Streamlining the integration of a total production system

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 June 2004




(2004), "Streamlining the integration of a total production system", Assembly Automation, Vol. 24 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Streamlining the integration of a total production system

Streamlining the integration of a total production system

Keywords: Manufacturing, Assembly

FlexLink has teamed up with IBM, Delphoi and Intentia to supply complete integrated production systems that meet manufacturing companies' need for short leadtimes, flexibility and low cost. Launched in September 2002, the new PLM Factory concept they have developed is at present starting to benefit the first customers. PLM stands for product and process lifecycle management. The new concept is intended to streamline the entire manufacturing process, from the earliest phases of product design, through new product introduction and rapid ramp-up.

FlexLink, part of the Swedish SKF group, started developing PLM Factory in response to a demand from customers for a more comprehensive automation solution, as Jon Bagiu, Director of product development and OEM sales explains “Up till now, we have only included MES (manufacturing execution system) software with the solutions we proposed. But customer desires went further. To fulfill their wishes, FlexLink needed to acquire a lot of data from PDM (product data management) and ERP (enterprise resource management) systems. It was data that was not easily obtainable.” By linking with IBM, Delphoi and Intentia, FlexLink can at present offer customers a seamless solution that is fully integrated.

Set up in 1980, FlexLink currently employs 550 people and, in 2002, reported a 126 million turnover. Specialising in the business of automating production flow, FlexLink products range from conveyor components to assembly and test modules with integrated production software as well as full plug-and-play capabilities. The company's experience covers machining, assembly, filling and packaging processes.

In recent years, Jon Bagiu has heard the message more and more frequently that customers want more complete solutions, more flexible solutions, shorter leadtimes and lower cost. “In the past, customers bought each type of equipment from a different vendor and then integrated it themselves. Now they want just one source for a complete solution because, in that way, risk management is easier to handle,” he explains. In terms of flexibility, customers are seeking to re-use investments rather than to invest in new hardware and software for each new product range. They are additionally looking for the type of flexibility in a solution that facilitates volume adjustments. This, says Jon Bagiu, is particularly important for smaller companies, i.e. those with fewer than 1,000 employees.

Another trend FlexLink has identified among customers is the greater frequency of new product launches. “It is a big driver in industry. When a company develops a new product, they want to introduce it very fast. Faster than anyone else. And to introduce it to the market in high volumes. It means we have to be much faster in implementing the equipment,” Jon Bagiu explains.

PLM Factory is the concept that FlexLink has developed in collaboration with IBM, Intentia and Delphoi to meet its customers' needs. IBM provides the PDM software. Intentia provides the ERP suite, and Delphoi provides a simulation package for analysing planned factories and processes before any investment is committed. Key to PLM Factory is the single common database that all the manufacturing systems share.

Jon Bagiu accepts that companies are unlikely to change all their manufacturing systems over night. He says that implementing PLM Factory in its totality could take a few years as most customers are likely to take a step-by-step approach. “A company might start by changing their ERP, MES or PDM system. It does not matter which. What does matter is that they do start the process”.

One company to have begun the process is ABB Control, which develops and manufactures low voltage contactors. Jon Bagiu claims that the company has cut product leadtimes by more than 80 percent.

Part of the success of PLM Factory, says Jon Bagiu, is due to the fact that both hardware and software are modular. Although modular hardware has been employed before, little application of modular software has yet been made, he says. Several companies in Sweden and the USA are also implementing PLM Factory, he concludes.

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