ProNET Network Manufacturing Abstract

Williams Technologies developed a network / enterprise manufacturing system called ProNET that is so effective yet so simple that it has revolutionized their approach to restrictive mixed model production. Greg Allen of Active Technologies, LLC wrote the software and served as systems integrator.

ProNET involves common off-the-shelf computers in the production process to provide the intellectual capability to those performing complex tasks (such as assembly). The result is a level of flexibility and efficiency that substantially facilitates mixed model production.

ProNET is utilized in inspection, kitting, assembly, and a variety of other production areas where process instructions are required. It is used to replace the endless streams of written instructions normally found on manufacturing shop floors. ProNET excels where complex or widely varying configurations are found and where engineering changes are common. This is exactly the kind of situation found in Williams Technologies valve body assembly line where the project was initially developed.

The system has four segments:

Video Capture The first segment utilizes consumer-grade digital still and/or video cameras to produce high quality color images of all parts.

The second segment utilizes a standard computer and off-the-shelf software to manipulate the captured images into the required inspection or assembly views.

In the third segment, an engineer enters part number, assembly text and process instructions into a database. When the engineer releases the process to the network, it is instantly distributed and available to every workstation, assembly or test technician tied into the network.

 

Subsequent changes to the process can be input and distributed in the same manner. Engineering maintains complete control without lag time and errors associated with distributing and collecting build sheets. New items or changes are highlighted on shop-floor computer screen for two weeks after their inclusion so that the operator pays special attention thus avoiding a potential miss build.

Williams Technologies Valvebody Assembly Line In the forth segment, the text, images, and database come together on an inexpensive computer or thin client terminal on the shop floor at each workstation. In this case the first workstation on the valve body line receives a message from final assemble to produce a specific product.

The assembly technician simply barcodes a kit tray and assigns a part number to the kit barcode. Technicians at subsequent workstations simply read the barcode and the computer responds with on-screen instructions for that product at that station. And so it goes with each station in kitting and assembly until the process is finally complete. It’s that simple.

ProNET also provides expert system or knowledge-base technology. If a shop-floor technician (assembler) feels a change might improve a process, suggestions can be entered right at the shop-floor workstation. The comments are reviewed daily by engineering and, if accepted, become part of the process and are thus easily integrated into the system as either engineering changes or technical notes.

Shop Floor WorkStation It’s this kind of efficiency and flexibility that Williams Technologies uses to manage mixed-model production. If the customer requires 10 of one product, 15 of another, and maybe just 1 of something else, assemblers can make the transition from part to part without delay.

The ProNET system also allows computers to dynamically shift operations between stations to improve line production balance depending upon the prevailing production load demand. And since every product has its own computerized build sheet in the database via barcode, misbuilds are virtually eliminated.

The database contains all model years that the company produces. ProNET provides the memory or intellect and the associates provide the job skills thus providing unlimited flexibility for satisfying their customers.

When ProNET was released to the valvebody assembly line it would handle twice the volume with the same number of workstations and quality increased to the extent that valve body testing was no longer necessary. Since it’s inception, ProNET has grown form 10 to nearly 300 workstations, and resulted in new business with Ford and Nissan.

According to Jeffrey W. Anderson, President and General Manager of Williams Technologies, It was a "Eureka!" moment, Anderson recalls. Greg had "tripped across technologies that were exactly what I had in mind and somebody who could pull it off," he says. Anderson quickly brought in Greg Allen as a consultant.