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John Deere avoids cost with Cisco Wireless Architecture

September 29, 2011 at 11:40 am PST

Maybe you’ve seen the recent article in RFID Journal: John Deere Planter Factory Gains Efficiency.

John Deere, working with integration and technology partners Prime Technologies (now Kubica) and AeroScout, used the existing Cisco Wi-Fi networking nodes that it had already installed throughout the facility to avoid the expense of installing RFID readers for a new manufacturing solution.

John Deere MaxEmergeXP

Here’s the story: John Deere’s  Seeding Group factory in Moline, Ill. was seeking an automated solution to improve on its manual work in process manufacturing system.  It wanted to increase efficiency in the way it replenished welding material as well as improve the way it carried out processes at its assembly stations at the plant. The factory in question assembles John Deere’s  row-crop planter machines -- the MaxEmerge XP range -  that are used by farmers to deposit a variety of seed in soils and seedbeds.

The new system uses a wireless back-haul to a Cisco infrastructure that enables the SAP, reporting and programmable logic controller (PLC) systems to communicate live.  It’s intended to improve material replenishment and reduce delays caused by waiting for materials in its welding areas.  It allows the equipment manufacturer’s kitting staff to boost material replenishment speed, and allows assembly workers to prepare for specific equipment as it approaches their assembly stations. The RFID Journal Story goes into excellent detail on the wip process and the process improvement, but I did want to reiterate some of the key business metrics:

“Our goal was to improve Takt time *,” says Shay O’Neal, John Deere Seeding Group’s project manager, who expects the reduction to increase from what he estimates may be about 5 percent improvement in Takt time thus far. He reckons there has been a 40 percent reduction in cycle time because of the improvement in replenishment. He has also seen a decrease in overtime work undertaken by kitting staff at the welding station. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the system met our needs,” O’Neal said in the RFID Journal article.

  • John Deere has seen a 40 percent increase in efficiency in welding due to improvements in material replenishment and fewer delays caused by waiting for materials in its welding areas.
  • On the assembly line, the system provides a view into the work in process (WIP), which thus far has reduced the cycle time (Takt) it takes to assemble a single product by about 5 percent.
  • Since existing Cisco Wi-Fi nodes read the RFID tag of each seeder as it passes from one assembly station to another, indicating where it has been and what its next assembly location will be, John Deere avoided the expense of installing RFID readers.

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STEM and the U.S. Manufacturing Conundrum

The Conundrum

In my most recent blog “U.S. manufacturing: is it sustainable?“, I referenced an article about how U.S. manufacturing has been leading the economy out of the depths of the Great Recession.  The authors put forward a thesis with supporting data that suggest Americans believe the manufacturing industry is the basis for wealth creation and is fundamental to a sustained and successful U.S. economy.

The rub is that only 30% of Americans said they have or would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

Why such a discrepancy? An answer to this question is not simple. However, I do believe we must seek that answer and address the gap, if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Being an engineer myself--a manufacturing and controls engineer no less--I know the first and most essential step to a solution is making sure we’ve defined the problem well.

A 2009 survey by the American Society for Quality, as reported on manufacturing.net, helps to shine a light on our problem.

According to the survey, the top three reasons why kids aren’t interested in engineering:

  • Kids don’t know much about engineering (44 percent).
  • Kids prefer a more exciting career than engineering (30 percent).
  • They don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills (21 percent) to be good at it. This is despite the fact that the largest number of kids ranked math (22 percent) and science (17 percent) as their favorite subjects.

Survey findings on the adult side:

  • Only 20 percent of parents have encouraged or will encourage their child(ren) to consider an engineering career.
  • The vast majority of parents (97 percent) believe that knowledge of math and science will help their children have a successful career.

So, while American children and adults both feel that math and science are important (even enjoyable), there is an ironic disconnect (cognitive dissociation?) between recognizing the importance and committing to pursue a career in engineering and manufacturing.

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Dangerous Travel

I recently had the opportunity to fly out to HQ and while this was not my first opportunity to do air travel this year (refer to my blog about Alaska) I did make some observations about business travel, and trust me, they relate to Manufacturing. By the way, and I do this totally tongue in cheek, part of the trip was to record some new videos to give you all more reason to see me and make fun of me. So hang on! That’s my plug to come back. Read More »

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Car makers driving The Internet of Things (part 1 of 2)

Intelligent Cars

I don’t watch too much TV, but I did take some time this weekend between my honey-do’s and soccer transport tasks to keep up with bay area football – it was a good weekend for that.  As expected, there were plenty of car ads.   I was struck by how the high-end auto manufacturers are really focusing on “intelligent” cars – competing in fact.  Cars are now aware of their surroundings (obstacle sensing), aware of their driver (attention assist), able to call emergency assistance, making lots of decisions every second and richly communicating with its driver … or maybe more appropriately stated “passenger”:

These are really smart cars, and they are getting smarter.  It is foreseeable now to imagine automated driving making the driver a true passenger. Read More »

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US Manufacturing: Is It Sustainable?

Fall and Rise

In David Lawrence’s and Glenn Anderson’s recent Manufacturing.net article on ‘The Fall and Rise of the American Manufacturer’, the authors are rather optimistic about the current state of U.S. manufacturing. Citing the Institute of Supply Management indicators of manufacturing activity expansion for 19+ consecutive months and their own observations from surviving their 125-year old employer, Cincinnati Milacron, filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 and emerging one year later to thriving profitability and bolder investments in innovation, the authors believe manufacturing is now fueling a sustainable economic recovery from the global recession.

Many economists agree, and in the world of public opinion, a recent survey by Delloitte and The Manufacturing Institute showed that 78% of Americans believe that U.S. manufacturing is vitally important to our economic prosperity and 76% believe it is also important to our standard of living. The survey ranked manufacturing ahead of technology, financial services, health care, communications, and retail.  My own optimism is checked by one key consideration required for long term success: Is it SUSTAINABLE?

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