An FMS, or flexible manufacturing system, is like a symphony orchestra. The hardware must all work in concert, managed and directed by an elegant conductor—the FMS control software. Today, FMS software is multilevel, multifaceted and highly complex, yet clothed in user interfaces that are easy to understand for different operator skill levels. The software not only directs the FMS and all its components from myriad inputs about the various jobs in queue, it is becoming ever more intelligent, intuitive, connective, and corrective.
The latest advancements in FMS software surround predictive production scheduling and intelligent resource planning. The software is constantly monitoring which orders are the most urgent and adjusts the schedule accordingly as conditions change. It continuously checks the functionality of the FMS and the optimal way it needs to operate for the greatest efficiency, spurring improvements. It flags issues such as tool breakage, machine performance variances, and resources that may be missing such as cutting tools or raw materials. The scheduling takes into account all such disturbances and creates a new schedule to follow. It organizes the library of NC programs and the cutting tool database.
One of the newer reports compiled and relayed in our MMS5 system, for example, is a Fastems OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) percentage depicting uptime, speed and quality. The higher the value is, the better the OEE. An OEE of 97%, for example, is superb. As part of the OEE capability, a new dashboard utility offers real-time production reporting of the FMS status and trends at a glance.
Some companies install 82″ (2.1-m) LCD display monitors in the cells and in their entry lobbies with the dashboard running on them, which is helpful to the workers and impressive to prospective customers walking into and around the plant. The dashboard can be configured to show a number of different graphs and widgets. Ours, Fastems MMS5 dashboard, is based on HTML5 and can run on any Windows, iOS or Android platform. As long as a device has access to the factory network, it can pull up the dashboard and other statistics from the FMS—including images from strategically placed cameras within the cell—from anywhere.
The evolution toward the “smart” factory is catching up with the inherent capabilities of FMS software, such as integration with ERP and other enterprise systems. At Fastems, we are investigating all the new communications standards that make sense in an industrial environment. For example, OPC UA looks quite promising at the moment. MTConnect, a US standard, provides status information for our customers’ own SCADA-systems. FTP, database interface tables and web services may have a primitive perception these days, however, they are still valid ways to implement integration for one good reason: they work. Unfortunately many of the newer communication protocols come quite slowly to actual implementation.
What’s important for manufacturers to understand is that the more robust FMS controls and software platforms are flexible, expandable, and compatible for integration at the highest levels of enterprise IT. On the shop floor, customers who start with smaller cells can be comfortable knowing that the software can expand as the modular FMS gets larger and more diverse, such as adding additional machine tools, more pallets, part washing stations and even robots that can deburr parts while waiting to load/unload the next batch.
Automation equipment, communications integration and best practices are evolving continuously. It makes sense to work with an FMS partner company that does all of its own development in-house with a cadre of software engineers designing, building, testing, and continually improving upon its FMS software—the elegant maestro of your shop-floor symphony.
(This article was first published in the March 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.)
By Pasi Kauhanen
MMS5 Software Evolves
MMS5 Dashboard is one of the new features developed for the new release of the MMS5 software. Check out the video below.