With the continuing evolution of manufacturing, Delta made a commitment in 2016 to begin its transformation to smart manufacturing. Its first smart production upgrade was completed in 2018, involving PLC production lines at its Wujiang Plant. This success encouraged Delta to apply its experience to other production lines.
Taoyuan Plant 1 (TY1) was Delta’s first factory and it represents the beginnings of the company, which now has expanded to nearly 300 offices around the world. Today, TY1 serves as an important manufacturing base for a whole range of industrial automation products. Facing the challenges of flexible manufacturing, Delta aims to overcome the limits of space and manpower costs through smart upgrades, and its inverter production line at TY1 was the first step.
As a leader in electronics manufacturing, Delta decided this time to take a large step by collaborating with giants in technology and communications, including Microsoft, PTC and Far EasTone. The alliance mobilizes 5G, cloud, AR, VR and MR technologies in the smart production line upgrade, which was successfully completed in March 2021. This marked a milestone for Delta’s efforts in its smart manufacturing transformation in Taiwan.
A New Definition for Smart Manufacturing: Flexibility and Resilience
On March 30th, Delta hosted a press conference at its Taoyuan Technology Center with Microsoft, PTC, and Far EasTone. Simon Chang, president and COO of Delta Electronics, pointed out that manufacturers are endeavoring to achieve automated production lines for flexible manufacturing, which is critical as the trend of decentralized manufacturing sweeps the globe. Factories have started to move from low-cost labor markets to where product markets are located, which requires smart and flexible manufacturing, as well as the complete integration of AIoT, edge computing, AI and 5G technologies.
Ken Sun, general manager of Microsoft, mentioned that over the past 50 years, Delta’s dedication to sustainable business has made a significant contribution to industries not only in Taiwan, but around the globe. The success of the smart upgrade at TY1 proves this point, and lays a solid foundation for data-driven manufacturing for the next 50 years. The experience will help manufacturers build resilience after the macroeconomic turmoil of 2020 to unpredictable challenges such as the uncertainties of market demand, supply chains and geopolitics.
Vincent Lin, general manager of AMBU, IABG of Delta Electronics, also shared his thoughts on the performance of the upgrade. Inverter manufacturing at TY1 is a typical case of flexible manufacturing, which involves 203 models and more than ten changeovers per day. The complexity of the production process was once a nightmare for factory personnel. After the upgrade was implemented, the problems were solved, which substantially elevated monthly capacity per production line, based on output per square meter and productivity per direct labor.
Keys to the Successful Smart Upgrade
The upgrade, Lin further elaborated, required a comprehensive consideration of multiple dimensions, including design, execution and factory management. The execution mainly followed six steps: Simplifying, Standardizing, Modularizing, Digitalizing, Virtualizing and Robotizing.
The step of simplifying is the foundation of smart manufacturing. At the very beginning, complicated or unfeasible product designs should be avoided. For example, simply simulating every action of factory personnel with automated equipment could easily result in unnecessary processes and hence higher costs. This could also limit the possibility of further upgrades and expansion. A better practice would be to standardize and modularize equipment with a high degree of integration with other hardware, firmware and software to ensure the efficiency of equipment utilization.
Digital twins is another technology leveraged in this upgrade. Digitized production information is collected by the IoT to build production models and generate optimal parameters. The integration of virtual technologies and physical resources reduces the risk of unfeasible designs and the reliance on physical constructions. This mechanism also facilitates smooth handshaking between smart systems to continuously optimize production processes.
Comprehensive integration of smart systems plays a critical role in the smooth operation of the smart production line, which covers equipment, assembly, warehousing and data analysis. In addition to Delta’s own expertise in industrial automation, the support of strategic partners, including Microsoft’s Azure and cloud services, PTC’s Vuforia AR, and Far Eastone’s 5G wireless, takes the integration even further.
For example, the Smart Equipment System, as the core of the smart production line, implements Delta’s own multifunctional Rapid Transformable Machine (RTM) to achieve faster changeover. The equipment is combined with VR and MR to provide an immersive simulation of the actual operation environment to reduce the resources required for in-person training. With virtual demonstrations, the system allows remote assistance from experts to teach the correct steps for maintenance and tuning. This feature helps reduce reliance on the experience of on-site personnel and shorten machine downtime.
Another instance of virtual and physical integration is the MR-Assisted Smart Assembly System. Iris recognition is used to verify the identity of personnel, followed by MR-assisted virtual instructions to guide the material feed, jig installation and assembly processes. The intuitive instructions provide a user-friendly learning experience to increase work efficiency and flexibility. At the same time, the assembly processes are monitored by 5G IP cameras in real time. When abnormalities occur, rapid system communication can prevent defects from happening.
MR also elevates the overall efficiency of the Smart Warehousing System. Benefitting from Microsoft’s HoloLens, MR can provide virtual instructions from pick list downloads to pick the path arrangement. For pick list generation, the smart warehousing system is connected to the ERP system. When personnel scan the barcode with their lenses, ERP debiting is simultaneously completed.
Next, the smart warehousing system plans a first-in-first-out pick path to reduce the risks of picking the wrong material and increasing non-productive work time. As the instructions are provided through lenses, personnel can perform tasks with both hands to achieve higher work efficiency and convenience. Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGV) are used to improve equipment utilization.
Thanks to 5G wireless, all the data generated in the production processes is collected by the IoT and fed to the Smart Analysis System. AI, machine learning and deep learning are implemented to perform visual inspection with a higher detection rate compared with human operators. Results driven by big data analytics of the production information are applied back to the aforementioned systems for continuous optimization and a higher balance rate.
Smart Manufacturing as a Corporate Culture to Accelerate Plant Transformation around the Globe
Delta’s smart manufacturing experience focuses on smart equipment implementation, workforce transformation, and the increase of Units per Hour (UPH). Taking the smart production line upgrade in TY1 as an example, the productivity per direct labor has increased by 69%, and space output per square meter by 75%.
The success of this upgrade marks a new chapter in Delta’s development of industrial automation, demonstrating that smart manufacturing has become a fundamental element of Delta’s culture. In addition to accelerating upgrades and the transformation of nearly 20 factories around the globe, Delta will help clients achieve their smart manufacturing vision of the future.