Using particle to power better business decisions

November 10, 2017 - Posted by: 

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When a longtime Logical Advantage client came to us with an operational efficiency issue, we immediately starting thinking “IoT”. Service Thread is an industrial thread and yarn manufacturer based out of Laurinburg, NC. With a 115,000-square-foot shop floor and 24 different types of textile-spinning machines to manage, analysing and maximising operating efficiencies isn’t easy.

One of the specific challenges they were faced with was determining their “overall equipment effectiveness”, or OEE. Essentially, Service Thread wanted to know how much of their total capacity they were utilising, and how they could improve it, says Dan Thyer CTO and co-owner of Logical Advantage.

All of these textile-spinning machines – even the much older models – have some form of onboard computer system (known as PLCs) that can control and monitor basic functionality. But with 24 different types of machines in use, and each one having its own proprietary computing system, it was incredibly difficult to achieve a big picture view of the plant’s operations.

Even worse, these PLCs can’t monitor and record the status of each individual spindle on a machine. And to overcome that problem with the existing technology, we would have had to program each individual machine’s PLC to provide the data and send it through the network to a central location. But that would be incredibly complicated and time-consuming.

Cue the Photon

So, instead, we used the Photon and the Particle Cloud Platform to develop a low-cost IoT solution. We simply hooked the Photons up to the device’s existing sensors and started gathering all the data that we needed. We then move that data through the Particle device cloud and on to Microsoft’s Azure Hub. We also built a mobile app to make sensor provisioning easier for the end user.

Each Photon set-up is now able to monitor 16 separate spindles round-the-clock, and provide tons of data regarding up-time, down-time and spindle position. And that information is already paying back dividends for Service Thread.

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Where the Value Lies

With just a small, 24-spindle pilot program implemented across 2 machines, Service Thread is already seeing significant value in capital planning and operational costs.

After discovering that they were about 15% off in their earlier spindle-utilisation estimates, the company decided to invest in some (very costly) new equipment.

“It’s really important that you get information to help you make these types of very expensive capital budgeting decisions,” said Service Thread COO, Jay Todd. “Because there’s a lot of risk involved when you spend $500,000 (€429461.03)to a million dollars in new equipment.”

That same data also helped them make better decisions around labor, supply-chain management, and other parts of their operations. The pilot program has also proven useful in regards to maintenance, as it’s already identified a defect in one of their machines.

Why Particle?

The combination of the Photon hardware and their Device Management Cloud made Particle the perfect choice. The Photon is incredibly easy to set up, maintain, and get connected to wireless networks. Plus, the over-the-air firmware updates allow us to manage the devices without being on-site. On a large, complex factory floor, being able to do things without a million wires and frequent technician visits is invaluable.

In the end, we were able to provide Service Thread with a complete and cost-effective solution to a highly complex problem. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

To read more about the Service Thread use case, you can download our complete case study here.

The author of this blog is Dan Thyer CTO and co-owner of Logical Advantage

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