The More You Know

With good information, business owners can react to issues on their shop floors in an informed and timely manner


As the software business unit leader at Cincinnati Inc. (CI), Bryant Downey has a lot of good advice to share, but more than anything else, he says it all boils down to one thing: “If you don’t have good information, you can’t make good decisions.”

But what constitutes good information? Could it come from a handwritten log where operators jot down how many parts they made each shift? Sure, but only as long as no one transposes a few numbers or forgets to enter their data at the end of the day.

Could it come in the form of insight from Bob, the guy who’s been the shop floor supervisor for 25 years and knows which machines cause the most headaches, which operators work the hardest and which ones have trouble getting started on a Monday morning? Definitely, but Bob is going to eventually retire.

On top of human error and the god-given right to retire at some point, these forms of gathering “good information” don’t happen in real time. To make a good business decision, it needs to be well-informed, but it also needs to be timely.

So how do businesses that have long relied on handwritten documentation make the shift to real-time, accurate reporting? Well, according to Downey, it might be as easy as plugging a laser cutting machine or press brake into the internet.

Secure connections

Downey is referring to CI’s CIberDash reporting software, which collects machine data in real-time, including the machine’s uptime, downtime, idle time and setup time; which operator is at the machine; the program and part currently in production; and part counts and scrap counts. If a fabricator’s Cincinnati equipment features PC-based controls, it can connect to the CIberDash platform.

In terms of “connecting” to the platform, there are three points of note: first, it doesn’t require an IT whiz kid to set it up. Second, the connection is incredibly secure, and third, it was developed to be easy to use regardless of the size of the business or the experience it has working with Software as a Server (SaaS) systems.

“It’s a web-based solution, so there’s no software to install,” Downey says. “As long as the customer has an internet connection with a browser, they can use CIberDash. They can use it on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone – anything that has a browser. There’s no need for an IT person to put software on computers or install a server or anything like that. The biggest thing to accomplish is connecting the machines to the internet.”

These days, almost every business has a decent internet connection, so running a cable to a machine is all it takes. And typically, machines are already connected based on operators’ need to access shared file storage systems for programs and drawings.

Once the internet connection is established, CI’s tech department remotely installs the tool that feeds machine data to the CIberDash system, which, as a SaaS, is hosted on the cloud. From there, CI provides the customer with a login to the CIberDash portal where they get access to their equipment and their data.

In terms of cyber security, CIberDash is hosted in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, meaning customers can rely on the hundreds of staff employed by Microsoft that have devoted their careers to cyber security. Downey says that typically customers choose to connect their machines to a dedicated manufacturing network, or, for bigger companies, a network dedicated exclusively for production equipment.

“If a customer has heightened security concerns, we can provide a cellular modem capability that is still providing data to CIberDash in real-time, but that’s not connected to their network infrastructure,” he says.

Because Cincinnati Inc.’s CIberDash is a web-based solution, there’s no need to install any software – all a user needs is an internet connection and a browser.

During R&D, CI understood the wide range of customers that could potentially use CIberDash – large customers that would need to connect to 30 machines or more and smaller customers that might only need to connect to a few machines.

“A production OEM is typically making the same part on the same machine all day every day, while a job shop is making different parts every hour of the day that they might never make again,” he explains. “Those two customers don’t function the same way, so we needed to provide a tool that could work for customers on both ends of the spectrum.”

Getting started

As soon as a new customer logs in to CIberDash, they will see a dashboard that can be used as-is or customized according to their needs. Within the dashboard, there are several different ways of looking at the data, including real-time displays with color-coded graphs that indicate the state of operation for each machine.

CIberDash gives users the data in the formats that they need, be it on the online dashboard or downloaded as a spreadsheet or CSV file.

“A lot of people get the data and the displays in real-time, and that’s all they need,” Downey says. “A production OEM with an IT department might go beyond that to take the data and manipulate it or pull it into other systems, like an ERP. We give you the ability to pull down the raw log files or you can pull them down as a spreadsheet.”

In terms of customization, an easy first step could be choosing specific machines as “favorites” that are pinned to the top of the dashboard. Favorites can be useful if there’s a specific operator that needs to be monitored or a machine that’s been having maintenance issues. Considering these favorites are the first machines in view when logging into the dashboard, it’s also incredibly useful when running a complicated job on a certain machine.

Another early step to take is setting alerts where users can turn almost anything into a notification. If a machine is down, a supervisor can be alerted via text or email. And those alerts can be scheduled for different people at different times. Users can also set thresholds, such as only being alerted if an event happens three times in an hour.

Something as simple as a snapshot of what’s happening on the shop floor can translate to powerful operations optimization.

Downey says that creating an alert is as easy as just picking any event out of the log and clicking it. For new users, these types of simple actions drastically lower the learning curve.

“To help people use the product more efficiently, we also provide the ability for users to use aliases for their machines to name them whatever they’re used to calling them,” Downey explains. “Let’s say a user has two CL 900 lasers, but in their verbiage, they call them the ‘old laser’ and the ‘new laser.’ When they look at the CIberDash displays and reports, they’ll see all of the friendly names of the equipment that they’re familiar with. It’s so common for a fabricator to not know what the serial number is for a certain machine – they just know ‘it’s Bob’s press brake.’”

With CIberDash, customers can also assign different levels of visibility to all of their internal users or groups of users whereby not every user would have access to the data of every machine. As an example, the laser group would only see the laser equipment on their dashboard while maintenance would have access to everything.

Leveraging the data

A lot of insight can be garnered from simple machine data like uptime and idle time or which operator is at the machine and what part program they’re running. Downey uses low productivity in the press brake department as an example of where CIberDash can help to make improvements.

“If you have three operators and they’re all forming the same parts, but one of them is doing 50 parts an hour with zero scrap and the others are doing 30 parts an hour with 5 percent scrap, you’ll want to find out the first operator’s secret,” he says. “What workflow is enabling that operator to achieve those results and how can we replicate it?”

CIberDash can also help with better maintenance response times. By reviewing downtime data in CIberDash, perhaps the press brake supervisor would discover that the lower-than-normal productivity was the result of a machine that was down for maintenance reasons.

“Or, maybe the machine isn’t even down, but an alert was created because a motor is drawing too much current and is producing higher-than-normal temperatures,” Downey says. “In this scenario, the issues can be addressed before the machine totally goes offline.”

Better service response times from CI are also possible with CIberDash. Preventative maintenance improves with the SaaS tool, too.

“If you need assistance with a machine, the very first thing we need to know is its serial number,” Downey says. “That tells us how we can help; whether it’s under a maintenance plan or not, its age, service history, etc. Without CIberDash, if a machine is down, a supervisor has to walk to the machine to find its serial number before they can call service. With CIberDash, they can just pick up the phone and say ‘the old laser is down,’ and we’ll know exactly which machine they’re talking about.”

In terms of preventative maintenance, CIberDash logs the number of hours a machine has been powered on as well as its number of cycle and cut hours. Just like getting the car’s oil changed every 5,000 miles, CI recommends preventative maintenance activities that should be performed at certain times. By being able to see that in CIberDash – or even being alerted by CIberDash – maintenance doesn’t have to physically go to each machine to see how many hours have been logged on it.

Quoting and customer service are additional areas where CIberDash can be incredibly helpful. Because users can get machine run times and part count data, even a small job shop can see if production is meeting the estimate that was quoted for the job.

And for that big job that the customer is anxious to receive? A supervisor can be alerted when the program ends. Not only can that customer be notified, but delays can also be avoided.

“If a supervisor is alerted when a job ends and discovers that only 98 parts were made because two had to be scrapped, they could quickly reach out to the laser guys and say, ‘hey, we need two more parts – make sure that they’re included in the next nest,’” Downey says. “When you’re aware of the problem at the earliest possible time, you can take quicker action to remedy the problem.”

Finally, going back to those underperforming press brake operators, maybe they’re not underperforming at all. Maybe their downtime is due to material that hasn’t been delivered to their station.

“More often than not, downtimes come with valid reasons,” Downey concludes. “But, if the supervisor or production manager isn’t being alerted to the problem, there’s no path to solving it. And because CIberDash can be viewed on a smartphone, a supervisor doesn’t even have to be on-site to oversee the shop floor.”

Cincinnati Inc.

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