Kuka and Microsoft. The Internet of things transforms a Jeep factory

To build a factory that can keep up with demand for one of the world’s most iconic vehicles, you have to be driven. When KUKA Systems Group set out to build a new production facility for Jeep Wrangler bodies in Toledo, Ohio, the company knew it would need cutting-edge technology to get the job done. So KUKA took advantage of the Internet of Things to create a highly automated plant that connects as many as 60,000 devices and factory-floor robots to a central data-management system.

The resulting intelligent system allows KUKA inroads into tremendous amounts of data, which allows for unprecedented insight into factory operations, changing the trajectory of business in real time. By connecting devices and making the most of the data they create, KUKA created a fast-lane factory that runs like a top. The result: a production line that is flexible, reliable and extremely productive — cranking out 830 Jeep bodies a day.

Flexibility is key

KUKA Systems has long been a pioneer in automated manufacturing. For the Toledo plant, KUKA built an intelligent system anchored by Windows Embedded, Microsoft SQL Server and Windows Server that connects the factory’s 259 assembly-line robots and thousands of other devices on the shop floor — things such as welders and sealers — to back-end monitoring systems. All the control tasks, including
creating and running programs and diagnostic processes, can now be performed directly on the robots from the control panel’s Windows-based interface — a familiar tool to many employees. This new access to data allows KUKA new insights into factory operations, and to
turn those insights into actions, and actions into results.

With such a streamlined management environment, the system is able to adapt quickly to bumps in the road, and changes in production requirements. And that’s a good thing since, on a daily basis, Chrysler communicates its order for Wranglers in eight different configurations — including left-hand drive or right-hand drive, two-door or four-door, full-door or half-door.

“We ship our customer a complete car body every 77 seconds,” says Jake Ladouceur, managing director of the Toledo facility. “We don’t have time to adjust source code, and we can’t introduce something that isn’t trusted and proven. Our intelligent system built with Microsoft technology enables us to react very quickly.”

Extreme reliability

To handle the high volume, the factory had to be reliable. “We couldn’t have any latency in the manufacturing system,” saysCraig Niedermier, IT manager at KUKA Toledo Production Operations. “So we needed tools and technology that allow us to access information without affecting the flow of the shop floor.”

Besides processing Chrysler’s daily orders, the system also monitors wear and tear on the robots themselves through a Web application developed by KUKA. The insights from this data provide tremendous business value to KUKA, and help the factory meet Chrysler’s exacting quality control standards — all while operating 24 hours a day without stopping.

Building its end-to-end automated manufacturing solution on Microsoft technologies has given KUKA anotheradvantage: “When we have needed support we’ve been able to contact Microsoft and get quick, sufficient supportwhen necessary,” says Niedermier. “That’s always been a plus.”

Since creating the Internet of KUKAs.  Things to innovate an incredibly efficient factory, the company is seeing clear roads ahead.

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to: http://www.microsoft.com

For more information about KUKA products and services, call or visit the website at: http://www.kuka-systems.com

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