Carl Eely, ABB's Product Manager Industrial Automation - UK & Ireland writes: Few industries contribute as much to the UK’s economy as the automotive sector – indeed in 2015, it turned over a record £71.6 billion*.
This success comes from selling people the cars they want to buy, at a price they want to pay. And that means cutting costs while increasing productivity - in other words keeping production lines busy making saleable cars.
Much of the UK car industry is made up of famous marques. One of these is the black taxi cab, a symbol of London familiar the world over and its maker, The London Taxi Company, is taking simple steps to ensure it can keep its production line running with the minimum of interruption.
Simple? Well yes, when you know how. It’s all based on pull cords and lights – and an ABB PLC.
The Japanese have produced many productivity techniques – Kanban, Just in Time and now, Andon. The Japanese word for lantern, the Andon system at London Taxi requires workers to pull a cord when they encounter a problem, such as a failed machine, lack of components or a quality problem.
Pulling the cord is a signal to an ABB PLC to turn on a light to attract a supervisor to the work station. If the problem can be solved immediately, great, but if it can’t, the supervisor can escalate it by pressing another button on an ABB HMI. This alerts the department best suited to solve the problem – quality, stores, maintenance or manufacturing. A bell rings and a light flashes in the department until someone responds.
And respond they do - for example, the chassis line had a response time target of one minute. This has been more than achieved – it has been slashed to only 39 seconds, an improvement of around 33 percent.
London Taxis is now considering extending the system so data can be sent to portable devices such as iPads.
The improvement to the production process has come at the right time, as the company plans to extend its business. It currently produces 1,400 black cabs per year from its Coventry factory and will build even more when a new plant comes into operation in 2017.
A PLC can be complex bit of kit, but used in the right way, can build simple solutions that improve production efficiency and ensure expensive machinery and staff are not standing idle.
* Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)
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