At a Glance:
- An automotive supplier used Plex Manufacturing Cloud ERP to achieve 100 percent accurate production process traceability.
- Plex automates part serialization, direct part marking, component tracking and control, quality management, and SPC/measurement data tracking.
- Automated process control and traceability let the supplier produce components without quality issues, and make design changes that improve the part’s performance.
- The company implemented the manufacturing system in less than 60 days, and achieved rapid ROI due to streamlined operations and improved quality.
About Bytec, Inc.
Bytec, Inc., is a supplier of electronic and mechanical assemblies for the automotive sector.
In previous years, Bytec’s most significant OEM customer was encountering vexing warranty costs because of frequent problems with a specific outsourced part — the unitized center bearing (UCB).
The UCB is a combination bearing/vibration damping device that bolts to the frame of rear-wheel-drive vehicles, limiting driveshaft bowing and vibration. It’s critical for reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) and, ultimately, cutting warranty costs.
The UCB presented a unique challenge because it is made of five different components that come from five separate vendors, each of which is critical to the assembly’s functionality.
Reducing warranty costs is crucial to the OEMs and their suppliers. When Bytec promised to deliver a system that provided every UCB with a unique identity complete with full traceability back through the entire process, the OEM knew they would be able to access a tool that would ensure quality and easily identify where faults lie. Quickly limiting the scope of any problem is key to minimizing the potential damage and cost.
Success or Failure — Traceability Was the Key
Using Plex Cloud ERP, Bytec now certifies the quality of each UCB, provides traceability back to each subcomponent and manufacturing step, and delivers the statistical capability of each container of parts.
If any problems occur, they can be tracked down, understood, and permanently corrected in a systematic way. In less than a year, the quality performance (as measured in parts-per-million defective) has been reduced from over a thousand with the previous supplier, to six ppm with Bytec.
The Glyph — Direct Part Marking
The original approach to the Bytec project involved laser- etching the encrypted serial number of each part directly onto the steel surface. However, the laser-etching did not survive the 96-hour salt spray test and other reliability checks.
Plex eventually solved the problem using a specialized Mylar label from 3M with advanced adhesive properties that sticks to metal.
The label approach turned out to be far less expensive (it requires only a label printer instead of laser equipment) and, most important, the specialized label passed all reliability tests with flying colors (or in this case, black and white).
Each part is identified with a unique serial number. The serial number is encoded into a specialized unique symbology from SignaKey LLC. Similar to the standard data matrix symbology, this square two-dimensional barcode contains the information Plex needs to identify and track the part. One of the advantages of the SignaKey symbology is that up to 60 percent of the mark can be destroyed and it can still be decoded.
One of the other advantages to the SignaKey encryption is that it offers counterfeit protection, another growing problem in the automotive industry. The encrypted serial number allows Bytec and the OEM to verify that it is a genuine OEM part and not a knock-off.
This ability further helps with warranty costs. OEMs are finding it increasingly unpalatable to pay warranty, quality, and safety costs on the failure of components that they didn’t even make. The Plex Cloud ERP solution solves that problem.
Control Plans That Actually Control
Inventory control is essential, but quality starts with engineering and quality planning, and continues with the implementation of process control on the shop floor. The Plex Manufacturing ERP system controls the engineering specifications (dimensions and tolerances), routing, approved machines, FMEA and Control Plan, setup
and operation instructions, and all other aspects of the manufacturing process.
In the past, in a typical manufacturing company, the Control Plan was a piece of paper or an Excel spreadsheet that the quality manager updated the night before an auditor came. It served no real purpose other than to pass an audit.
With Plex, the Control Plan is an integral part of production, and it actually controls the process on the shop floor. The quality documentation is not an after-the-fact nuisance, but the mechanism by which the parts are made.
The Control Panel provides information to the operator, but it also controls incoming source material and outgoing production, validates tooling, and fool- proofs the process.
Via the Control Panel, the information in the Control Plan is displayed as easy-to-use operator checksheets that provide setup instructions, process instructions, measurement data collection, and SPC. The checksheets also support pictures and drawings, color coding, and other features to make them even more effective.
“The Plex system prevents us from working on a part unless everything is set up properly, the correct raw material components are present, and all our inspections are done,” said Bytec’s quality manager. “I know it sounds simple and like it’s common sense, but it’s a big reason why we are not making the mistakes of our competitors.”
Barcode labels and handheld scanners are also an important part of every Plex implementation, enabling operators and material handlers to quickly and efficiently move materials around the shop floor.
The combined capabilities of process control and traceability have allowed Bytec not only to produce the UCB without major problems since the part was launched but also to make multiple design changes that have radically improved the part’s performance.
With the success of this traceability project, Bytec’s OEM and tier-one customers are indicating that more business will be forthcoming.
Most recently, Bytec has decided to move forward with a full implementation of Plex Cloud ERP across its entire organization so that Plex handles all of the manufacturing lines and manages all aspects of their business — from shop floor to top floor.