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D-Log Wireless Solution For Ronaldsway Aircraft

D-LoG (UK) Ltd : 09 May, 2007  (Application Story)
′Near enough' is never good enough when it comes to transferring data around a computer-based business or manufacturing system. Even the smallest glitch can become a major problem. So, when Isle of Man-based aerospace contractor Ronaldsway Aircraft decided to replace an existing DNC system that was becoming dogged by data drop-outs and the incomplete transfer of NC machining programmes, it is no surprise that security of information, reliability and system future-proofing were key factors in its selection of a replacement from DLoG UK.
Founded more than half a century ago, Ronaldsway Aircraft Company Limited is a leading supplier of precision components, primarily to aerospace customers such as Martin Baker, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Messier Dowty and Hispano-Suiza. The company is part of the RLC Engineering group and specialises in prismatic components in a wide variety of materials, including aluminium alloys, inconels and titanium.

At the heart of its success is ongoing major investment in high capability NC machine tools, covering the full range of milling, drilling, turning, grinding and finishing operations. In parallel, Ronaldsway has initiated the streamlining of its manufacturing operations to keep pace with customers' demands, notably through the implementation of dedicated product cells at its 151,000 square feet site in Ballasalla.

'The addition of new plant, combined with the relocation of existing machines, exposed some weaknesses in our existing DNC system,' notes IT manager Craig Hawley. 'The network was sub-divided into four subnets. So, breaking into the ring meant that a quarter of the system would effectively be down for the duration of any move or modifications. This, in turn, necessitated the use of a contingency system based on transferring programmes to a notebook PC which had to be ‘walked' to the required location for subsequent downloading into the machine controller. The old DNC system was susceptible to glitches, where characters – or even complete lines of code – could be dropped during transmission.

'Understandably, this caused significant problems,' says Hawley. 'Not only were machine operators losing confidence in the system, but they were having to resend the programme they had just received back to the production office server for a comparison check – just to ensure that the programme was complete. It was very time consuming and, in some cases, the NC programme needed to be sent and rechecked several times before it was verified as correct and production could continue.'

Ronaldsway's engineers could see the additional benefits of superseding traditional hard copy shop floor documentation, including route cards, set up sheets and process control plans, with a system that could enable all the information to be relayed electronically to the appropriate manufacturing cell or operator.

With increasing support issues relating to its UNIX system, Ronaldsway established a project to evaluate how its future needs could be met. Initially, five companies' systems were investigated. However, these were subsequently short listed to DLoG and one other for on-site benchmarking.

'It was soon apparent that DLoG's solution fitted our requirements better than the competitive system,' says NC programmer John Minay. 'It not only fulfilled our needs in terms of robust programme transfer, but was also extremely easy to use, enabling ‘right first time' programmes and data to be transferred to the appropriate manufacturing cell using the IPC's simple touch screen commands. It allowed a number of older generation machines – which could not be connected to the previous DNC system – to be fully integrated into the new installation. In particular, several Mazak machines using the Mazatrol programming language would be able to receive programmes over the network, without the need to rely on the notebook PC method of file loading. This helped to establish high levels of confidence in DLoG and the expertise of its team, right from the outset.'

Wireless network

An advanced DNC system comprising 21 DLoG IPC 6 industrial personal computers running on a wireless network via five ceiling-mounted access points, was subsequently specified and installed throughout Ronaldsway's manufacturing plant.

'With ongoing moves and new machine installations in the pipeline, there were clear advantages to opting for a wireless solution,' adds Hawley. 'The whole installation went very smoothly – being completed by DLoG engineers in a fortnight.'

Further benefits of the new DNC system, which incorporates DLoG's Quadro RM paperless manufacturing module, also became quickly apparent. With complete and accurate file transfer virtually guaranteed, operators no longer need to check for errors in their incoming NC programmes.

'This alone has reduced machine downtime and, as confidence in the new system's capabilities has grown, the volume of returns and queries has dropped significantly as well,' notes Hawley. 'The new system has also scored during machine moves. We can easily reconfigure the IPCs in-house for a new location or machine cell in less than 30 minutes – a massive time saving in comparison with our previous hard wired system.'

A further key feature of the Windows-based Quadro RM implementation is its ability to reduce shopfloor paperwork by enabling a full set of manufacturing information to be compiled into a jobpack and transmitted electronically to the required shop floor location. Operators simply call off their next job from the company's ERP system then enter the part and operation number at their local IPC to access the required NC programmes, along with any associated digital images, set up sheets or photos. The system even allows video clips or any other Windows-compatible files to be downloaded direct to the required machine cell if need be. An additional benefit is that any component issue revisions and programme upgrades can be quickly and easily associated in the electronic jobpack without disruption.


'The Quadro RM system also enables any changes to files or programmes to be recorded automatically and is therefore a valuable tool in terms of traceability – a key issue in our industry,' explains Paul Bowden, the company's maintenance team leader. 'Likewise, it provides greater visibility and helps to speed up changeovers, another important factor for us on short run jobs.'

'Other features of the implementation include the terminals' touch screen operation and the use of a simple-to-learn, standardised interface, which help to avoid any system security issues,' adds Hawley. 'Similarly, operators have found the new system noticeably more user-friendly than the previous one. We have more than 18,500 live machining programmes and operate round the clock on a three shift system. Data transmission errors are now things of the past, with NC programmes and other files transferred quickly and efficiently ‘right first time'. This breeds confidence with our 130 users and promotes the system's acceptance throughout the new production cells.'

Hawley also acknowledges that the advanced DNC system provides the foundation for further system expansion, typically through the addition of shopfloor data collection modules capable of monitoring machine generated signals, as well as barcode reader data input.

Today, the DLoG system is at the heart of Ronaldsway's manufacturing operations. It has proved easy to use, yet reliable and flexible enough to cope with the company's changing shopfloor requirements.

'We have become reliant on it in a very short time,' says Hawley. 'It also provides a protected route for step-by-step expansion, as well as seamless integration with some of our other business systems.'
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