Why wait for another company to solve your problems when you can design exactly what you need in-house? When it comes to production monitoring systems, it might sound tricky, but it's possible.
Just ask Axiom Group Inc., an Aurora, Ontario-based injection molder with a do-it-yourself attitude that decided to dabble in software development to solve its own production problems.
The Canadian automotive supplier had been experiencing ongoing machine shutdowns, and maintenance techs couldn't get to them fast enough. During night shifts, for example, when machines should have been running, some would shut down at 3 a.m. and wouldn't get back online until 6 or 7 a.m., the company said.
Employees, challenged by Axiom President and visionary engineer Perry Rizzo, came up with what the company now calls Smart Attend, a real-time production monitoring system that collects data from the machines and connects to a facility's on-site Wi-Fi network to send the information to a desktop computer or mobile device.
The system — available in a free basic package or an annual-fee pro package — can offer quick reports on production expectations vs. actual performance, cycle-time analysis, shift-to-shift benchmarking, uptime and downtime tracking, and up to three years of production analysis, among other features. It can also be configured on several machine types such as extruders and CNC machines, no matter the age or brand, the company said.
Axiom installed the first prototype on an injection molding machine in 2016.
"When I joined the team at Smart Attend, which was a mere month after I was first hired at Axiom, we didn't have a name. We didn't have a logo. We didn't even really know what it was going to look like," said Max Preston, director of sales and marketing at Smart Attend Inc., which operates as its own corporate identity but shares Axiom's facilities for development as well as testing and validation.
"We essentially had a paint can with some LED lights wrapped around it, sitting on top of a machine and trying to figure out how to make them blink," he explained.
Today, the system is installed on all of Axiom's injection molding machines at its Aurora facility, where clamping forces on the presses range from 40-1,500 metric tons. Smart Attend is also fully integrated with Prism, Axiom's in-house ERP/MRP system that was also designed by a core team within the company.
Prism, though not commercially available yet, has been in development and used by the company for about 10 years, Preston said.
On its own, Prism is essentially the central control system for the entire company and is designed to not only plan production, but also track material usage, part inventory, sales quoting, accounting purchasing — "everything," Preston said.
When paired with Smart Attend, it offers the company a complete digital view into how its facility is running by tracking performance aspects such as production planning and parts output.
"We don't use any outside Industry 4.0 technology here," Preston said. "Everything we've done is completely built and designed in-house and developed in-house by our own team of software engineers."
With Smart Attend, users can download an app onto Android or iOS devices from the Google Play store or the App Store to track machines and receive notifications instantly. In addition, an LED tower light with a built-in speaker — what started out as the "paint can" — is placed on top of each machine.
"If anything starts going wrong with the machine, Smart Attend's job is to make sure that everyone knows exactly what the issue is to make sure that the machine doesn't go into a shutdown," Preston said. "We're all about keeping the machine running as long as it can go."
The company said on average productivity gains from Smart Attend's real-time monitoring information can be as much as 10-15 percent per machine.
Smart Attend has been commercially available to customers — typically small to mid-sized businesses — since June 2017 and is now found in facilities on three continents, including North America, Europe and Africa.
"It's meant to be affordable," Preston said. "It's meant to provide value immediately without having to scale costs exponentially, and that's why we can have customers install the system completely on their own without having us fly into their facility."
Preston declined to say how many companies are currently using the system, but he said some customers have been able to reduce downtime events per week by as much as 80 percent on average.
"The savings customers have experienced vary greatly across the board due to the nature of the system," Preston explained in a follow-up email. "The Smart Attend [system] on its own won't save the customer money. It's all about how the customer uses the system to optimize their processes."