City Plating is a metal finishing shop, specializing in electroplating zinc and zinc nickel alloy for the automotive industry. In business since 2001, and a Member of Manufacturing Works since 2004, City Plating currently has 15 employees working two shifts. With a plan to get back to three shifts, they're hiring.
With growth, comes opportunities to improve operations. Manufacturing Works' Ed Weston sat down to talk with President, Randy Solganik, about a project they've undertaken to monitor equipment and help determine when preventive maintenance is needed.
Q: What problem in your operation are you looking to address with this technology?
A: We have multiple lines, and two are served by hoists that get a lot of work. They are 3-phase 240v hoists, and each have motor brakes which must release during operation. The hoists lift a load up and down, sometimes 35 to 40 times in an eight-minute cycle.
Although this doesn't happen often, what can go wrong is that a hoist motor can burn up unexpectedly and without notice. The most common reason is related to the brakes: they need adjustment, and we don't adjust them quickly enough. So, the motors are fighting the brake, overheat, and fail.
Q: Why has this problem persisted?
A: We haven't found a good way to monitor the brakes and the hoists. They're used so much—if you check them once a week or even once a day, that might not be enough. We don't know why the brakes start to fail, and we'd like to find some type of alarm that would let us know, some type of early warning system.
Q: How could digital technology help you?
A: Right now, we don't have a good way of knowing when the motor is under stress, so the motors operate until failure. And, they shouldn't have to fail because we're not monitoring this properly. In short, we're looking for an automated way to prevent premature failures.
We want to monitor these motors and understand when they're about to fail. Or better yet, when they're struggling. Hopefully we can find a way to monitor some characteristic of the operation of the motors to help us to determine when preventive maintenance is needed.
Q: So, what are you doing?
A: Boundary Labs offered us a potential solution. They will monitor the power on the three phases to these motors. We're doing a study to see what information we get and whether that information is useful to monitoring the stress on the motor. We began two weeks ago.
Q: What happens next?
A: I got my first look at data last week. We're now trying to figure out whether we're getting the right information. There's a lot of it, and we don't need it all. Just what's significant.
Next step, we'll benchmark the operation of the motors and correlate it to the data. When the motors are under stress, is there something significant, something measurable, showing up in the data? Can the information that we're getting be mined for the warning that we want?
Q: If this works, how will your business benefit?
A: We'll reduce downtime costs, which are significant. It can take us 6 to 7 hours to change a hoist motor and get things back up and running. We'll also reduce the frequency of rebuilding equipment, which is significant, because once the motors are overheated, the windings are gone.