The multi-model automotive production line at Nissan has been upgraded with an integrated management system to track parts and vehicles throughout the plant. Sourced by EDS Africa, Rockwell Automation was chosen from 14 bidders to supply the associated hardware, software and engineering for the multi-million rand project in Rosslyn, Gauteng.

“Nissan South Africa approached us for a solution to various challenges faced at their production plant in 2001,” says Raymond Chegwidden, senior information specialist at EDS. “From having to hold four days of parts and components in logistical stock (accruing up to R70-million in the warehouse), the plant clearly needed a more efficient tracking system, which would allow streamlined ordering/dispatching and a reduced stock holding.”

Following completion of the tracking system and automation upgrade, downtime has been reduced from 30% on the old system to around 1%, accurate inventory has been guaranteed, stock holding has been reduced by up to 45% and, furthermore, the actual system component ownership costs have also dropped.

Because the production line seamlessly assembles various models and even brands of vehicles, Nissan’s manufacturing plant in Rosslyn consists of 26 tracking stations. From the body shop where a vehicle shell is “entered” on to a conveyor line through to the buy off area where a complete vehicle leaves the facility, if a part at any stage is not available or incorrect, the entire line stops. Whenever a part is installed, its serial number has to be recorded in order for an automatic order to be sent off for another batch of the same part.

Data read reliability and tracking system downtime in their old system were the major problems that needed addressing with the upgrade, as well as replacing the RS458 communication network with an Ethernet/IP network. This enabled the introduction of Rockwell Automation’s RSSQL based data collection, control and monitoring solutions.

An Allen Bradley Flexlogix programmable controller (PLC) was installed at each of the 26 tracking stations whilst bar-code scanners, tested and approved by Nissan, were installed on each station to record the relevant information. It is now possible to not only control the production line remotely, but to individually access problem points on the line before or when alarms signal possible failures, translating in much faster response times and preventative maintenance.

The realtime information garnered using Rockwell Automation software, is being fed seamlessly into Nissan’s SAP/R3 enterprise resource management (ERP) system. Now the plant is capable of realtime inventory crediting, automatic broadcasting of advance orders to external suppliers and the internal warehouse, and better control over vehicle movement.

"We selected Rockwell Automation for several reasons,” says Chegwidden. “Reduced hardware requirements, expandability potential, seamless integration with the tracking solution, connectivity to the ERP system and local support were the main reasons, but we were also able to rely on them during planning and design of this solution.”

EDS is currently involved in the automation of automotive plants in Port-Elizabeth and in Europe, with the potential for extensive further cooperation with Rockwell Automation.