Using an automated management execution system to meet automotive requirements

Product: Opcenter
Industry: Automotive

A trusted partner for vehicle cooling

Vehicle cooling systems are indispensable since they not only improve an occupant’s comfort but maintain the vehicle’s correct internal temperature and protect key components. They extend the lifetime of engines and ensure proper performance, reducing harmful exhaust emissions. Therefore, the largest automotive companies want high-quality components, which means cooperating with partners who can guarantee their product’s quality.

ESTRA Automotive Systems (ESTRA) is a global leader in the automotive cooling system industry. It has been in business under its present name since 2019, but its history in the automotive industry dates to 1998. That is when it began to build its position, specializing in the design, validation and production of vehicle thermal components and systems. Today, its operations include offices and technology centers around the world, as well as 14 production plants, including one in Zabrze, Poland.

This is where the company manufactures vehicle powertrain cooling modules, including liquid-cooled condensers, heat exchangers, radiators and condensers. Due to its many years of experience and competencies in cooling systems, ESTRA provides solutions for internal combustion engines (ICEs), electric and hybrid vehicles. For these vehicle types, ESTRA provides solutions tailored to their unique characteristics and manufactures them with the utmost attention to detail.

Using Opcenter for global MES

The automotive sector requires companies to meet stringent constraints for product quality, process validation and certification. With the increasing sophistication of cars and their systems, manufacturers’ expectations regarding individual component quality from external partners are also changing. Due to these strict requirements and manufacturing processes, ESTRA sought out and implemented a manufacturing execution system (MES), which they integrated in their Asia-based markets. However, to integrate this system globally meant the current system would not be sufficient due to support and standardization challenges.

When building a new factory in Poland, ESTRA started looking for standardized global solutions that had full local support. They wanted a solution that would allow precise monitoring and control of production processes in real time to quickly detect and respond to any irregularities and unforeseen situations. With help from ASKOM, a certified Siemens Digital Industries Software manufacturing operations management (MOM) partner, the company decided to integrate Opcenter™ software, which is part of the Siemens Xcelerator business platform of software, hardware and services, into the Zabrze plant. Using Opcenter gave the company a full range of locally implemented services and technical support.

“We wanted to find a solution with a global footprint that had the necessary local technical support we required,” says Waldemar Wojtasz, the MES coordinator and change leader at ESTRA. “We were able to achieve our goals by cooperating with Siemens and ASKOM.”

When Opcenter was implemented, the plant employed solutions to match the condenser design for one of its key automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The next step was to use Opcenter Execution Discrete, a production execution system, to handle complex assembly operations. Using its base version with basic functionalities, ESTRA was able to gather data to create a personalized solution that allowed them to develop established products while evolving the system.

“Solution flexibility was critical to us,” says Wojtasz. “We wanted to deploy a solution that was tailored to us, our needs and the nature of production, as opposed to having to adapt to the technologies. This was undoubtedly a valuable benefit from cooperating with ASKOM and Siemens.”

Improving the quality of production

Leveraging Opcenter Execution Discrete, which uses a set of standard and company-specific functionalities, ESTRA workers can more efficiently handle production orders, carrying out production processes faster while maintaining high-quality standards. Since machines verify most components, which helps reduce errors, the company can ensure product quality and detect any shortcomings at an earlier stage. This allows the company to take measures to avoid and minimize situations where corrective action would be necessary.

Since the ESTRA plant’s label management and quality control are more automated and precise, the company can reduce the risk of defective products. Additionally, by using Opcenter Execution Discrete, the company was able to introduce full production process traceability. This is important in the automotive sector for tracking every component, from the moment the raw material enters production to the final product. ESTRA can then store the information for the next 30 years.

By using an MES, which acts as the factory’s nervous system and brain, the company can digitally manage huge amounts of information, reducing paperwork. “We liken the MES to a policing system that keeps things in order,” says Wojtasz. “Every radiator we produce has its own identity in the system, receiving a code on its core in the process to track and record its history. This is how ESTRA, and our customers, know exactly where the product has been and how it behaved during each production stage.”null

By integrating Opcenter Execution with SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP), ESTRA was able to provide a consistent flow of information between the business and production systems. This helped the company increase their operational efficiency and improve production order and material data management. By transferring data between the system and the production line in real time, they were able to create a planned cycle time, reducing production cycle time to less than 1 minute.

Additionally, by integrating Opcenter Execution with the Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) standard into the automation systems from various vendors, ESTRA was able to further automate production processes. Since companies collect process data directly from the machines, the systems provide valuable production line performance information, optimizing and preventing downtime. The production team has access to various key performance indicators (KPIs) in real time and uses them to make quick decisions, ensuring the factory’s efficiency and competitiveness in the automotive sector.

Further, ESTRA created a more flexible production process and improved company transparency by integrating vertical information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). For example, they were able to connect the shop floor to the top floor.

“Having this knowledge at our fingertips allows us to respond to problems of various degrees of severity,” says Wojtasz. “Using Opcenter, we can respond to trivial issues concerning the arrangement of product parts on the production line to more important issues like missing information that could result in corrective actions.”null

Moving towards further automation

The ESTRA factory in Zabrze is constantly evolving since the company is regularly bringing in new machines and production lines. ESTRA is implementing these improvements to meet specific customer needs and further automate the factory.

Next steps include implementing a preventive maintenance scheme to further reduce downtime. By using an MES system to organize data collected in real time from machines, the company can access information to define the scope of work for maintaining the line and machinery fleet.

Additionally, ESTRA aims to integrate Teamcenter® software, which is also part of Siemens Xcelerator, to achieve a closed-loop manufacturing process and a solution that includes product lifecycle management (PLM), ERP and MOM. This could provide ESTRA’s factory with further growth opportunities, enabling seamless information exchange and interaction in the physical and virtual worlds. Further, the company can take another step toward achieving operational excellence and reinforcing its position in the automotive sector.

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As the automotive industry evolves, new opportunities are opening via technologies; however, this can cause production quality, validation and certification challenges. Manufacturers like ESTRA are leveraging the support of trusted partners, like Siemens and ASKOM, and available solutions in their quest for excellence and innovation. “Thanks to Opcenter, our customers can get better products while we save money by minimizing the number of corrective actions,” says Wojtasz. ESTRA provides a model for other companies, showing how to effectively meet rigorous industry standards and customer expectations while keeping

processes safe and efficient.

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