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Automated Quality Assurance on the Manufacturing Edge: The Hirotec case


Lin Nease profile pic.jpgBy Lin Nease
IoT Chief Technologist, Hewlett Packard Enterprise



In a previous post, we shared the story of how HPE is helping to develop an end-to-end solution based on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for power utilities that not only controls electricity distribution, but can also predicts shortages and manages electricity suppliers. The system even lets home and commercial users optimize their own usage to prioritize consumption during off-peak periods, when it’s cheaper. Today, we will look at another IIoT project that HPE is working on, this time for the manufacturing sector. In many respects, the approach used by manufacturing companies to implement IIoT solutions is far different from energy’s and other industries’.

An Auto parts manufacturer delving into Industrial IoT

Quality Assurance Auto Manufacturing.jpgHirotec, an auto parts manufacturer with facilities in Japan, the United States, and 7 other countries, has deep expertise in manufacturing operational technology (OT), borne from its more than 60 years of experience building components for global automakers. In a typical year, the company builds 8 million doors and other closures as well as 1.8 million exhaust systems, and is also provides automotive tooling systems. Hirotec operates in a ruthlessly competitive market that demands low prices and high-quality finished products. There is enormous pressure to increase operational efficiency.

Hirotec recognized the opportunity to leverage IIoT to transform the way it does business. At one time, a single Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine might have operated alone, or in conjunction with other nearby equipment. The firm’s OT experts and R&D managers saw new possibilities in advanced IIoT technologies that could transform plant operations. By connecting scores of disparate CNC machines and other plant-floor technologies and adding sensors and specialized software and IT systems, all kinds of possibilities opened up to streamline processes, improve quality, gather insights, and enable a new level of control over operations.

But there are risks to re-architecting complex manufacturing processes. Among producers of OEM auto parts, unplanned downtime costs $361 per second. Anything that introduces the potential for delays must be carefully evaluated, because the impact will not only be felt on the factory floor, but also up and down the supply chain.

Hirotec searched for IT firms to complement its OT capabilities. The company found HPE and its technology partner PTC. The two firms collectively delivered powerful IT hardware, data collection and management solutions, as well as predictive and analytical software solutions, and systems integration expertise to help Hirotec realize its vision.

Elements of the IIoT solution

Elements of the IIoT solution.jpgHPE, working with PTC and Hirotec’s OT experts, helped the company implement a series of IIoT proof-of-concept (PoC) projects at its plants globally. One of them involved enabling remote QA of an exhaust assembly line. Previously, QA required human inspectors making manual inspections at every production stage. However, there's only so much that human eye can pick up. The IIoT-enabled QA system includes cameras, force sensors, and inspection robots that can improve efficiency and accuracy, and help plant staff respond to problems much sooner.

Hirotec opted for PTC’s ThingWorx, an industry leading Industrial IoT platform that delivers predictive analytics, simulation capabilities, and anomaly detection. PTC’s KEPServerEX software was configured to connect applications and devices on the edge to ThingWorx, which was deployed to an on-premise platform using HPE ProLiant servers. HPE Edgeline systems sitting on the plant floor rounded out the picture.

Low latency was another crucial requirement for Hirotec, as it needed real-time insights into its production operations. Imagine having hundreds of cameras and other sensors sending thousands of images and other data every hour. You don't want to ship all of those images to a remote cloud in order to determine if the exhausts are being correctly assembled and to identify anomalies. The bandwidth required would be horrendous, and the inefficiencies of pushing data across the cloud and back is something you don't want to deal with. You also don't want to have the risk if there is any disruption between the cloud and the assembly line--everything would just stop. An hours-long delay could potentially cost millions of dollars.

Instead of sending everything back to the cloud, there needs to be a balance of the processing, not only within the cloud, but at the edge, the point at which the data is generated. What HPE and PTC have developed for Hirotec is a hybrid environment. Converged Edge Systems sit next to the production line and help process the images and data on the factory floor. Most of the metadata that gets pushed up to the cloud is a tiny proportion of what it would be if it pushed the whole image. Real-time insights can be delivered to relevant personnel, whether they are technicians on the shop floor or operations managers in their offices.

In addition to low latency, the IT systems supporting the pilot had to be robust. In manufacturing settings, you may not have much space to work with, let alone provide data-center grade cooling for servers and other hardware. Further, the equipment may be put under physical stress. HPE Edgeline systems are compact devices designed for very high performance in edge scenarios, whether its monitoring disparate industrial assets or providing video analytics.

The Edgeline is also a hardy device, and can live in places where most servers would would not fare well, including those with higher vibration and temperature levels. In fact, when one of PTC’s Edgelines that was attached to an industrial robot fell off a loading dock, the robot received significant damage, but the Edgeline powered right back on. At that point, Hirotec knew it was the platform for them.

Digital Transformation of Manufacturing is a journey

Hirotec is not stopping with a single QA-focused pilot. The learnings from this experience will be used to transform QA at other facilities globally. The company is also launching HPE-powered pilots to handle predictive maintenance, a huge opportunity for all kinds of companies in manufacturing, as well as in the energy sector, and oil & gas exploration. You can learn more details about Hirotec’s experience by downloading the Hirotec Case Study From smart manufacturing, to smart factory — to smart enterprise. Or take a look at the Hirotec video.




Forrester Manufacturing Analyst Report.JPGGet ready for the future of manufacturing. Read the Analyst Report from Forrester Consulting, evaluating the digital transformation objectives of manufacturers, and offering key strategies to help create new ways to engage with customers.




Additional Resources:

About the Author


Lin Nease profile pic.jpgLin Nease is Chief Technologist, IoT at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Connect with him on LinkedIn.





HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems are powered by Intel Xeon.


Empowering the Digital Enterprise to be more efficient and innovative through data-driven insights from the Internet of Things (IoT)
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