Smart firms detect problems in advance

| Environmental Testing

Hella manufacturing cell
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Research partners join forces in developing the networking of sensors to provide predictiv analysis and prevent downtime in manufacturing sites.

Sensors, data and analyses all help to give advance warning of critical situations developing on production lines. As part of the EU project ProaSense (2014-2016), five research partners from six countries, together with the Slovenian company Hella, which makes car lamps and the multinational company MHWirth, which makes drilling machines. They have all joined forces with the aim of exploiting the potential benefits inherent in the huge volumes of data that the firms possess.

Sensors are incorporated into the majority of manufacturing processes to make continuous measurements and supply data. They can monitor the status of all machinery on a production line. If someone could have predicted a failure in advance, a modification could have been made to prevent the problem arising.

“Our aim is to obtain a better overview of machine status, and adopt a precautionary approach. The sensors pick up trends and tendencies”, says Rimmert van der Kooij from Norwegian independent research organisation SINTEF, whose research and development activity supports the development of 2000 or so Norwegian and overseas companies.

Hella is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of vehicle headlamps and fog lamps. In recent years, car headlamps have become larger, while lenses exhibit greater curvature and are generally more complex than in the past. This can create difficulties during the manufacturing process, resulting in a high percentage of discarded products.

So far, the main conclusion that the researchers have arrived at is that most of the sensors that the firms have installed on their machinery have provided only some of the answers they are looking for. In many cases the machines were designed many years ago and equipped with gauges that were well adapted when they were installed.

“If only we had been able to equip a production line with additional sensors, or to connect three or four sensors together, we might have been able to obtain all the data we need”, says van der Kooij.

Despite this, the research group believes that they will succeed in halving downtime at manufacturing firms such as Hella. However, they are uncertain about MHWirth because the complexity of the project is so great.

Small and medium-sized firms are struggling with challenges linked to competitiveness, maintenance of high quality, and leaner manufacturing approaches. They may have the potential to benefit from an approach similar to the ProaSense concept.

“Here too our aim will be to reduce the number and length of production downtime incidents”, says van der Kooij. ” It will be possible to connect these easily to the platform so that information can be shared between different companies without them having to reveal their proprietary secrets.”

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