CIM Project - 21st Century Enterprise Manufacturing
by Gregory M. Allen
Competitive advantage is illusive. In striving for it we have adopted TQM, JIT, QS-9000 and all of the latest buzzwords, acronyms, and paradigms, only to realize that, in a global economy, these same programs are being implemented everywhere, by everybody trying to gain competitive advantage. And with it comes increased competition for our customers and our jobs unless we continue strive for excellence and improve our processes in very creative ways.
Enter the CIM Project: A Computerized Enterprise Manufacturing System that would enable Cablecraft to produce more varieties of products, anywhere, in any quantity and do it more quickly and accurately than ever before.
How: By providing on-line tightly controlled build instructions specific to each workstation on a manufacturing shop floor, thus eliminating paper build books and drawings. The build instructions should be in a format that is easy to create, maintain, and control. At the same time they should be simple and easy to follow. This should result in shorter training times for new employees and enable rapid cross-training. As a bonus, the system will enable mixed-model manufacturing in any quantity and improve quality whilst keeping up with production. The building intelligence resides in the "system" while the building skills belong to the "builder". The system should incorporate a synchronous but flexible "Just-In-Time" methodology thus reducing lead times and work-in-progress "well below levels achieved through garden-variety JIT". In addition, the new system should automatically capture shop floor and production data. Such a system should utilize ordinary inexpensive PC computers and networks.
These objectives were realized and fully demonstrated by another company, WTI (Williams Technologies), back in 1992 on their Valve Body Assembly line. It took many fine folks to make this happen, but my piece of the pie involved writing the software plus selecting and integrating the hardware. Their project ProNET "doubled productivity, nearly halved cycle times, helped quadruple sales, and resulted in system sales to Ford Motor Co. and Allison Transmission, Inc" (see ComputerWorld Article).
In 1994 ProNET was enhanced to synchronize a final assembly line to its sub-assembly lines with orchestral precision. Product, upon entering the final assembly line, would trigger production of sub-assembles so that they arrive at their final assembly workstation just in time for insertion into the final product. This resulted in greatly reduced WIP and lead times. The tight integration between the two areas resulted in vast improvements in communications and quality. In addition, ProNET was tasked with leveraging the intellectual capabilities of those doing the work by allowing the capture of user "tips 'n' tricks" that can be reviewed by engineering and made part of the process. Then ProNET was enhanced to provide solutions for discrete and batch-build lines for repair and rework areas. These capabilities were realized and demonstrated on the WTI GM and Nissan Assembly Lines, Ternes (Allison Transmission) in their Kit Assembly area, and as a training and cross-training tool at Ford Motor Company (see ComputerWorld Articles).
While the WTI ProNET system is viable by today's standards ( PR Newswire Delco Ramey) Cablecraft is a multi-location, multi-national enterprise and thus requires a system with a global perspective.
The CIM Project, whilst borrowing philosophically from the basic ProNET model, utilizes new and original program code based on Open System and Client/Server standards on the backend system, and net browsers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape on the shop floor workstations. Therefore the data, pictures, and build instructions can reside anywhere, Tacoma, SC, TCL, or even with the customer or a trusted supplier/subcontractor. These backend servers can be Microsoft, Novell, Linux, a Unix flavor, AS400, nearly anything that supports Open System standards. And the simple inexpensive Internet workstation can access this information at any location provided they are granted proper access via login and password.
With the CIM Project in their arsenal Cablecraft can vastly improve manufacturing capability and increase competitive advantage well into the 21st Century.Gregory M. Allen