HIROTEC America Implements IoT with the Six-Week Sprint




HIROTEC Corporation is one of the largest private Tier-1 suppliers in the automotive industry, meaning that they directly supply automobile manufacturers such as Mazda and GM with parts. HIROTEC makes 7 million doors and 1.5 million exhaust systems a year. They also provide production tooling and stamping dies to automotive OEMs for their production needs.

HIROTEC’s IoT effort will tap into the systems and information that they have in place today, creating unprecedented real-time visibility into manufacturing operations. To accomplish this, they use Kepware for industrial connectivity, ThingWorx as their IoT platform, and HIROTEC is evaluating PTC’s Windchill for engineering data management and process flow control.

Avoiding the "Tuesday Morning Meeting"

Every morning, managers have a meeting to go over what went wrong on the previous day. This often requires correcting or redoing something or trying to prevent it from happening again. 

The goal of the new process implementation is to provide contextualized data that can prevent errors on Monday, rather than waiting until Tuesday to do an analysis and correct them. The goal is to solve problems before they lead to downtime. And the problem of downtime is a significant one.

Major automotive OEMs conservatively lose $1.3 million per hour of downtime. That works out to $361 in lost revenue per second. ZDNet estimates that the average cell phone call lasts 3 minutes and 15 seconds. So when the maintenance supervisor at an OEM calls plant management to say that they have a problem with a machine, during the duration of that call, the OEM can rack up $70,000 in lost revenue.

And it doesn’t stop there. The backend cost is also significant. To make up for a stopped line, the facility has to run evening and weekend shifts at multiples of standard wages. Profit margins are already low, and this can cut into them significantly.


Moving to a data-driven strategy

HIROTEC has long acquired data to support its decisions. For example, the temperature and humidity of every facility is known, as is the number of strikes of every die used. But that information is housed in operations or facility management, inaccessible to more systematic analysis.

HIROTEC’s first step was to come up with a strategy. They summarized it as “HIROTEC will eliminate reactive actions and lost opportunities by providing tools that enable our team members to make timely, data-driven decisions.” They feel that it is important that everyone in the organization knows and understands the goal of the project.


Where IoT comes in

In HIROTEC’s view, both data collection and analytics are important, but can be done without a full IoT implementation. Where IoT really comes into its own is in continuous, closed-loop process improvement.


For example, in HIROTEC’s Japan facility, the time from the start of door production to the time it is hung on a Mazda vehicle is eight hours, or less. The Mazda facility is an hour away in normal traffic. But traffic can vary, so a large time buffer is left for transportation delays. Bringing in traffic analysis, including weather, can enable more accurate prediction of transportation time, and so can allow for shrinking those buffers.

As a die strikes, it heats up, which can result in poorer quality stamping. So the operators schedule die replacement conservatively. If die sensors provided temperature data, and that was integrated with internal plant temperature, optimizing the number of strikes can minimize die changes and production slowdowns. As usual, the most effective business case for IoT lies in efficiency, and safely running operations closer to maximum.


Starting slowly

HIROTEC’s North American facility has eight computer numerical control (CNC) machines that put 100 data points into ThingWorx with Kepware. As they use the tools, they will see what is useful about the data. Early on, they realized that simply having CNC machine uptime visible was a significant benefit to the organization. Even that simple metric proved to be harder to obtain that it might seem at first.

Next, they want to create an IoT ready production line. The next generation production line has IoT connection points ready to go. When they are ready, they will connect them.

HIROTEC says that you need an ecosystem that adapts to your organization. HIROTEC likes the PTC ecosystem because of its flexibility and adaptability. You can mix and match software and the ecosystem can be adapted to it. Other systems they tried were more restrictive, requiring changes in organization and procedure, rather than adapting to them.


Small projects, short time horizons

HIROTEC favors six-week sprints over longer projects. They feel that, in order to get people on board and make quick, visible progress, smaller, easily constrained projects are preferable to longer, more open ended ones that may take years.

Obviously, some projects are not suitable to such sprints. But to build a constituency for IoT, and to gain real, hands-on experience, they suggest trying to break your own efforts down this way. You just may be surprised at the effectiveness of the results.


Image courtesy of HIROTEC