The American manufacturing renaissance is in motion at Mazak’s plant in Florence, Ky., with the help of MERLIN (Manufacturing Execution Real-time Lean Information Network), a manufacturing execution system (MES) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications platform developed by Memex Automation that quickly and cost-effectively isolates productivity issues so everyone from the shop floor to the top floor is able to understand what must be done to maximize efficiency.

Mazak’s North American headquarters is an 800,000-sq.ft. complex producing a variety of multi-axis turning and milling machines at a rate of 200 units per month. The machine builder’s drive for productivity recently extended to a search to improve manufacturing efficiency, particularly regarding machine availability and associated downtime.

Mazak’s IT department started the efficiency drive by implementing the MTConnect protocol to determine machine availability with maximum accuracy, using Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) as a standard measurement. “This total embrace of MTConnect is intended to make a statement,” stated Mazak president Brian Papke, who personally drove the project. “We want to be a leader in both promoting and implementing MTConnect. We want our example to show the importance of moving toward data-driven manufacturing.  MTConnect is an essential part of what makes data-driven manufacturing possible.”

MTConnect is an open, royalty-free standard intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software applications. Introduced at IMTS 2008, Mazak executives recognized its potential to facilitate plant-wide integration and enhance automation.

Memex Automation’s Dave Edstrom, who was instrumental in creating the MTConnect vision in 2006, as well as was being the president and chairman of the MTConnect Institute for three-and-a-half years, joined Memex in January 2014 as its first chief technology officer and has worked with Mazak for years on MTConnect.

Ben Schawe, Mazak’s vice president of Manufacturing, began the hunt for a commercially available software package that could produce meaningful reports that would be actionable for both production and management teams.

Then, company formed a task force to evaluate commercially available software solutions. After an exhaustive search, Mazak selected MERLIN.   A 10-person evaluation committee of senior executives, including Brian Papke, unanimously chose the Memex Automation platform best capable of implementing the MTConnect vision.

“We ended up choosing MERLIN for its ability to collect data using MTConnect adapters and through their Universal Machine Interface circuit board for legacy machines,” Schawe explained.

“This advanced technology board can capture direct signals from the machine and translates it into MTConnect standard code,” he continued. “This combination meant that every machine on the shop floor could be MTConnect-compatible for a common technology analysis platform.

“In particular we liked MERLIN’s ability to display and report on information related to downtime and answer questions such as ‘Why is the machine not running and what can we do to get it running?’” Schawe said.

With MERLIN collecting and reporting Mazak’s production data in real-time, Mazak’s cross-functional task-force team had what they needed. Following the “you are what you measure” axiom, MERLIN made an almost instant impact at Mazak. A series of 60-in. display monitors presented real-time utilization data in a test section of the Florence plant. The test section contained a cross-section of equipment and helped establish a performance benchmark and related training protocols that could expand easily across the massive manufacturing plant.