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Comau: Quality Enters IoT

Thanks to digitalization, new approaches and innovative technologies are being adopted to optimize the company’s quality system.

"Predictive maintenance" is one of the key aspects of the Industrial Internet of Things, as it offers the possibility to improve any work flow by analyzing Big Data and forecasting performance. Comau, a company in the FCA Group with over 45 years of experience in the development of advanced products and systems for industrial automation, applies this approach to every area in which it works, including quality management. "By exploiting the opportunities offered by digitalization, we are able to apply an IoT approach even to our own internal quality system. We can, therefore, verify, analyze, and control our products, production, and operation work flows to make them increasingly efficient," explains Giovanni Volpes, Head of Quality at Comau.

What does quality mean for a large enterprise?

"One of the tasks of our Quality team is to help create and maintain a simple, integrated system of processes that we can work with and utilize to measure performance - but there's more to it than that. For any company, quality must be completely cohesive with the business if customers are to be offered the best solutions without startup problems and with guaranteed maximum long-term reliability within agreed upon deadlines. Comau assures the quality of each of these steps thanks to a Quality Management System that conforms to ISO 9001:2015, and also through the application of ISO 14001:2015, ISO 50001, and OHSAS 18001 certifications in the fields of environment, safety, and energy. The more recent VDA 6.4 certification for the automotive industry and our Electrification Division were added to our company management systems in 2019."

What objectives do you want to achieve?

"The ability to manage problems and solve them rapidly is what makes the difference to any company's success in the market. If you work on the basis that a problem will occur and that you need be prepared to solve and prevent it before it does, the quality you offer to customers can improve exponentially. That is why Comau is running innovative projects in which quality is viewed in terms of 'prevention' rather than 'reaction'. Thanks to IoT, 5G, and smart digital production, we now have the technologies we need to compare data from different production units, analyze trends, and compare them with expected process data to identify and rectify problems before they occur. While we can, we need to change the way we think about quality, asking first how we can prevent a technical problem from arising and giving every team the digital tools they need to monitor performance and processes."

What tools do you use?

"One tool is in.Grid, Comau's new platform for the real-time analysis and monitoring of data from systems and the production line in order to implement predictive maintenance. in.Grid allows us to keep track of automated production processes and manual ones as well, thanks to the use of the smartwatches or tablets we provide to operators. In essence, data is collected and processed at machine, line, and plant levels, while the data analysis platform – with its high-level algorithms, artificial intelligence, and memory functions – can be located either in the plant itself, an external data processing center, or in a private cloud, all with results shared over mobile devices. Comau is also investing in quality in other ways by developing personal competency through targeted training courses."

Training quality as a change of culture

To develop a real culture of quality, Comau Academy has launched the "Reactive Program" project, which uses the Kepner-Tregoe method to obtain robust, definitive, and efficient problem diagnosis. In 2017, Comau gained global recognition for its implementation of the PA (Problem Analysis) method in the development of new body assembly solutions. This is now being complemented by a new project to provide “dojos” inside the factory. These alternative forms of training start with an evaluation of whatever problem the customer is experiencing and analyze all the conditions that could potentially cause that problem. "To put it simply, rather than tell the operator what to do (as in the traditional approach), we explain why it needs to be done and what happens if we don't do it. This approach builds far greater involvement between company and operator and gives the operator a far greater awareness of the importance of his work and the ways in which it must be done if quality is to be something for everyone."      

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