Data-monitoring system has company poised for Industry 4.0

Nov. 11, 2019
Smart Attend helps injection molder Mahle North America meet its goals.

Problem: Collecting data manually from 49 injection molding machines was tedious and vulnerable to errors.

Solution: The Smart Attend production monitoring and business intelligence system automated data collection and freed workers for other tasks.

By Bruce Adams

Engineers at Mahle North America’s Murfreesboro, Tenn., plant knew that manually collecting data from the facility’s 49 injection molding machines was an inefficient method to gather information and create production reports. Supervisors and production team leaders were spending too many hours recording data and entering it into spreadsheets. The process also was open to errors.

Matt Eargle, an industrial engineer with Mahle NA, set out to fix the problem. He research
Matt Eargle, an industrial engineer with Mahle NA, helped his company install a data-monitoring system from Smart Attend.Mahle North America’ed real-time data-collection systems to automate the process, hoping to put the company in a better position to participate in Industry 4.0 with systems that would help his team adjust production to meet goals.

“I wanted to find a better data-collection solution for the injection molding department and to move toward adopting Industry 4.0,” Eargle said. “I researched half a dozen supplier systems, narrowed down the list, and arranged to meet with Smart Attend during NPE 2018 in Orlando.”

Smart Attend provides a remote-monitoring system that offers smart analytics and can communicate worldwide. It sends real-time information wirelessly, provides instant access to production information and can be configured to work with any automated production cell. Smart Attend, a subsidiary of Axiom Group Inc., a Canadian-based plastics processor with facilities in Canada and Mexico, makes the system’s hardware and software, also called Smart Attend.

“Smart Attend evolved from Axiom Group’s injection molding business,” said Max Preston, GM of Smart Attend. “We wanted a better solution, so we invented it ourselves. We use our experience from Axiom as the driving force behind Smart Attend’s development and approach to new customer projects.”

After the NPE meeting, Eargle put together a plan that his company approved, and Mahle NA installed the Smart Attend system on a trial basis on two of its injection molding machines.

“We wanted to verify that the system would meet our objectives before committing to spending a lot of money to install it throughout the plant,” he said. “Some of the data-collection provider companies I researched did not offer a trial run.”

After a two-month trial in fall 2018, Eargle was satisfied that the system would not only gather and relay production data in real-time, but also move the company toward Industry 4.0.

“Part of this project for me and another team member in the corporate office is to find system technology to standardize across the business unit and, potentially, across multiple business units,” he said. “You don’t want multiple systems gathering data across the company. We are working with the corporate office on that to have one global source.”

This might mean more business for Smart Attend because Mahle Group, the parent company of Mahle NA, has 160 production locations and 16 R&D centers on five continents. The Murfreesboro plant primarily produces and assembles engine parts for the auto industry.

Smart Attend installed its system on all the plant’s injection molding machines in July. Installation took about five days while the machines continued running, Eargle said. A hardware device in each machine sends information to Mahle NA company servers, which translates the information and sends it to dashboards displayed on monitors, giving users access to real-time production figures.

A variety of workers use Smart Attend at the plant, including maintenance personnel, set-up techs, operators, team leaders and supervisors on all shifts. The plant runs three shifts 24 hours a day, five days a week.

“Everybody is trained now and knows how to use Smart Attend,” Eargle said. “I created a standard work chart with instructions on how to use the system. I can run reports that show how the uptime of machines is better now than it was a year ago. But we are still in the crawl phase of the crawl/walk/run cycle. We are only two months into full implementation and are gradually ramping up to the system’s full capability.”

Mahle NA plans to use Smart Attend to help schedule the production of parts and to notify team members in advance about what parts will be put into production.

“We don’t want to bombard everybody with all this new technology and information,” he said. “When we adopt new technology, we want to go about it to be sure it is successful. We don’t want to throw something out there and have it fail because we did not go about introducing and implementing it the right way.”

In addition to automating data collection, Smart Attend provides information about which machines are out of service, for how long and for what reason.

“We installed a four-push-button control box on each machine to simplify the downtime reasons,” Eargle said. “Operators can push a button to report that the machine is down for a changeover, maintenance, mold maintenance or processing.”

If an operator needs to change the mold to make a different part, for example, he or she would press the changeover button, install the new mold and press the changeover button again.

When any of those four buttons are pressed, that information is relayed to two live dashboards in the plant manager’s office and in the injection molding department. The large monitors display the color-coded status of all 49 machines. Managers can look for production trends that could be helpful when scheduling jobs, and users can create reports.

“Smart Attend reports cover a wide range,” Preston said. “Day-by-day analysis, machine-by-machine analysis for one common part number or mold number. Overview of time periods or dates. You can click any time or date and it will create a report for that. A dashboard displays all the information and you can click on a dashboard icon and it shows cycle time, efficiency, average cycle time, hourly part output, downtime on the job, and when the job started and stopped.”

The Smart Attend app allows users to view dashboard information and run reports on smart phones.

Because Smart Attend had been fully implemented for only two months when he was interviewed, Eargle could not quantify all the improvements, but indicated the plant is on track to meet its savings target. He said accurate data is being gathered, transmitted and turned into reliable reports without any human intervention, which has freed up team leaders and supervisors for more valuable tasks.

The project has been so successful that Mahle NA is considering conducting a trial run of Smart Attend at another manufacturing facility.

“We wanted to implement a system that would allow us to view real-time machine status and start collecting accurate data so we can assign projects using the data,” Eargle said. “Eventually, we will have Smart Attend talk to our ERP system to track material consumed and parts produced. With this technology, the sky is the limit.”

Contact: Smart Attend, Aurora, Ontario, Canada; 866-210-9630,