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ABB puts Industrial IT to work in Polish transformer factory

01 June, 2003

For several years, ABB has been advocating the benefits of a strategy that it calls Industrial IT. The company claims that adopting this approach can boost the speed and efficiency of a factory`s manufacturing operations by using software modules to achieve a single, seamless operation.

Now, for the first time, ABB has applied Industrial IT comprehensively in one of its own factories and has been showing off the results. The factory (shown below), in Lodz, Poland, produces distribution transformers in the power range 250-2,000kVA.

According to Brice Koch, head of ABB`s Distribution Transformers business, the benefits of applying Industrial IT to the Lodz plant have included a reduction of the total cycle time from 16 weeks to two weeks, a 100% increase in production, and more consistent quality, halving the costs of "poor quality".

Although it typically takes just five days to build a transformer, the average delivery time in the industry is five weeks. The reasons for this delay include the lack of standard interfaces, the paperwork, and the time needed to gather and double-check information. The aim of Industrial IT is to cut these delays by integrating all of the systems in a factory in real time.

It allows managers to monitor all parts of the process, and gives instant access to user-defined reports. ABB asserts that this is the first time that control and business information have been available via the same interface.

Lodz is the first ABB factory that can generate full technical documentation for every product automatically, based on technical data in the management information systems. Drawings, technical data, test results and other data are delivered to the customer on a CD-ROM shipped with every transformer.

"Industrial IT is highly beneficial and profitable for customers," says Peter Smits, head of ABB`s Power Technologies division. "We radically increase speed, we cut the total cycle time from months to weeks, and ensure a consistently high-quality product."

Transformer production is one of several production lines at the Lodz site, about 130km south-west of Warsaw. The line consists of three metal-cutting and stacking machines, six winding machines, a dry-and-fill machine, and various items of test equipment. There are a dozen Industrial IT terminals on the line, providing information to workers in the area. The existing plant equipment was adapted by configuring OPC interfaces for PCs.

The cutting and stacking machines are highly automated, but the work at the winding machines requires a great deal of operator intervention, and the instructions vary from transformer to transformer. The PCs (such as the one shown below) are used to guide the workers through the process.

ABB created four key software modules for the Lodz installation: Trafonet, an online quotation and pricing system; a Common Design System (CDS); an Advanced Supply Chain Collaboration (ASCC) system; and a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). Trafonet and CDS, both developed in the US, are specific to transformer manufacturing and will be used in other ABB plants; the ASCC and MES modules, developed in Finland and Poland, are more common tools that may be made available to ABB customers.

Koch reports that ABB spent about $650,000 to interface these components with Industrial IT at the Lodz factory.

The Trafonet software allows sales staff to configure the technical data for a transformer on a laptop computer while visiting customers at their premises. They can quote a price, verify the factory`s production capacity, and schedule and place the order in the factory`s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. They can even confirm the delivery date. This software replaces the traditional, time-consuming approach in which quotations and offers were produced from "hard copy" catalogues and pricelists, quoting standard lead times for delivery.

"Trafonet is not a full-blown engineering tool, but it`s enough to generate an accurate price", reports David Lawrence, ABB`s head of Information Technology.

"Changes to order planning, caused, for instance, by machine constraints, are executed in real-time", adds Koch. "We have mass customisation, and thus meet all the specific needs of individual customers."

Koch says that ABB is now implementing a "virtual" global factory. In future, the system will be able to check the capacities of other ABB transformer factories around the world, and provide an online answer about which factory can carry out an order quickest. Work could be done either in a single factory, or spread across several factories in a region.

"It doesn`t matter to the customer whether the transformer has been manufactured in Poland, Germany, China or the US. It will always be a top quality `made by ABB` product", he says.

ABB is planning to copy the Lodz model at other distribution transformer factories around the globe.

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