CHICAGO (July 11, 10:20 a.m. EDT) — You´re sitting on a beach in France, and you get a message on your Palm Pilot: There´s trouble at your company´s injection molding plant in Mexico.
What do you do? You fire up the Web browser and go to the source of the problem. Up on your computer screen pops the press controls for the problem machine in Mexico. You click open a real-time video feed showing the press.
You find out the temperature control is set too hot. Problem identified, fixed, and back to working on that tan.
What once might have been a future-shock hallucination is about to become de rigueur for plastics processors and end users. Hot-runner controls provider American MSI Corp. is launching its MSI Cell-Net technology to make the world a little smaller.
"We want to take the roof off manufacturing plants, and let customers go live to the plant from anywhere in the world," said American MSI Chief Executive Officer Timothy Triplett.
The Moorpark, Calif., company believes its system is the first that provides instant connectivity to presses globally. No longer will operators need to be on the manufacturing floor to trouble-shoot a problem. Instead, the manufacturing floor can move anywhere, from an office to a subway station. The network is accessible from a laptop computer or another mobile device.
The company developed the software with several undisclosed partners during the past 1½ years, Triplett said. While the bread-and-butter products for the 16-year-old company will remain hot-runner controls and systems, Cell-Net offers a broader base of new customers to American MSI.
"End users especially like this," Triplett said June 21 at NPE 2000 in Chicago. "They can see what´s happening on the production line throughout their entire supply chain."
Triplett envisioned engineers from many parts of that chain — material suppliers, toolmakers, processors and their customers — linking by computer from offices around the globe. "You won´t have to fly them to the plant, and you´ll have no expenses for travel," he said.
The system has been operational for several months. Telecommunications giant Hewlett-Packard Co. is using it at a Nypro Inc. molding plant in Corvallis, Ore., to watch over press operations.
Visitors to American MSI´s NPE booth could view the Nypro presses at the plant. Sumitomo Plastics Machinery also exhibited the technology at NPE, although Triplett said the package is available to any press supplier.
Part of the system involves setting up remote video cameras at a plant, streaming images of presses over a Web browser. The cameras, tied into the Cell-Net system, can show details down to a microscopic level.
But information is the guts of the system. Cell-Net monitors press temperatures, chiller controls and blenders down to the mix of colors or additives. It looks at conveyors and robots.
It also can download drawings, material data sheets and other information needed to solve a problem or bottleneck.
The Java-enabled Web browser uses a common language and interface that can link with any current controller or computer system, Triplett said. The system can be set up at a customer´s plant within a day, he added.
The company refers to the product as the "universal thread."