PowerPlex 2019 - Toyotetsu takes the real-time cloud manufacturing plunge

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed May 16, 2019
PowerPlex 2019 brought the opportunity of connected manufacturing to the fore - but also the challenges. Here's an inside look at Toyotetsu America's ambitious push, as they launch Plex and real-time PLC integration at the same time.

Mark Redmond of Toyotetsu at PowerPlex.

In my PowerPlex 2019 review, I raised the challenge of manufacturers' resistance to change.

Even successful manufacturers are resource-constrained - they are not about to dive into early adoption of tech-du-jour just because vendors say it's cool.

When I asked Plex CEO Bill Berutti about how to get manufacturers moving forward to Plex UX - and Plex's cloud platform/connected manufacturing vision - he said the best thing Plex could do is spotlight customers getting ROI along this path. Berutti:

Think about what you heard from Toyotetsu. They got up and running in a matter of months with full PLC integration, full shop floor to top floor integration.They pulled significant savings out of their supply chain costs by having full visibility into every activity that was happening on the shop floor. And they did it in months.

After Toyotetsu's guest keynote appearance, I dug into the story. Mark Redmond, Vice President of Manufacturing at Toyotetsu America, Inc. told me he is knee deep in a big Plex challenge:

The task I've been given currently is to implement real-time monitoring, integrated with Plex for all seven of our plants in North America. That's where my focus has been for about a year.

Redmond's team has now taken two plants live - enough to share some hard-won lessons. But first - about Toyotetsu. You probably guessed from their name that Toyotetsu is a Toyota supplier (top-ten actually, and the largest metal stamping supplier to Toyota). But they also supply body, chassis, and functional parts to  Subaru, Nissan, and Mazda. Based in Somerset, Kentucky, Toyotetsu's North American sales are $1.1 billion.

Taking on Plex and real-time monitoring

Toyotetsu shopfloor in action, via Plex
Toyotestu shop floor in action (Toyotetsu shopfloor in action, via Plex)

Launching Plex and real-time monitoring at the same time - and fully integrating the two - is an ambitious project. But as Redmond told PowerPlex attendees, it fits their connected manufacturing goals:

We thought it made perfect sense to integrate real-time with Plex, in order to link the activities on the floor to the administration side, such as the financials. We also wanted to leverage our existing equipment, so that we would decrease the added equipment to our plant floor.

A quality process means data integrity - and reducing the potential for human error.

We wanted as much as possible eliminate the manual input, so that our data would be more accurate.

Plex CEO Bill Berutti asked Redmond about the results to date. Redmond responded:

By reducing the interaction between team members and the display, our team members are able to 100% focus on their process, as well as their quantity check of the products they produce. We're also using the integration data to display real-time on our plant floor, so our floor-side leadership can recognize and react to production problems.

Redmond's team has used that shop floor visibility to address supply chain issues.

Using Plex, in particular the serialization, we recognized some problems with our supply base -  with missed shipments and mixed parts. But that was due to extra inventory in our plant. So, Plex made that problem very clear. And we were able to recognize that problem and develop our supply base to make them stronger economies. At the same time, we reduced that unneeded inventory that was hiding the problem originally.

Buying into real-time, and earning data trust

Toyotetsu using Plex on shop floor, via Plex
Toyotetsu using Plex on shop floor (Toyotetsu using Plex on shop floor, via Plex)

But getting to those wins is not just about technology. Redmond told me the momentum for this project came from a new president, with a new imperative.

We've been talking about real-time monitoring for years, but the Japanese culture wasn't really about the real-time monitoring. It was more of a 'Hey, go out on plant floor and see work for yourself'.

The new president changed that:

We had a new president; they rotate out about every five years. So we had a new president for North America. And one of the first things that he said was, 'We're going to do real-time monitoring.' And I was elated that he was behind that. So that's what really got the ball rolling.

Though the project is still in the early stages - with five more North American plants to go - Redmond can speak to the two go-lives.

We're using the data daily. In fact, we have one o'clock meetings where all of our management teams explain the results of the previous days. Our management is using those results to actually understand where their problems lie, and where their focus points at too.

Before the real-time push, those management meetings were laborious:

We were writing down on logs, and the logs were being brought up in the office, and they were being inputted. Of course, that was a long, slow process and sometimes not very accurate.

Important caveat: these projects require earning a level of data trust. Redmond:

We're just at the point now where our management team is starting to trust the data. Because you know, it's a change point.

As the managers in Somerset (the first plant to go-live) gain trust in the data, they are honing their inquiries.

They're starting to grasp the data, and looking for ways to use it to their benefit. That's what's so exciting about it; there's not just one way to use it.

One highlight for Redmond: seeing managers take on the new data for themselves.

I wanted to go over and see what they were talking about, because it could be interesting. They were on the line, wanting to understand where our short stops are at, and how to reduce cycle time, so that we can understand if the cycle time is being repeated efficiently.

That must have been encouraging to hear team members getting into that - and you're not even there trying to provoke it.

Exactly. That was the most satisfying part of it. It wasn't me saying you should do it. Now they're grabbing it and running with it.

The wrap - an ambitious project needs a strong partner

Redmond acknowledged that bringing Plex live at the same time as real-time PLC integration is not what you'd call a simple project. To get through it, they leaned on their implementation partner Plante Moran. Redmond:

Plante Moran has been at the Somerset plant for over a year. Now that they've learned our process and understand how we do things, they have made the implementation at our Owensboro plant much easier.

Plante Moran will be on hand to help with the next phase also. On deck for 2020: go-lives at six additional facilities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Toyotetsu has now integrated its PLCs (programmable logic controls) in over 250 work centers in Somerset. Eventually, they will have PLC integration for all machines in all locations.

This is also a pioneering project in the integration of Toyota Production Systems (TPS) and cloud manufacturing. Connecting to the Toyota supply chain means integration between the Plex Manufacturing Cloud and the Toyota Shipping Confirmation System, just-in-time (JIT) capabilities and other Toyota requirements. That should keep Redmond and team busy for a couple more years.

This is the type of project that pushes both vendor and customer. Redmond told me his team is working with Plex every day to resolve nits and extend functionality. A current priority: improving sequencing. We'll leave it here for now:

It wasn't an easy implementation, but we've got some good results so far. Its been worth the effort.

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