Hasselt is a well-known city in Belgium—but not for its chocolate, waffles or beer. Instead, the city is most famous for being home to the largest Japanese garden in Europe and a 17th-century-home museum dedicated to the art of clothing.

Manufacturing is also an important part of Hasselt’s culture, with the Yamauchi Corp. N.V. (YCNV) being one of many companies headquartered here. YCNV is a subsidiary of the Japan-based Yamauchi Corp., and it specializes in the production of plastic injection-molded parts, including those for the automotive and battery industries.

Although the company produces more than 1 billion plastic components a year, it often faced frequent molding-machine downtime until recently. To overcome this problem, the company installed the wireless SmartMonitor system from WERMA BeNeLux bvba. According to Rudi Vermeulen, plant manager for YCNV, the monitoring system not only reliably displays machine downtime, but also logs its status condition on a central control station and database.

YCNV operates 50 injection-molding machines in two workshops in Hasselt. However, the machines have only three operators and the distance between the first and last machine is about 100 meters. In addition, a solid wall that divides the two shops prevents operators from seeing a signal tower that lights up when a machine does not work as planned. This setup often led to machine downtime being unnoticed and unresolved for long periods of time.

SmartMonitor overcomes these problems, according to Vermeulen, by allowing operators to view all relevant data from machines and manual workstations with a simple click of a mouse. The system consists of wireless transmitters retrofitted to existing WERMA signal towers, which, in turn, transmit machine or station status change data to a receiver plugged into YCNV’s LAN network.

After data is collected, it is then stored on a software database and displayed on client PCs in a variety of graphs and charts. This allows for further analysis to determine the causes of downtime and enables process-optimization countermeasures to be identified and implemented.

YCNV has used WERMA signal towers for many years at its Belgian plant. Because the towers have performed well all that time, Vermeulen was receptive to trying the SmartMonitor system upon learning about it in a trade magazine. Shortly thereafter, Kurt De Pauw, technical account manager at WERMA BeNeLux, provided a demo set for an initial trial.

After installing the demo set, a 21-hour test phase was performed, resulting in more than 96 alarm messages. Based on the SmartMonitor evaluation, it was determined that these error messages were being triggered by a new batch of production material. This problem was resolved after only a few hours.

Currently, each YCNV molding machine is equipped with a performance-slave wireless transmitter, and networked signal towers are installed in the cafeteria and outdoor areas, where there are no PCs to view the machine status.

When a machine status changes, the tower illuminates and audibly alerts the operators that a machine requires intervention. This setup has reduced machine downtime by 20 percent, according to Vermeulen.

“We are also carrying out piece counting with the system,” reports Vermeulen. “This allows us to forecast the completion of orders, and thereby, better prepare the setup times. Or, we can monitor target vs. actual comparisons during order processing.

“From now on, we will be equipping all new machines with signal towers and the SmartMonitor right from the start. This will further optimize our production and enable us to serve our customers even better.”

For more information on machine monitoring and signal towers, call 470-361-0600 or visit www.werma.com.