Digital transformation through a MES system
In 2017 NS moved to a new factory building in the city of Haarlem, simultaneously renewing all its machinery. The relocation was accompanied by a digital transformation, which automated almost the entire overhaul process. In order to actuate the machines digitally and collect measuring and processing data, a MES system was called for. MES stands for Manufacturing Execution System and is the link between the customers question from the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and the machines who have to deliver the product. NS chose ICT Group as its partner to install the MES system, mainly because of the extensive experience in configuring MES software packages according to the needs and requirements of our clients.
MES: digital link between machines, operators and ERP
On average, railway wheelsets are overhauled once every five years. As soon as a wheelset enters the NS factory, it is subjected to a thorough inspection to see which components are in need of replacement or repair. Next, the routing (workflow) of the separate components through the overhaul process is determined. In the overhaul process the MES system serves as a digital director. It actuates production machines and logs each operation. Through the use of barcode labels MES can track each separate component during the entire overhaul and logs and stores the more than one hundred measurements conducted on each wheelset. During the overhaul process MES guards all process parameters, such as pressure forces and buffer times, and sends a signal as soon as an intervention is required. The system also keeps track of each wheelset’s component consumption (‘consumption traceability’) so that new components can be ordered in time. To reserve the needed components MES communicates with the ERP.
Human factory operators are equipped with a mobile device enabling them to communicate with MES and to scan component barcodes. This is done through a mobile application developed by OrangeNXT, an ICT Group company. The mobile scanners support the operators through work instructions and they can also use the mobile scanners to log measurement data, scan objects for checks, start and stop tasks and confirm activities. ICT Group’s technical specialists and consultants have provided training sessions for the staff of different departments within NS about how to use the new systems.
“NS had a few concerns at the start, but ICT completed this project successfully, with the right quality and within the agreed timeframe.”
Since MES is designed for centralized data collection of all measurements and processing, it provides the opportunity for smart data analysis with the aim of optimizing the overhaul process. One example is ‘downtime registration’ in which MES tracks the availability of production machines, expressed by an Operational Equipment Efficiency (OEE) figure. NS has fully automated its OEE and the status of each and every machine is logged. In the case of downtime, the machine automatically forwards the cause to MES. Through data analysis MES can also signal useful trends in throughput time.
Before the digitization and automation of the overhaul process, many operations were executed manually. Decisions were made based on human assessments. Since MES directs the process through exact standards, more impact and certainty about the final quality is achieved (‘First Time Right’). In the past data collection depended on the annotations of human operators. At present all the measuring data and features of each component are flawlessly stored in MES. MES’ out-of-the-box analysis opportunities enables further optimization of the production process. MES also increases NS’ compliance with the requirements of the Dutch Railways Act, which demands a fifty year storage of wheelset overhaul data. MES ensures that the NS maintenance system Maximo is automatically provided with the right data.
NS is satisfied with the MES system. “In the beginning NS had some concerns because IT projects tend to overpromise, underdeliver and suffer from delays,” says Marco Kerstens, who was involved with the project as client manager for ICT Group. “NS was pleasantly surprised that our project was completed both in time and with the right quality.”
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