Building a CIM system to automate factory manufacturing

Who is the client? Jump to heading

This client is a modular bathroom brand located in Taichung, Taiwan. They manufacture modules in Taiwan and sell to hotels in Japan, where almost all bathrooms are modular bathrooms.

A modular bathroom comes together with a few pieces of modules, thus reduces the possibility of leakage. Unlike building a bathroom from scratch with traditional processes that takes weeks to finish, assembling a modular bathroom only takes a few hours, and drastically speeds up the construction progress.

Challenge Jump to heading

Every hotel has its style. That makes manufacturing modular bathrooms for hotels different from traditional large batch manufacturing, which makes automating this assembly line different from traditional assembly line automating.

Automating a traditional large batch assembly line mostly requires programming programmable logic controllers (PLC) and human-machine interfaces (HMI). Since products are manufactured in large batch, it seldom requires changing the formulas and recipes. And when it does require changing formulas and recipes, operators do it through the hard-to-use HMIs.

Whereas automating this assembly line to manufacture bathroom modules for different hotels, the formulas and recipes change frequently with each batch size ranging from only a few dozen to atmost thousands. Thus, having operators type into the HMIs all the time is not only time consuming but also error prone.

The client is looking to adopt computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) in this assembly line to integrate with their existing enterprise resource planning systems (ERP) and database systems.

In fact, the client already has one assembly line running, but constantly runs into issues that halt the manufacturing process all the time. Thus, they wants to build this second assembly line to level up their manufacturing throughput and to replace the first line. This adds additional challenges to the design of the CIM architecture for the new line - it has to run smoothly under the restriction of how the first line was designed so the client's existing systems do not have to change.

Solution Jump to heading

Without any help and documents of any kind from the contractor who built up the first assembly line, plus the only IT engineer from the client's side does not have deep experience in programming, I have to manage to figure out how the first line work, so I could design the new line to fit perfectly without any changes on the client's existing softwares.

By working with the client's IT engineer and with only a few lines of code given to me, I manage to figure out how the client's systems communicate with the softwares that run on the first assembly line.

Once the roadblocks were cleared, I began working with the PLC team to build a CIM system that speaks the same language as the first assembly line but work with a new set of equipments.

Additionally, two new features were added to the new CIM system. First is a security layer added to the REST API using Open API specification. Recipe data submitted to the REST API is validated with a set of given rules to reduce human errors. For example, the oven temperature must not exceed a certain value. Second, the dashboard user interface (UI) is designed as a web app to allow not only the operators on the shopfloor but also the manager in the office to monitor the status of the CIM system.

Outcome Jump to heading

After a month of design and development work, followed by another few months of integrating and testing. The client was able to manufacture modular bathrooms with only three operators.