What if retrospective analysis of casting production could be replaced by real-time process awareness? If reactive, after-the-fact responses to sub-optimal output could be replaced by proactive foundry management? What if we could see at any time, not just how one site is performing, but how multiple global sites are performing in relation to each other?
These are all questions MAT Foundry Group were asking. They were approached by long-term supplier Norican Group with a proposition – one solution that would answer all their questions, boost productivity and make the need to wonder ‘what if’, redundant.
Unifying the equipment and extensive foundry solutions expertise of DISA and Wheelabrator, and the digital know-how of Norican Digital, an IIoT solution built around Norican’s Monitizer | GLOBAL platform is now in place. This will allow MAT Foundry Group to collect, monitor and analyse complete foundry data – initially from two of its key EURAC sites, Poole (UK) and Hradec (Czech Republic) – to fulfil its productivity ambitions.
Kick-starting a pioneering digital collaboration
Comprising 7 foundries and 8 businesses located across three continents, MAT Foundry Group is a world-renowned specialist in the engineering and manufacture of cast and machined parts for the automotive sector.
Prior to the Group’s formation in 2015, the separate companies and respective foundries were run as stand-alone businesses. On bringing the different entities together under one roof, the need to identify shared operating threads and strategic partnerships became clear. For Shaun Lindfield, Head of Procurement for MAT Foundry Group, Norican was an obvious choice.
“All of our foundries have one thing in common,” explained Shaun. “They all run DISAMATIC moulding lines and use Wheelabrator shot blasting technology. Working with Norican more closely to achieve servicing, support and costing benefits across the Group was a clear priority. We wanted to create a strong alliance that would allow us to get the best of everything.”
Four years on, that alliance has proven successful and is helping MAT Group achieve its ambitions.
“Simply put”, said Shaun “we know we are always getting the very latest in foundry solutions, services and processes. We trust Norican to push us forward. We want to pioneer new things and know Norican can help us do it.
“One such ‘new thing’ we’d been thinking about more and more, was how we could do more with our data. Get more value from it. So when Norican approached us last year to see if we would like to pilot one of the industry’s first multi-site cloud-based solutions, we didn’t hesitate.”
Getting to the heart of what matters with KPIs
Monitizer | GLOBAL pairs the data capture and analysis capabilities of the on-premise Monitizer | CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) platform with NoriGate technology. The solution can pull, collate, correlate and display meaningful data from any connected foundry machine (not just Norican equipment) and – thanks to the Cloud – from any geographical location, enabling site comparisons. Authorised users can simply log into their online portal and, at the click of a button, see a digital picture of foundry operations. But in order to deliver optimal results, a personal approach is needed. The end solution must reveal actionable information tailored to each customer.
“Data for data’s sake is pointless,” said Markus Bremer, Norican’s Senior Vice President Sales & Service Europe – West, and manager of the MAT Foundry Group project. “It’s only meaningful when it shows what a customer needs it to show. So, we sat down with MAT’s senior team, site managers, production team and engineers from Poole and Hradec, to look at the KPIs that would have the biggest impact on operations”.
With these identified, work began on designing specific mini systems – ‘digital cupcakes’ – that utilise Monitizer | GLOBAL’s capabilities to create a complete solution that’s tailored to MAT’s specific needs.
Real time productivity – the real priority
The two priorities that emerged from this consultation stage were tracking machine performance against specified standards and checking productivity in real time by monitoring metrics like poured tonnes per hour, moulds not poured and bottlenecks (stop/wait times).
“Ultimately, you can’t sell what you don’t make,” commented Andrew Wren, MAT Foundry Group’s Head of Engineering Projects. “That’s why these monitoring objectives were top of our list. It’s all very well looking at spreadsheets and data from monthly … or even weekly reports, but by then, if production has dropped, it’s too late. You can try and catch up time, maybe by working on a weekend, but that has innate costs associated with it. In real time, you can ‘ask and remedy’.
“If we know we’re running at 85% in terms of tonnes per hour, we can investigate why straight away. It might be that we’re not producing moulds quick enough. Again, we can ask why and perhaps discover that it’s because we need extra staff to keep up. The point is, if you don’t know, you can’t improve. With the solution and monitoring parameters we’ve agreed with Norican, we can.”
Making what’s possible, practical
All new Norican machinery is Industry 4.0 ready but Norican worked with Shaun and Andrew to upgrade MAT Foundry Group’s existing equipment and retrofit the necessary data capture and IoT technology so it could be part of the global picture. In fact, a key benefit of Norican’s solution is this ability to upgrade legacy foundry plant so it can feed valuable data to the Monitizer | GLOBAL system.
The Norican solution is also designed to flex around a customer’s needs and display information in a way that is going to be most useful for the recipient. For MAT, this was a big attraction.
“Our CEO doesn’t need to see specific sensor data, pressure readings or any such granular detail,” continued Shaun. “He does need to be able to log on and see, on one dashboard, a simple set of indicators from both sites which show if we are meeting daily targets – and if not, why not.
“Our production managers may need more detail but only for their specific site, while on our shop floor, our team are likely to get more benefit from simple green/red colour-coded screens linked to live data so they can quickly spot and fix small technical issues that might otherwise grow into big productivity problems. One of the reasons this Norican solution appealed so much to us is that it will give us this flexibility to customise who sees what.”
Broader benefits: predictive maintenance, monitoring emissions
Still linked to productivity but a step beyond the initial monitoring capability, another ‘cupcake’ is also being developed to support MAT’s predictive maintenance strategy for shot blasting at both sites. With the new digital solution, in addition to making performance indicators such as blasting times, batch count and loading/unloading times visible, it will now be possible to pull and display data relating to vibration levels – a key factor in blast wheel wear. By setting alerts against vibration thresholds, MAT Foundry Group will be able to see when servicing or replacements are required and avoid unnecessary, unplanned downtime.
In addition to monitoring common KPIs across both pilot sites, the digital project also supports objectives specific to each foundry. “Basically the door has been opened to wider areas of business improvement that we hadn’t necessarily foreseen,” said Andrew.
In Poole, for instance, monitoring dust emissions is hugely important. The foundry is located in a populated area. Minimising any negative impact is therefore important for the Group in terms of both a ‘good neighbour’ and regulatory perspective.
“Currently, we have to have a person walk the dust collectors every day to check differential pressure readings which indicate the effectiveness of our filters” added Shaun. “If we get a blockage, it’s not only a potential issue in terms of emissions, it’s a risk factor for our internal environment and staff. With the new Norican solution, we can pull data from our dust collectors into the mix and get a live picture of filter performance. We can demonstrate to local authorities we are constantly, and responsibly, on top of things.”
Optimising worldwide processes with meaningful data
Beyond the initial two-site pilot phase of the project, MAT Foundry Group has big ambitions for where Norican’s Monitizer | GLOBAL solution can take them.
Andrew concluded: “We’ve actually tried to look at data monitoring as an operational improvement measure before but attempts have fallen flat because we just couldn’t find the right mechanism or get buy-in from the team. With this project, that’s changed.
“Our ambition, once we review this pilot phase, is to connect all the foundries in our group. That holds exciting potential as you can begin to benchmark beyond foundry walls. If seemingly identical lines are producing different results in two sites, why is that? With our new framework, we can find out and make sure best practice systems and processes are then shared across our global network. We are still in our infancy as a unified group. Tools such as this can help speed up our maturing process quickly and profitably.
“Long term success means grasping opportunities to boost productivity with both hands. With Norican, that’s what we are doing.”