabVIEW projects, help our development team to create better solutions for our clients every day.

This is the first blog post in a series about managing large LabVIEW applications. I will cover Libraries, Sub VIs, Polymorphic Vis and distributing code with VI Packages and Packed Project Libraries, in follow-up posts.

In the meantime take a look at our LabVIEW development and consulting services.

LabVIEW projects

Transformation of the Automotive Industry by Connected Manufacturing

The current state of the UK automotive industry is extremely healthy, with vehicle manufacturing at its highest level since 2005. Vehicles built in the UK now have 15% more UK content than they did in 2012.

However, there are dramatic changes happening in the industry. Cleaner, safer and more efficient and technologically advanced vehicles are being developed . The main objective of the UK automotive industry is that it must remain globally competitive.

The opportunity presented by Connected Manufacturing, is to reduce manufacturing costs and respond more effectively to customer demand. This will as a result, help UK automotive manufacturers remain globally competitive.

Globally, the automotive industry is prioritising digitalisation with initiatives underway in Germany, Japan and the USA. On average the UK’s vehicle plants are the most productive in Europe. For this reason, the UK will need to embrace Connected Manufacturing to maintain and improve on this.

Many UK vehicle manufacturers are only initiating pilot projects so far. A lot of SME suppliers are not embarking on any connected manufacturing projects. Manufacturers and suppliers are predicting substantial benefits from connected manufacturing including; shorter lead time, productivity gains and more customised vehicles. However, lack of knowledge and skills to implement connected manufacturing are causing key barriers to entry for many companies.

Technology is Accelerating Change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Manufacturing processes have been automated for many years, with data being used for analysis and process improvement. However, some key technologies are causing a rapid growth in the use of manufacturing data:

  • Collecting, Storing and Transmitting Data – It is now possible to connect devices and sensors at low costs throughout a factory, using ethernet, Wi Fi and RFID technology. Moreover, these sensors allow a huge amount of data about the manufacturing process to be stored.
  • Analysing Data – Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics can now be performed on large manufacturing data sets, thus giving insight into manufacturing processes.
  • Interacting with Data – Intuitive interactions can now occur between the physical and digital world, with touchscreens, augmented reality and virtual reality.
  • Producing Digital Organisation – The entire production system can be re-imagined with digital manufacturing technologies like 3D printing, robotics and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).
  • Protecting Data – Security of data is becoming less of a concern, with improvements in cyber security and blockchains allowing companies to store vast amounts of data in the cloud.

Connected Manufacturing in the Automotive Factory

Once an automotive factory has implemented Connected Manufacturing, businesses will see immediate benefits in the following areas:

  • Designing Production Lines Quickly – Virtual reality and analytics can be used to design and optimise the flow of materials and production assets.
  • Improving Vehicle and Product Launches – Using sensors to collect and store product development and pre-production data, which can then be automatically shared with customers. This can cut product development and approval time in half. Read more about our product Metest for rapid R&D product development testing.
  • Optimising Factory Throughput  Digital Twins of entire production lines can be used to simulate alternative production processes, to remove bottlenecks and respond to production demand. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), can be used to reschedule production plans based on logistics disruption of supplier failures.
  • Improving Vehicle Quality – Connected sensors and product diagnostics can be used to immediately identify defects at the earliest stage in manufacture. This significantly reduces the cost of rework and helps identify the root cause of quality issues. Read more about our product Tascus for automotive MES.
  • Improving Plant Maintenance – Machine sensors and predictive and preventative maintenance software are used to reduce machine downtime. Read more about our product Preventt for managing predictive and preventative maintenance.
  • Reducing Inventories – Real time estimates of supplies with track and trace inbound supplies.

Benefits to the UK Automotive Industry

There are substantial benefits to be gained from the UK automotive industry adopting connected manufacturing, including the following:

Automotive Industry

Information Source: SMMT & KPMG Automotive Industry Survey 2017

Summary

The UK is ready to capitalise on Connected Manufacturing. We have the most productive automotive factories in Europe, with a diverse range of supplier manufacturing companies and IT specialists, that can work together to fully implement the business opportunities of Connected Manufacturing. We need to capitalise on this opportunity in the UK immediately, to remain competitive with the automotive industries in Germany, Japan and USA.Automotive Industry

Fully Connected Factories Predicted by 2022

Zebra Technologies’ recently published “2017 Manufacturing Vision” predicting that by 2022, the majority of manufacturers will have fully connected factories.

It has also identified that manufacturers are currently connecting operations to gain greater visibility and improve quality assurance. They are expecting up to 5% growth in revenue year after year and cite the flexibility to adjust to a fluctuating market demand, as being a top business strategy.

The Rising Importance of Connected Factories

One of the reasons manufacturers are implementing Connected Manufacturing in their factories, is to keep up with increasingly complex Bills of Materials (BoM). These are driven by customer demand for customised products.

For example, we helped our client Mettler Toledo Safeline implement a factory control system. It adjusts the manufacturing process in real time, based on the BoM retrieved from their MRP system. Our solution allows for last minute order changes when products are in manufacture, because the software is constantly checking for changes in the product BoM. As a result, we are helping our client to deliver highly customised products at competitive prices.

Making Better Business Decisions

Business managers need accurate data to make well informed business decisions. One of the main impacts of connected factories is that the amount of data collected, stored and analysed will rapidly increase. Clients who are currently implementing connected manufacturing, are able to gain insights into their processes that were previously hidden.

Our client ESR Technology, have experienced the benefits of this by using our automated test software Metest. They use Metest in the R&D cycle of their product development and also to run automated design validation tests. They include data analysis in their test sequences. This performs real time analysis and decision making, that previously took engineers weeks to complete. This has the effect of cutting the design cycle time. As a result, they can get products to market much more quickly than was previously possible.

Saving Money Through Quality Management

Manufacturers are beginning to realise that higher profit margins and growth, can be achieved through better quality management. By catching manufacturing errors earlier in the manufacturing process and rectifying mistakes immediately, costly rework can be reduced and eliminated at the end of the production line.

Our client Husco International uses our Manufacturing Execution System (MES) Tascus, in their strive for a zero defects manufacturing process. They are using this philosophy to win new business with highly complex, highly customised products to high end automotive companies. Husco use Tascus to implement approximately 10 – 15 quality checking gates in their manufacturing process.

Tascus has a minimal time impact on the manufacturing process. It extracts data automatically from existing production equipment, and has a dramatic impact on product quality and a reduction in reworks. This is due to the rule checking logic that as a result, ensures each product conforms to the customer specifications.

Using Connected Manufacturing to Stay Competitive

Connected Manufacturing is currently transforming the way manufacturers create their products and deliver them to customers. It is the manufacturers who are identifying opportunities to improve their product quality and services, who will maintain their competitive advantage.

Connected Factories

LabVIEW Developer Days Manchester

Local LabVIEW Developers gathered together in June for National Instruments LabVIEW Developer Days Manchester. The NI team of Jason, Peter, and Charlotte, accompanied by Metis Automation’s Technical Director Martin Griffiths, hosted a collection of sessions aimed at the more advanced user.

LabVIEW NXG

The recently launched LabVIEW NXG 1.0 featured in several sessions at the LabVIEW Developer Days, with its exciting new development environment. This included a dedicated session on web development with LabVIEW. There is a limited feature set released in LabVIEW NXG 1.0 and National Instruments have put together an assessment tool to help you decide if it is right for your next project.

LabVIEW Developer Days

As you might expect from the nature of the audience we all want more and are looking forward to LabVIEW NXG 2.0. If you can’t wait click here.

But I Heard LabVIEW Does Not Work with Git or Hg?

In this session, Peter Horn outlined the main differences between centralised source control (e.g. Subversion) and distributed source control (Git or Hg). The main benefits of distributed source control are:

  • Developers can commit to a local repository even when offline.
  • Most operations are much faster.
  • Multiple developers have their own copy of the entire repository.
  • Developers can work on private code before pushing to the central repository.

In our projects, we use Hg and TortoiseHg to manage our code base. This gives a user friendly and flexible experience for managing sole developer and multi developer projects.

LabVIEW Services

Metis Automation Joins LCR4.0

The North West is the largest manufacturing region in the United Kingdom. It has been selected for a new and innovative strategy to help SMEs in the Liverpool City Region, to implement Industry 4.0 (I4.0) in their companies. Metis Automation joined this programme in June 2017 and are optimistic about using LCR4.0 to expand our range of services and software, for Industry 4.0.

How Industry 4.0 is Changing the Manufacturing Landscape

The internet enables a change in shift for how manufacturers reach their customers. For example, suitcase manufacturer Trunki gets 90% of their customers directly through their website. This has allowed the company to sell their product with less mediators between customer and manufacturer.

When Industry 4.0 is implemented in a company like Trunki, orders can be placed directly by customers on their website. These get processed by a company Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Then, commands are sent to all manufacturing equipment and production lines to schedule and manufacture the customer’s product. Implementing automated production systems like this enables more products to be produced, with lower overheads and increased productivity.

UK Government predicts a boost to UK economy of £350bn by 2030 due to Industry 4.0, because there are many business opportunities to be capitalised on.

Is the UK ready for Industry 4.0?

There is uncertainty about the UK’s preparation to implement I4.0 in SME manufacturing companies. Elevated levels of automation in Germany makes I4.0 easier,  but it is more difficult in the UK. This is because many SMEs have not automated their manufacturing processes,  and because many companies in the UK did not implement the 3rd Industrial revolution – automation and computerisation.

These companies need a shortcut process automation, to implement connected manufacturing. A factory changing from manual processes with paper, to connected automated processes, will result in a potential 22% productivity increase. Therefore, there is a possibility for a huge business impact by embracing Industry 4.0.

We are part of a global market with worldwide competitors.  If UK businesses do not implement I4, their costs will go up and customers will eventually go to countries where Industry 4.0 has been implemented.

Barriers to Industry 4.0 Uptake

Why aren’t manufacturers implementing Industry 4.0 in their organisations:

  • Time it takes to implement and their lack of time to focus on it.
  • Cost of implementation.
  • Low priority for their business.

LCR4.0

Liverpool City Region 4.0 is about reducing the barriers to entry for I4.0, working with experts from Liverpool John Moores University, Sensor City, the Virtual Engineering Centre and the Hartree Centre.

LCR4.0 was launched in November 2016 and funding is secured until the end of 2018.

Industry 4.0

Connected Manufacturing & Production Test Systems

Overview

How Connected Manufacturing will affect the production test systems in factories, to ensure that a high quality product is shipped to customers.

This blog post will explore how Connected Manufacturing, is being implemented in businesses and how test systems need to adapt to be ready to capitalise on the opportunities of Connected Manufacturing.

Connected Manufacturing & Production Test Systems

What is Connected Manufacturing?

Several terms describe the introduction of connected manufacturing processes. A connected network that shares data, therefore allowing manufacturers to make better business decisions. Some of these terms are Industry 4.0, 4IR, Smart Factories and Connected Manufacturing.

In recent years there has been a revolutionary change, where manual and automated process are being connected to communicate with each other. Previously, standalone automated processes required some manual decision making, to define which processes to run and when maintenance should occur. This was generally managed using paper based job cards and works orders. The introduction of connected manufacturing processes is consequently allowing these decisions to be automated.

Automated Test Systems have been around for over 20 years. They are an essential part of the quality control process in manufacturing organisations. Consequently, they are key to the production process and should be connected to other manufacturing equipment, so that test data can be shared throughout the factory.

An Automated Test System in a Connected Factory

The main feature of a test system in a Connected Factory is to communicate with other devices and share it’s test data throughout the factory. To perform this communication, an additional software module is required in the automated test software.

We call this a Production Data Interface. Its main job is to get data from other manufacturing processes, that can automatically control the test sequence. It must also store test data into the production data interface, that will be useful for subsequent stages of the manufacturing process.

By implementing this connected system, many decisions that are currently manual and time consuming can be automated. This makes the production process more efficient and effective. Consequently improving production output, productivity and product quality.

We create a software module that can communicate with the Production Data using a variety of different methods. The most common being a SQL database or a web server.

Benefits of Connected Test Systems

Once Connected Test systems have been implemented, a number of business benefits can be achieved:

  • We help clients to increase production output by reducing production test bottlenecks in their factories.
  • Clients benefit by winning new business with customers who want production test data transmitted digitally, as soon as products are completed.

Connected Manufacturing & Production Test Systems

 

Find Out the Key Lessons Learnt from Implementing Connected Manufacturing

In the last couple of months, I’ve attended two events focused on manufacturers implementing Industry 4.0 and Connected Manufacturing. It’s great to get out there and learn about the successes and challenges other companies are experiencing.

Some of the key lessons and experiences that I heard about at the events were:

  1. Connected Manufacturing systems can shed light on information blind spots in your manufacturing operations.

Many businesses have manufacturing assets and machinery that are costing their business through energy, maintenance and labour costs. However, you can’t reduce these costs until you know exactly where and how they are being consumed, resulting in information blind spots within your factory. By adding sensors to these devices, then performing data trending and analytics, you can shine light on these information blind spots. Once you have identified where costs are consumed, you can then take informed action to save money.

  1. Digital Twins can highlight & enhance maintenance and production planning productivity.

By creating a digital model of products and production line, then overlaying sensor data, manufacturers can enhance their maintenance diagnostics processes. Maintenance engineers can review the digital twin of a production line when a problem is reported and often identify the issue, before even stepping onto the production line. This can massively reduce the machine downtime when machine problems occur. Digital twins are also helping in production planning, as machine status and availability can be overlaid on a model of production equipment, so that quick decisions can be made to optimise product flow throughout a factory.

  1. Data is key for enhancing production processes.

Several manufacturers felt that the biggest business benefit of Connected Manufacturing systems, was the ability to base their business decisions on data acquired and processed from their production processes. They can then quickly make well informed decisions to enhance their business.

Why don’t you have a look at our Road Mapping Service and find out how you can implement connected manufacturing into your business now.

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