A Global Reputation for Customer Service
More than eight decades after it was established, converting machine builder Curt G. Joa, Inc. proudly retains the full name of its founder. The Wisconsin-based business continues to live by its founder’s principles, too – including a near-compulsion to surpass customer expectations.
That’s one reason the company keeps its multidisciplinary engineering team well-staffed at all times. But the company’s namesake would not recognize its current customer list: leading global manufacturers of disposable, personal-hygiene items like diapers and incontinence products. He would also be astounded by the automation capabilities of the sophisticated, custom-made machines.
The customized machines take six to nine months to build. They are massive, occupying two floors with a footprint measuring 60 meters long. They accomplish multiple manufacturing processes, including accepting roll-fed paper material in a continuous motion and automatically splicing products.
Shortening the time to develop its machines and being able to differentiate itself from its competitors are key elements to the company’s growth. Joa wanted to provide its customers with faster time to implementation, as well as more meaningful and detailed production information from its machines. By standardizing its machine-design and development process, Joa was able to shorten its design time and evolve its machines to get ahead of its customers’ needs.
Complex Machines, Complex Development
Joa’s customers have traditionally operated multi-vendor production lines, purchasing a stacker from one vendor and a packaging machine from another. Whenever Joa builds a new machine for these customers, its engineers also tie system communications together.
“As control engineers, we are being asked to get more involved in integrating machine production processes into the customer’s production line and plant operations,” said Jerry Holzer, electrical engineering technology leader at Curt G. Joa, Inc. “But finding a way to get the different components talking together was always a challenge.”
As customers sought more meaningful and detailed production information from their machines, Joa’s engineering team began partnering more closely with them to better understand the type of machine and production data they needed.
Not surprisingly, as machine complexity increased, so did the design and development time required of Joa’s engineering staff.
Smarter machines with more automation, communication and integration capabilities entailed more programming and documentation time for Joa’s engineers. The lengthy pre-production phase extended Joa’s investment and delayed delivery of machines to customers. With new machines capable of producing 1,200 units per minute, each day customers must wait delays their potential for increased production output and profits.
“We needed a way to evolve our machines with the market – meeting customers’ needs more completely with added engineering value and customization,” said Holzer. “But we didn’t want to increase the time pressure on our engineering team.”
Streamlined Production, Earlier Release of Machines
For years now, Joa has standardized on Rockwell Automation control technologies, and has even become an OEM partner within the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork program. The EtherNet/IP-based communication protocol and Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture platform have given Joa the flexibility to design machines that accommodate customers’ diverse needs.
The design environment within the platform allows Joa’s engineers flexibility when designing customized machines. All machines are designed using versatile, modular programming, allowing Joa to speed its machine design time significantly.
“When a customer request comes in, we can import our existing modules as needed to build machines to the customer’s specifications,” said Holzer. “This is crucial to our design-process productivity since we don’t make a fixed type of machine, but we can use standards-based programming modules to help build customized solutions faster.”
To further help streamline the machine design process, Joa relies on several design-software programs. One of which is the EPLAN Electric P8 electrical design software from EPLAN Software & Services, an Encompass Product Partner within the PartnerNetwork program.
Joa engineers use templates within the electrical schematic designs as a base and then customize based on each customers’ needs. A schematics generator then helps create documentation needed for manufacturing, purchasing, panel building, modeling and more.
The system helps Joa convey development changes from one internal team to another during the programming process. “If there’s a programming change, it can be cumbersome for someone producing electrical blueprints to sync their changes with someone producing the parts list,” explained Holzer. “With EPLAN, we now have the ability to automatically capture changes in the blueprints – simply and with little intervention.”
The EPLAN software integrates seamlessly with Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controllers through the Rockwell Software Studio 5000 Architect application. This bidirectional data transfer helps improve startup time by reducing the need for Joa to manually re-enter control data from engineering tools into the Rockwell Software Studio 5000 software.
“Instead of starting from scratch, we can use EPLAN data to fill in the blanks on a spreadsheet application and use pre-existing configurations,” said Holzer. “This approach allows us to make modifications based on customer needs without taking up a significant amount of time.”
The Joa machines also provide operators with a comprehensive view of data in real time using a distributed visualization solution.
“The FactoryTalk View SE human-machine interface from Rockwell Automation allows our customers to resolve problems right away while they are standing at the machine, helping to reduce downtime related to troubleshooting,” said Holzer. “But they also have the option to outsource the troubleshooting via remote access.”
Joa implements remote-access capabilities on up to 90 percent of the machines it produces. This allows any qualified engineer to open up a portal via a VPN connection, access the HMI to see controller operating data, and render the necessary changes.
All software on the machines is running on VMWare virtualized servers using thin clients. There is no longer a need for a large-capacity, expensive server, and the virtual environment provides a robust, secure and IoT-ready architecture using fewer servers to run the HMI and other software.
A Conduit for Customers’ Cloud-Based Data
Although Joa customizes each of its machines, the various design-software systems have allowed the machine builder to standardize much of its machine design process. Up to 80 percent of the database content can be standardized on EPLAN modules, which is a significant timesaver.
With more lead time in the early design stages, customers benefit too. They have more opportunity to refine system features, ensuring greater satisfaction after delivery. It also gives Joa’s mechanical engineers more time to perfect their designs.
One of the biggest benefits of improved workflow is Joa’s ability to compress delivery times. Faster delivery and commissioning is a competitive advantage for the business.
Looking ahead, Joa plans to build on the synergy between EPLAN and Rockwell Automation as their global-market footprint grows and more customers embrace big data. Most of its customers now have some cloud-based capabilities, and they are looking for more ways to capture key data in smart machines.
“When I walk down our production aisle today, I see about half of our engineers using remote access to provide service and support to our machine customers,” said Holzer. “With the flexibility of our Rockwell Automation infrastructure and a worldwide support network, we have the resources to continue evolving our machines with our customers’ businesses – anywhere in the world and in the cloud.”