Tier 1 automotive supplier Tower Automotive (Novi, MI) designs and produces structural components and assemblies for automotive and truck manufacturers worldwide. In 2003-2004, the company won more contracts to launch more new product lines than at any other time in its history.

Modern automotive frame assembly is extremely complex, covering dozens of steps and stations and incorporating hundreds of discrete components. Since peak profitability for a vehicle model is usually when it is first introduced, it is important that ramp-up time to full production be held to an absolute minimum-which further complicates the business.

To facilitate this process, Tower Automotive's Plymouth, MI, assembly plant implemented manufacturing software from Activplant Corp. (Ontario, Canada) to help launch a new frame assembly line for the Dodge Dakota. Mosaic Systems (Ann Arbor, MI) helped install the software. The specific software package that Tower uses is called Activplant Manufacturing Intelligence. It works by gathering data from numerous points along an assembly line to help managers better analyze and solve both future and ongoing production problems.

In Tower Automotive's case, the result has been that the plant cut several weeks from the startup process, meeting all its signoff milestones faster than it had ever done before.

"Activplant allowed us to analyze cycle times and workflow performance at each assembly station, uncover constraints and remove bottlenecks," says Gerard Gonos, Tower Plymouth's business unit manager. "This had a major impact on our throughput. Overall the Activplant system has helped us get the line up and running, debugged, and provides ongoing performance improvement. The impact on our business has been dramatic."

Based on Microsoft's .NET technology, Activplant software can collect data from hundreds of sources on the plant floor, including programmable logic controllers (PLCs), computer numerical controls (CNCs), sensors and equipment. It then provides a factory data model for putting this data into useful reports in real time. Such reports can be linked to third-party devices such as wireless paging systems via a Web browser.

The data model and analysis tools are standardized, so no code writing, custom database editing or specialized information technology staff is required to install and use the software. Unlike the plantwide top-down software approach, each Activplant license depends on the number of devices being monitored. This means the software can be applied on a limited basis, and then expanded to other lines.

According to Gonos, implementing the new production management software has meant plant managers and production workers can quickly identify factors affecting quality and throughput. This allows them to more quickly prevent problems leading to downtime or other types of production losses. Unplanned maintenance is reduced, recalls and warranty issues become more manageable, resources are optimized, and the link between the plant floor and other business systems becomes stronger.

For more on production management software, call 877-809-6444 or visit www.activplant.com.