Thermax surpasses manufacturing target projections and deliveries with MES
Since 2019, when the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) was rolled out, the system has delivered well on Quality conformance, labour productivity, just-in-time availability of spare parts, than before. The inventory levels are more in control and it has empowered Thermax to work on a hybrid model of a mix of people working from home with only a skeletal staff present on the shop floor. The company can now focus more on service and sales rather than managing production schedules
The Cooling business management team of Thermax’s newly built greenfield Sri City manufacturing plant can now (when required) sit at home and still manage the shop floor with the same productivity as if physically present. The company’s decision to go for a modularised approach to manufacturing powered with digitisation and automation capabilities has made this possible. To be specific, the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) has proved to be the silver bullet and the pandemic gave the opportunity for the MES to come to the rescue. Built over an area of 40 acre plot, Thermax has consolidated the pan India chiller manufacturing operations at the Rs 166 cr Sri City plant with a capacity to churn out 400 chillers / year, which can be doubled in a few years’ time. MES is a software that manages the production planning in manufacturing operations where there are many moving parts, machines and manpower involved in manufacturing multiple combinations of products to be manufactured.
The synergistic way of engineering the plant – envisioned as a smart factory, based on modularising (breaking the manufacturing line-up into small modules and then reassembling again at the customer site before the final erection) and matching with MES, is the trick that worked. “There is definitely a correlation here. The way the plates, instrumentation and machines have to be laid out, requires a certain discipline. When the physical assets are matched to the MES, it results in harmony. Otherwise, if the MES is not designed sequentially with the physical positioning of the machines, it would result in a lot of to and fro of materials and products, resulting in safety concerns, time consumption, quality issues, etc,” says Prosenjit Sengupta, Chief Digital Officer, Thermax.
Sengupta explaining the digital strategy of Thermax a few months back to Express Computer shared the benefits reaped out of the initiatives rolled out thus far. He says, “It begins with bringing about business efficiency by focussing on the front end – that is enhancing the revenue stream and the back end, which caters to improving the operational efficiency.”
At the front end, the revenue stream can be widened via two channels – expanding the current base of customers and coming up with new business models using the power of digital. On the other hand, the back end can be rationalised by two ways – improving effectiveness, quality by either using automation to provide the same results with the same cost and lesser wage cost or juice out more productivity from the existing investments. The MES initiative falls in the automation bucket of the strategy. The system has been operational since 2019, only about a year after Sengupta was appointed as a council member and CDO of the company in November 2018. Sengupta had a similar experience of operationalising MES at Tata Motors and Volkswagen. He was also a part of the team doing technical upgrades and expansion of the system to multiple sites, etc. “The way MES applies to the auto manufacturing process is closely similar to the remodelled chiller manufacturing process, wherein the product runs through small stations, in succession. A chiller has to pass through forty stations divided across four bays.
Features and benefits of MES
Thermax has adopted the Apriso MES from Dassault Systemes. “Since 2019, when the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) was rolled out, the system has delivered well on Quality conformance, labour productivity; parts availability is more just-in-time now than before. The inventory levels are more in control and it has empowered Thermax to work on a hybrid model of a mix of people working from home with only a skeletal staff present on the shop floor. The company can now focus more on service and sales rather than managing production schedules,” says Sengupta.
For any system to provide a complete picture of the manufacturing operations, should be forward and backward integration friendly. The MES has been integrated with the PLM, ERP, and other systems. In terms of forward integration, there are capabilities to integrate with the IIoT systems too. “The CNC Machines can be integrated and then the plan is to connect the setup with the customer facing front end interfaces to provide an ecommerce like product tracking experience and reflect on the work orders, delivery schedules and expected delivery timeline with complete transparency,” says Sengupta. The manufacturing priorities can also be changed on the MES in real time. The identification of a faulty component in the manufacturing process can be identified in real time and not in any intermediary processes is a major benefit of the MES.
A fundamental benefit of the system was remote handling of the factory operations with skeletal staff during the pandemic. The managerial and supervisory work force was able to comfortably operate from home, when the partial lockdown was enforced limiting the presence of the number of employees allowed on the shop floor to adhere to social distancing norms.
There were about forty manufacturing processes divided into four bays in the factory, through which the manufacturing was crafted.
The following features enabled the staff to operate from the comfort of their home:
– Availability of data on schedule adherence
– Capacity Utilisation
– Information on the pace of the parts moving between stations
– machines efficiency data for critical operations
– Standard man hours compared to the actual man hours consumed on a particular process,
skill matrix data
– Manufacturing routes configuration data
– Generating plate cutting layouts and feeding them in the MES
The MES, when it will be replicated across different factory locations, would warrant changes in the layout of the physical assets and processes, to reconcile the sequencing of both. The manufacturing process of the absorption chillers has been modularized and mapped to the MES. There are a couple of more products to be converted into a modularized format and they will also be soon manufactured after fitting into the MES system.