Influent is Amada’s (Buena Park, CA) software platform to manage fabricating shops with multiple machines and processes. Newer “NT” machines from Amada are a natural fit; Influent also allows users to get data from older, legacy Amada equipment as well as equipment from other vendors. Influent also captures data starting with materials and ending with finished products, making all of it measurable and thus manageable.
The new software environment comes in two versions: Monitor (an out-of-the-box solution for Amada networked machines) and Enterprise (for customers needing a customized solution for multiple types and brands of machines). Using data and analysis built into Influent, production managers and company executives can answer questions like:
- Where is a job right now?
- What is a part cost for a particular job, even if it uses a shared nest on the laser cutter?
- How did second shift beat goals?
- Is this common slowdown a machine problem or a people problem?
- Are we really charging enough for this job?
The software environment comprises three apps: Manage, Measure, and Analyze. Using a PC, (Influent runs at the server as well as natively on iPads, purchased separately by the customer), a manager sets up machines, set up employees that work with the machines, and set up employee roles and rights in the Manage app. Each machine has an iPad attached, with the IP address of the machine acting as the “name” of the machine—and opens the spigot of information that flows into the server and can be measured and analyzed. The Manage app is where the manager sets up alerts for abnormal conditions (send the operator and the line manager a text if the machine needs stock or has encountered a problem, for example).
Influent is installed on a server and serves the Manage web page and data to the native iPad apps Measure and Analyze. Current notifications are by e-mail, but with customization text notifications can be implemented as well.
The Measure app captures the work (done or in progress) and details about it. How many repetitions? How many good parts? How much time was a machine doing a task? How much setup time was used? Is a step in the process complete? To get answers to these questions, a manager logs into the Manage web page to view the current status of jobs and machine activity. Data tells the story, and is specific to each machine. Those jobs needing multiple machines will reflect that fact—and the status—in Influent.
Analyze expands the capabilities of Influent to include real-time job visibility for analysis (currently behind or ahead of schedule. This app uses Amada-developed analytics to do the work. Analyze is a native iPad app that provides shop floor supervisors a mobile platform to view information about current production progress across the facility.
More with Enterprise
For companies needing more functionality, integration, and customization, the Enterprise version of Influent is the route to a successful implementation. Amada Professional Services can perform a needs assessment to provide a specific solution.
Some extended capabilities can be developed:
Integration with an ERP system: If a customer already has an ERP system, Amada Enterprise Solution can use the customer’s flavor of a SQL database to connect to the installed ERP system.
Visibility increases: When the salesperson receives a phone call asking where their job is on the shop floor, it’s very easy for that salesperson to say, “Your job is 75% done in finishing, we will have it on a truck tomorrow.” Additionally, estimators can look at their submitted estimates vs. actual results and costs. And if all the jobs from a client are analyzed, the manager can sense if a client’s aggregate profit margin is in a sweet spot; if not, the jobs can be assessed individually to find hidden bottlenecks or too much human intervention in a process.
Legacy and other-branded products: With Enterprise comes the capability of adding older and non-Amada products. This is accomplished by a small hardware addition that collects only a small subset of late-model machines, things like on/off, running, idle—state-based information. Still, it is helpful to have that information collected and analyzed to spot bottleneck trouble or even operator training gaps.
Granularity increase: The Enterprise version also brings capabilities like part-costing, done even in a mixed-nest environment in the laser department. Additionally, customers can add their own KPIs and custom formulae to Influent’s analytics.
Bridging the machine generation gap
While it’s easy to see the reasons why one would connect machines in a manufacturing environment, performing the task sometimes isn’t straightforward. Sometimes, you have two brands that don’t talk to each other, other times you have older machines juxtaposed with the latest models. At best, the oldest machines collect data but are in a closed loop; there was no need to share data when those machines were built.
Is there a way to get the different brands and generations to communicate? The short answer is yes. Amada leverages its Influent software environment to enable communications on the “outlier” machines.
How much info is enough?
“In some cases, you’re just looking for a red or green condition,” explains Casey Greer, Amada’s Lead IIoT Professional Services Consultant. A power on/off signal is pretty simple to generate. If other data points like alarm signals are needed, things get a little more complex.
The business owner must first decide what inputs are needed to paint an information picture. Then, Casey says, “We look for machine schematics from the owner. If they are provided, we identify the relevant places we can tap into and read those signals. We can find that a certain relay is triggered for a certain alarm. We can capture that alarm by hooking to that relay and using a Unit 8 box [a sort of data transfer box] that we connect to the machine.” In that way, data can be shared to the Influent environment, and events normally reserved for the machine’s proprietary log files are open to the system, after the installation and configuration of the add-on box.
Different alarms can be set for different durations, for example if a high-priority alarm is triggered, something that might ruin a job, that alarm is immediate. However, if an alert is about, say, an upcoming maintenance check, there is no need to stop a job to acknowledge that alarm.
Always a work-around
On the machining side of manufacturing, two standards—MTConnect and Open Platform Communications (OPC)—have been around for at least a dozen years, standardizing the way manufacturing data is whisked around the shop floor. There is no such existing standard in fabrication, and therefore it takes a little creativity.
“One way around the problem in fabrication is tying in to other information sources,” notes Greer. “Even if I have a dumb machine, I can tie those simple alarms into an operator’s work order information, which is in the system.” Even an ancient stamping press can be coaxed to participate. “You can add a sensor to that machine for not a lot of money, count the strokes on the machine, compare that to the work order, and if it matches, you’re good to go on the part count,” he adds.
If a machine produces even the most rudimentary data, it is still valuable information, and with a little work, is usable by Influent and becomes part of the software environment for the rest of its lifetime.
The latest in a long line
Amada’s history in using data in a machine tool environment goes back decades, and includes transferring (and saving) cutting and bending programs. vFactory debuted in 2005 to monitor machines, and two years later VPSS collected data and files, and users could compare different takes on a similar job. Influent is the latest chapter in a long line of management.
For more information: https://www.amada.com/america/influent#landing