Upgrading the automation and control systems of an automotive components manufacturer

The problem

 The client is an engineering company specializing in the production of automotive components using iron castings. It is part of a multinational Spanish automotive group.
Despite boasting production levels that make it a benchmark for other companies in the group, the company finds it needs to modernize its plant to be able to control production parameters in real time. It needs to do this to meet the requirements of its main customers in the automotive sector.

The parent company decides to start the modernization process by upgrading the control systems of two main lines:

  • equipment for the recovery and treatment of molding sand
  • the smelting line, along which molds are created, molten metal is poured into them and the cooling process is completed. At the end of the line, semi-finished castings are freed from their molds and sent on to the finishing area while mold material is recovered.

The project includes the replacement of the automatic control systems of the two lines with state-of-the-art equipment. The window for execution is limited to the summer closure plus one week, in all five weeks.

The challenge

The real challenge faced in this assignment is the tight timescale. During these five weeks, the following activities have to be carried out:

  • removal of the existing equipment and cabling of the old control system
  • installation of new cabling to power the existing equipment and link it to the new control system
  • testing and checking of connections
  • start-up of the new control system and calibration of the operating cycles of the equipment
  • training of plant supervisors on the use of the new systems.

The plant has to resume production by the established date for market reasons; customers need to receive components to feed their own production lines.

On top of deadline constraints, there are all the unforeseen events that may occur when a new system is installed on cabling that has been in place for many years. Even when wiring diagrams are available, these often fail to show modifications which have been made over time.

The solution

 The complexity of the operation, the tight deadline for completion and the need to manage both upgrading and the usual ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of equipment all call for the intervention of a senior project manager. Contract Manager rapidly identifies and provides one.

The project manager’s job is to schedule all the activities to take place during plant closure to  ensure optimal coordination of plant personnel with the equipment suppliers’ people. It is vital to avoid inefficiencies and shortages of material or hands, while making sure that routine maintenance operations and upgrading work do not hinder each other.

Thanks to the efforts of all the parties involved, and to the experience of the supplier of the new control systems, the work is completed within the set deadline, despite countless difficulties arising from inaccuracies in the old wiring diagrams.

The success of the assignment lies not only in the meeting of the deadline, but also in the fact that production returns to pre-closure levels less than ten days from resumption of production, much to the satisfaction of the client company and its customers. Three months from the end of the assignment, the OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) of the upgraded lines reaches 85%.