When a company services a small group of customers, quick access to process data is important. When those clients are multinational automotive manufacturers and the production sites are sprawled across four continents, quick means now and data exchange
means interfacing with hundreds of servers and controls platforms in-house and at customer locations.
France-based Faurecia SA is best known for making car seats, though it’s also a world-wide leader in exhaust systems, instrument clusters and other interior components. It operates 330 facilities in 34 countries where more than 6,000 R&D engineers and technicians currently juggle 610 projects, according to Maicon Jean de Oliveira, IT industrial support manager at Faurecia North America, and a featured speaker at September’s Smart Industry 2016 Conference & Expo in Chicago.
Automotive customers expect timely status reports and real-time information on products in the pipeline, including process and quality data. Close collaboration between IT and OT was needed to create a more up-to-date solution that would make data available in real time, on demand, without the need for a persistent connection.
Faurecia traditionally purchased connectivity software and customized it, Oliveira explained, but there were issues in open platform communications between plant-floor hardware and Faurecia’s proprietary manufacturing execution system (MES), known as IJ Core. Complicating the situation was the sheer data volume and the number of data protocols involved. PLCs and other hardware from a variety of manufacturers provide machine control in its plants, where 70 to 100 workstations or more are functioning 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“OPC DA wasn’t the best fit for data access in our environment,” said Oliveira, though IJ Core provides considerable flexibility in how data is sent to and received from customers and suppliers, assuming robust connectivity. The missing link was a connectivity platform that could accommodate both traditional industrial automation clients via OPC and proprietary protocols and new IoT solutions through MQTT and IT-centric protocols.
“Developing connectivity” is Kepware’s focus, noted Alex Herbert, the firm’s strategic accounts manager. Multiple platforms and protocols are becoming the rule in manufacturing. The proliferation of sensors on the shop floor further complicates the challenges of traceability and asset management. For the Faurecia project, Kepware deployed KEPServerEX, its flagship connectivity product.
The new IoT architecture has resolved nagging transparency issues and delivered new benefits, according to Oliveira. With the new system, “dashboards are created in seconds” when a remote location submits a data request. When there is a change in machine data, automatic alerts are provided, eliminating the need for machine queries.
The pilot for Faurecia’s transparency project was executed at a factory in Porto Real, Brazil. To date, the IoT initiative has been implemented at 50 plants, according to Oliveira, with replacement of legacy systems at the remaining 280 facilities expected over the next three years.
He pronounced the implementation a success on multiple fronts. Better parts traceability throughout the manufacturing process has benefited both customers and Faurecia personnel, with an accompanying uptick in production quality. The timeline for moving development projects from the drawing board to full production has shrunk, and faster data transfer between machines on the floor and IJ Core has resulted in smarter, more nimble decision making throughout the Faurecia organization.