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Intelligent laser-supported worker guidance for discreet manufacturing

News International-French

28 Jan 2013

In-depth interview: LAP the laser expert and DE software and their joint high-tech strategy

In discrete manufacturing, i.e. in the production of and with countable items, a problem frequently arises: how can the individual work steps be optimised? Bearing in mind as well that ideally only all feasible options should be considered. Attention must be paid to data acquisition, quality assurance and optimisation of work time. The specialists for production-related software, DE software & control GmbH, and LAP the manufacturer of laser projection systems have embraced this challenge by developing a worker guidance system with innovative pick-to-laser system which can be used in many branches of industry.

Whether a manufacturer or supplier in the automotive industry, electronics production or furniture industry, all companies face the challenge on a regular basis of communicating increasingly complex work processes quickly to their workers with as few errors as possible. The standard media used are still paper and monitor. DE software and LAP are now also using an additional display element, the laser projector. Using the ASSEMBLY PRO projection system by LAP, the software manufacturer DE software is extending its tried-and-tested product DESC to incorporate a laser display at the workstation.

Like PowerPoint for production: precisely synchronised work at the manual workstation
The laser shows the worker precisely where each part must be mounted, even when assembling complex workpieces by hand. The ASSEMBLY PRO laser projection system supports the employee in combination with DESC, "the error-proneness of laser-guided assembly is virtually zero" explains Martin Hegemann, who works in sales and distribution for the timber industry at LAP. "The pick-to-laser system shows information over a distance of several metres to a high degree of precision. We can therefore guide the worker using our projector during the manufacturing process and when issuing materials. This is similar to a PowerPoint presentation which we superimpose on the production for guidance. In addition, the DESC worker guidance allows direct conclusions to be drawn regarding available material for inventory management purposes, the acquisition of operating data or the submission of support tickets, for example. All of this saves a great deal of time, laborious inspections, and of course also money."

Example from furniture manufacturing
In step 1, the instruction "attach fitting xyz" and an image (or video) of the correctly mounted fitting is displayed on the screen; in addition, the pick-to-light lamp on the shelf compartment xyz flashes and the laser projects the holes on the workpiece to which the fitting is to be bolted. In step 2, a camera on a moving arm is swung out over the workpiece to which the fitting has been bolted and takes a picture. Processing (i.e. the next step) can only continue if the fitting is correctly mounted and a photo is saved together with the order data as documentation that for this product that the fitting has been mounted correctly. The example shows that with DESC worker guidance the implementation of part picking, assembly and acquisition of quality data subprocesses in the manufacturing process can even be mixed. As there are no longer any system limits, the processing time is shorter and the error rate is lower due to the worker guidance with monitor, pick-to-light and laser assistance.

Distributed project tasks
Together with its new partner LAP, DE software has extended its DESC worker guidance to include all complex manufacturing processes. The worker guidance takes the worker step-by-step through complex production processes at the workstation. This includes full integration into existing ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.

The software-based MES (manufacturing execution system) dispenses with cumbersome handling of delivery notes, engineering design drawings and paper copies of construction manuals. The printing and distribution of what can at times be misleading pieces of paper from the relevant ERP solutions is now a thing of the past. The worker now only receives the relevant information for the individual work steps. This person therefore also no longer needs to sort, evaluate and classify complex information, but can without delay fully concentrate on the actual technical work to be done. A further benefit of the system: the worker does not have to reorientate himself at the workpiece each time he takes his eyes off it to look at the monitor or the assembly plan. ASSEMBLY PRO marks each individual assembly step on the workpiece directly – with pinpoint precision.

Interview with Friedrich Steininger,
managing director of DE software & control GmbH

What does DESC stand for?
DESC is the name of our product and is also the abbreviation for DE software & control GmbH; DE stands for "Distributed Enterprise". This is also our philosophy. We work in a network together with the best partner companies in order to offer our customers one-stop project solutions. For our part, we concentrate on production-related software – which is why the word "software" appears in the company name – and the integration, or project management, of the overall system – hence "control". Our partners contribute towards the hardware, mechanical system, instrumentation or special software extensions.

What do your customers' typical production processes look like?
Most of our customers manufacture discretely. They are mainly manufacturers and suppliers in the automotive sector, electronics manufacturing and the furniture industry. Our portfolio also includes ready-made industry solutions for surface technicians and the intralogistics sector.

You can already see from this list that the diversity of our users is so great that it's difficult to imagine they would have much in common. But common ground does exist. For example, in virtually every production facility there are manual work stations where products are assembled, disassembled, fitted with components, picked, packaged or tested – depending on the branch of industry and company. What all these have in common in our view is that the employee works with binding work instructions which are provided in paper form and placed at the workstation – often so that they obstruct the work, or are at least less than ideally placed from an ergonomic standpoint. With our approach, work instructions – and more, such as test plans, set-up instructions, defect summary charts, order lists, etc. – are communicated via a monitor instead of paper. The benefit is obvious: we guide the employee step-by-step through the work and collect operating and quality data along the way, as it were, via the same user interface.

Another thing our customers have in common is that they use an ERP system, normally SAP. This is a cutting-edge system that delivers manufacturing orders for production. However, these orders are only delivered with outline planning which means that, apart from the quantity and delivery deadline, they do not normally contain much information. This is where the detailed planning via MES (Manufacturing Execution System) comes into play; this determines what should be produced and also where and how, in order to optimise the allocation.

Please briefly describe DESC worker guidance when assisted by ASSEMBLY PRO by LAP.
The DESC worker guidance function uses the LAP laser system as a supplementary display element in addition to the monitor. From a functional standpoint, it plays a similar role to a pick-to-light system (P2L) with lamps: it shows the assembler or part picker where to find the parts required for the current work step. While the P2L displays this information via flashing lamps on shelf compartments, the laser projects these in a practical arbitrary location, such as on the floor of the hall in front of a pallet, on a grab container or on the back of a work bench. However, the laser projector can do more; it marks the positions on the workpiece or product carrier to be drilled, screwed or worked on directly. This of course significantly increases confidence during the processing step, as the worker does not have to transfer the information from a document – whether on paper or screen – and instead only needs to follow the red, green or yellow laser dots and lines directly on the workpiece. This not only significantly reduces the error rate, but also the processing time.

What are the crucial benefits of combining the software with LAP laser projectors?
The benefit, from the standpoint of the laser user, is that the projector can be integrated in his manufacturing or picking process. This means that the interface between the product or order data only needs to be programmed once. From then on, the current data is always supplied automatically to the projector – this dispenses with the need to teach-in polygons or import coordinates in the laser software.

Thanks to LAP laser projectors the DESC worker guidance has a unique selling point. As far as I know, no other provider has a pick-to-laser system in its range of products that can display information over a distance of several metres with pinpoint precision, and therefore for example control the issuing of material for an entire production line. The display of processing points directly on the workpiece – put-to-laser – is a feature that has already been on the market for many years, for manual surface mounting of components in electronics manufacturing for example – but the combination of DESC worker guidance with the ASSEMBLY PRO by LAP is unique in that it gives you the flexibility to pick parts inline, mount these using laser guidance and subsequently also acquire operating and quality data at one and the same workstation.

You compare your solution with a "PowerPoint for production". You could therefore say that with ASSEMBLY PRO LAP is bringing presentation to the workbench. Why is that important? Please briefly describe the effects on the manufacturing process from the standpoint of the user.
The description "Like PowerPoint for production" is based on how the DESC worker guidance is used: in presentation mode, the current order and product data as specified during the detailed planning is displayed precisely synchronised at the manual workstation. In processing mode, the foreman or planning engineer arranges the components, i.e. images, texts, stop watches or buttons on a white surface. Once this has been done, he activates everything for the workstation where it is then displayed and made available immediately to the worker.

The biggest impact of this on the production process is that the work carried out by production employees is now process-oriented instead of function-oriented. This means they only receive precisely the information they require for the current work step from the DESC worker guidance as it takes them step-by-step through the process.

A brief word on ergonomics at the workplace: a monitor at the manual workstation is frequently positioned in such a manner that the worker needs to move his head to look at it. It is therefore perfectly suitable for assisting the worker by describing work steps or showing pictures of assemblies. However, this situation is less tenable if there is no room for mistakes when marking a position as human error becomes almost inevitable, even in the small amount of time it takes to look at the screen then back to the workpiece. In addition, the strain on the neck of the employee is not to be underestimated. If, on the other hand, the processing location is marked by the laser directly on the workpiece, this not only eliminates the time required to look at the screen, it also significantly reduces the physical stress of the employee.

How much do you think this innovative system saves work energy/time?
Although the potential savings of course always depend on the individual application, if we take the fitting installation once again as an example, the potential for savings quickly becomes apparent: all times previously spent looking at the monitor or pieces of paper to find out which fitting is to be installed and where are eliminated. As an alternative to pick-to-light, the laser can mark the shelf compartment that contains the correct fitting and the workpiece at the same time, which results in a purely pick/put process with an error probability of virtually zero. Avoiding errors saves the time and money involved in processing returns, not to mention the expenditure for scrapping and reworking. All in all the result – according to our customers – is that our DESC pays for itself in less than a year, i.e. the ROI is less than a year.

To turn to the subject of the networking and manufacturing execution system (MES), does the system also allow the production process of several workstations to be managed at the same time? In which application situations would this make sense?
Our DESC worker guidance is a central module of our MES which of course also offers all other functions in accordance with VDI guideline 5600, such as an inventory management, machine data acquisition and knowledge management, for example. In addition to networking with third-party systems, such as an ERP, the networking of individual workstations to form one line is an important issue. Our BACKBONE.DE middleware is used in this instance to split the jobs into individual work sequences which can then be logically distributed among individual workstations. This is relevant for example if an order requires different tools at different workstations, or where orders need to be processed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Why specifically LAP? What aspect do you rate most highly in your collaboration with LAP?
LAP is one of the most renowned laser manufacturers in Germany. Just as we have accumulated extensive industry knowledge in the development of production-related software in countless projects, so too has LAP acquired its formidable expertise in the laser sector. We implement projects across an extremely wide cross-section of industry and for companies where the requirements are always new and specific to each individual situation. In LAP Laser, we have a partner that has the experience to deliver high-quality solutions for all individual requirements.

In your view, what are the most important trends in relation to the use of software in the furniture industry or large carpentry workshops?
The furniture industry is a branch where the need to manufacture many product variants to an extremely high quality standard counts more and more. The demand for customised products is increasing. To satisfy these requirements and stay abreast of cost-effective competition from the Far East, "lean" manufacturing is indispensable in order to minimise time, financial expenditure, errors, reworking and incorrect deliveries. The German automotive industry is a role model in this respect, and has demonstrated in the last few years that production-relevant software has enormous potential.

The technical principle of laser projection

In order to display a contour, two rotating electronically controlled mirrors (galvanometers) deflect a laser beam and project it onto the surface. As this process is takes place at such high speed, the human eye perceives the contour as a continuous line.

Unique: mirrors and projection precisely controlled by digital controllers
The ASSEMBLY PRO projection system controls the overall process flow, from inputting the CAD data to transferring the control data to the projectors, and handling the sequence of individual working steps. Furthermore it guides the user step-by-step through the whole layer build-up process.

LAP is the only manufacturer to use digital controllers to control the mirrors. which eliminates internal system-related drift and means the projectors can deliver high repeat accuracy and projection stability.

The system automatically checks the position of several reference points on the working surface at freely variable time intervals and thus guarantees that the system is precisely calibrated (target check). Furthermore, automatic functions prevent operator errors and ensure the highest degree of precision and reproducibility at all times.

The laser projectors are generally attached to the underside of the production facility roof or to a supporting structure. The laser heads are completely encapsulated. This prevents ingress of dust and soiling of the lasers. The active thermoelectric temperature control system compensates for fluctuations in the ambient temperature and thus ensures a long service life of the laser modules. The systems are compact and lightweight and can therefore be easily integrated into existing production facilities.

PowerPoint is a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation.

About DE software & control:
DE software & control GmbH is a software manufacturer which has its headquarters in Dingolfing, Lower Bavaria and was founded in 1997 by Friedrich Steininger, Onur Mubariz and Heino Migge. The company has specialised as a system house in industrial software, particularly in the area of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). Its core competence is the creation of customised MES solutions for manufacturing companies and surface technicians as well as providing advice on and handling IT projects.

From a methodical and technological standpoint, the MES solutions are based on the DE-specific standard frameworks that are brought together under the umbrella of the DESC product family.

Customers of DE software & control GmbH include renowned companies in the automotive, chemical/plastics, mechanical and plant engineering, surface treatment, electronics manufacturing, intralogistics and furniture manufacturing industries.

About LAP:
Since 1984, LAP has been developing and producing laser systems that project contours in industrial and medical applications to a high degree of precision and for contactless measurement of geometric parameters, such as position, width, thickness, length and diameter of products, in industrial production.

LAP offers standard components and customised solutions. Both components and complex systems can be designed according to customer requirements. LAP provides services ranging from planning and development to design, programming and production through to commissioning and service.

Laser projection systems generate points, lines, crosses or randomly shaped contours, e.g. shapes true-to-scale from CAD data. The clearly visible red, green or yellow laser lines are used to position or align products or components. An important area of application is the manufacturing of high-tech carbon or glass-fibre components in the aerospace and automotive industry, and in the production of rotor blades for wind-energy plants. Laser projection systems are now also used as standard in other branches of industry, such as wood processing, textile, and tyre manufacturing, and in the production of prefabricated concrete components.

LAP leads the market in Europe as a manufacturer of line lasers and laser projectors in the industrial and trade sector.