Hirotec slams the (car) door on factory downtime
Hirotec slams the (car) door on factory downtime

Hirotec slams the (car) door on factory downtime

It’s no secret that factory downtime – due to machinery failure, for example – is extremely costly. In the UK alone, it could be costing manufacturers in excess of £180 billion every year, according to a study released this week by field service management company Oneserve. On a per-company basis, that’s £31,000 each and 49 hours of lost work yearly.

In Japan, automotive parts manufacturer Hirotec isn’t prepared to take the chance. It has recently announced that it using IoT technologies from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and software company PTC  to get real-time visibility into manufacturing operations and, in the process, eliminate both production-line bottlenecks and the need to manually inspect production systems.

Read more: Smart factories to add $1,500bn to global economy by 2022, says Capgemini

Doors and exhausts

Every year, Hirotec designs and builds approximately 8 million car doors and 1.8 million exhaust systems. It’s also operating in an industry where the auto manufacturers that buy these parts are accustomed to pitting suppliers against each other in order to keep prices low. As a result, just one hour of unplanned downtime could cost Hirotec – and companies like it – as much as $1.3 million an hour, according to HPE.

Hirotec’s IoT deployment, implemented by Nippon Systemware, combines HPE’s Edgeline IoT technology, developed to crunch data out on the edge of IoT networks, with PTC’s Thingworx IoT platform, in order to collect and analyse data from the factory floor. It also provides production systems monitoring.

The ‘edge’ element to this is important. Because some of the data processing and real-time analytics involved occur out on the edge of the network, rather than in a centralized data centre or cloud environment, exhaust system lines can now be automatically inspected.

Data sources for this platform, in addition to the machines themselves, include inspection robots, force sensors, laser measurement devices and cameras.


Read more: Japanese companies form alliance to accelerate smart factories

Harsh environment

“Historically, manufacturing groups have struggled to collaborate with IT, but we understood that with the advent of Industry 4.0 manufacturing models, we needed a solution that could withstand the hard knocks of an automotive parts manufacturing facility while delivering real-time insights from our factory floor,” said Justin Hester, senior researcher in Hirotec’s IoT Laboratory.

“When PTC told us about their demo robot taking a lot of damage after falling off a loading dock, and then saying that the HPE Edgeline server that was integrated into the robot powered right back on, it was a no-brainer. We knew that the solution was a perfect match for our production facilities.”

The results seem to speak for themselves. Since implementing this system Hirotec says it has improved its factory monitoring processes and production efficiency. It can now perform real-time visualization of production-line performance and automatically generate regular, paperless reports based on the findings of inspection robots. It has also reduced time spent manually inspecting production systems, so technicians spend more time on more valuable activities, like working out how to drive out remaining bottlenecks.

But Hirotec’s Industry 4.0 vision doesn’t stop there. In the coming months, the company says, it will build on this IoT environment, scaling it to an entire door production line. And it plays to introduce augmented reality (AR) applications to create new efficiencies – all steps, it says, on its journey from a smart factory to a smart enterprise.

At Internet of Business, we have a number of manufacturing events coming up. In the US, our Internet of Manufacturing event in Dallas, is just around the corner, taking place on 29 & 29 November. In Europe, our Internet of Manufacturing event in Munich event is scheduled for 6-8 February 2018.