Over the last few years, wall panel technology has evolved considerably.  Manufacturing equipment has become more sophisticated, promising increased throughput and higher quality, but along with this comes a larger investment.  Many manufacturers therefore become disappointed when after spending big bucks on a piece of wall panel equipment, the throughput doesn’t materialize.  What these disappointed manufacturers don’t realize is that efficient wall panel manufacturing is more about the manufacturing “system” and less about the specific piece of equipment.  This is not to say that automated wall panel equipment doesn’t provide an advantage over manual equipment, but without a “system” in place the increased throughput is not a given.
So how do you create a “system” for building wall panels?  It is a big job involving a number of important processes.  For example, you can spend hours developing methods to generate “production books” for the shop.  Depending on your production processes, you may need to create batching systems to get the necessary efficiencies through your equipment.  While you are at it you need to figure out how those production books get sent to the shop, to the right people, and in the correct order.  Then you consider what to do if a change needs to be pushed to the shop.  How do you prevent something from accidentally getting built wrong if a customer decides to change a window size or feature location?  For purposes of improving your bottom line and customer service, you need to create some way of tracking job status so you can quickly fulfill your sales team and customer inquiries.  Additionally, you need to develop a method for tracking production and a means by which you can track labor to tell you which jobs are profitable and which are not, or…. you can implement ShopNet.
ShopNet is MiTek’s wall panel paperless plant system.  It is implemented by placing computers out on the production floor at each production station.  Each station is customized based on the work to be completed.  If, for example, a computer workstation services an automated piece of equipment then links are made so that ShopNet can communicate to the equipment what needs to be done and in some cases, automatically poll the equipment for what has been completed.  For more manual machine applications, production personnel get their specific, very precise production instructions from an identical workstation placed at their production station.  These stations are then linked together so production flows from one station to the next and their status can be viewed from a central location.
At the heart of ShopNet is the Manager Console.  From this console, jobs can be loaded, scheduled, and tracked.  One of the unique abilities of ShopNet is the ability to load jobs from multiple design platforms.  It can then standardize the production process for the shop floor.  No need to train your employees to deal with multiple output formats.
The Manager Console also gives the Production Manager the ability to quickly view the real time status of all jobs using color coded cells.  In the example on the right, each line in the table is a bundle of walls, and each colored column represents a task to be completed.  The production order is from top to bottom.
The cells colored bright green are tasks which have been completed, while the ones in yellow show items which are currently in process.  The light green items are items that have yet to be started.  So by viewing the color codes associated with each task, the Production Manager can quickly tell if a particular task is falling behind, and respond appropriately to the situation before it becomes a problem.
If an urgent schedule change needs to be accomplished, the production manager simply needs to drag and drop the bundles in to the appropriate order.  As long as production hasn’t been started on that bundle, nothing is affected by the change.  No disruptions for the plant floor.
Also from the Manager Console, the Production Manager can run production reports, giving production totals by various parameters across whatever date range is desired.  If Employee Tracking is enabled, the Manager can also retrieve information about which employee completed which task on any particular job and get labor totals for each of those jobs.
The Manager Console can support any number of lines and each line can have any number of stations.  Stations can be shared across multiple lines and ShopNet can handle complex manufacturing processes such as bundle mixing and line pooling.
There are basically two types of production stations in ShopNet, cutting stations and assembly stations.  On the right, we show a cutting station giving a list of items that need to be cut.  The items in this example have been batched by bundle and destination, but the station can be set up to batch by other parameters such as by job, level, part ID, or custom defined batch groups. Items can also be defined as precuts and filtered from the stations so that they do not get cut.  Stations can also filter items by part type, so that you can have different stations that cut different parts.  Cutting stations also have the ability to be sorted and ordered by many different parameters.
Stations keep track of where they are in production so that the user is always presented with the next item to be completed.  In the example, the green items have been completed, while the yellow items have yet to be cut.  If the station is closed or restarted, it goes right back to the next item to be completed.  The user doesn’t have to worry about losing his place overnight or between shifts.
The second type of station is an assembly station.  These can vary greatly from station to station depending on the task that is to be completed (component assembly, header assembly, openings, framing, sheathing, etc.).  Below is an example of a framing station.  Although the information presented on an assembly station varies from station to station, there are basically three main parts of every station screen; the picture box, the sequence list, and the pull list.  The purpose of the picture box is obvious, although its setup can be quite complex.  By customizing the station, we can hide or show pieces of information depending upon whether they are relevant to the task at hand.  This prevents information overload for the user and helps to simplify the production process.  The customizable aspects of the picture box apply to not only the picture, but to dimensioning, labeling, and presented tasks.
The list in the upper right hand side of the screen is the sequence list.  Like the cutting station, this is the list of tasks to be completed, presented in the order in which they need to be completed.  On stations where items may be batched together, the stations can be setup to batch the tasks, giving batch totals rather than a list of individual items.  To the right of the sequence list is the information grid which gives some relevant information about the panel shown in the picture as well as some production totals for the day.  The list in the lower right hand corner is the pull list. This is a list of items required to complete the displayed task.  Once again this list is setup by station to only show relevant information so that the operator can quickly get to the information he needs without having to sort through unnecessary items.
The setup of ShopNet stations is very customizable and for established wall panel manufacturers it can mimic your current production system, while helping you gain efficiency and production.  For new installations, it can help to define your system from the start.  Although this has been a rather brief overview of ShopNet, there is so much more “under the hood” that makes ShopNet the perfect system for your wall panel production needs.  ShopNet is a forward-looking systems investment, with application at every level of manufacturing machinery investment.  It will help you optimize production and save you time and money in the process.  To find out how ShopNet can benefit your wall panel plant, contact your MiTek salesman for a personalized demo.

 This page last modified on 8/19/2008