Case Study: Automated Testing Maintains Reputation
How should a manufacturer respond to its primary market shrinking? For oil burner and controls maker R.W. Beckett Corp. (North Ridgeville, OH), the answer was to expand into gas burners and controls and significantly step up already good quality.
Quality has always been a driving value for the company, which has been family owned and run for more than 70 years. But with more than 1,500 possible unit-build configurations, its manual testing procedures had become inefficient and inconsistent.
“The previous testing process was operator dependant,” explains Quality Manager Vic Turk. “The operator looked at gages and digital meters and judged whether the unit was right. It was labor intensive, less accurate and inconsistent.”
In addition, the old electro-mechanical testers required some manual set up for each new order that ran in the cell. They were often run in a partial by-pass mode, where the green light pass/red light fail feature was disabled for a test feature.
In 2005, Beckett moved to automated burner and burner control testing stations as part of a Six Sigma Black Belt project. “Our goal was and is to increase first-pass yield on all tested components and systems,” says Senior Process Engineer Jeff Traczek.
The SolutionSixteen test stands were stationed in-line, at the end of the line and at component suppliers.
All of Beckett’s testing stations use National Instruments (Schaumburg, IL) LabView. The systems were developed by The RoviSys Co. (Aurora, OH), an independent automation system integrator. RoviSys also engineered a utility that rolls out LabView application and configuration updates to all the test stands.
“But the significant opportunity was the potential to eliminate manual intervention and associated escape of nonconforming material,” says Turk. Upgrading to electronic readouts and data recording promise some improvements.
The automated testers can process more complex burner control cycles than with the previous one-size-fits-all process. Exact pressure anywhere between 90 and 200 psig can be verified accurately without operator influence. The new systems have enabled Beckett to steadily expand and improve the rigor of testing and verifying additional functions and features. With the new test stands, each burner automatically goes through a complete and verified cycle and is left in a ready-to-ship state.
“Now once the burner completes a test cycle,” Turk says, “measured values are verified against parameters for the specific unit before the approval label is generated on line. This provides positive mistake-proof verification of burner performance and quality.”
Beckett runs some test stations standalone and others tied into the plant network and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Work orders are pushed down to the end-of-line stations. The system locates the test criteria for that model number. The new systems sample and collect dozen of input/output (I/O) points at every step including voltages, currents and pressures. When a unit passes final testing, the test stand generates a serial number and automatically reports to the plant system.
Beckett tests 100% of units and the test systems will print a label only if the unit passes, Traczek says. “There are certain tests that must be performed for UL, like HI-pot. Our test stations ensure these tests are being done. The unit passes or it doesn’t. There are no judgment calls.”
Turk says his quality department is digging into the data. “Using thousands of sets of burner data, we can continue to improve test parameters to avoid missed operations, incorrect settings and other factors. We have several such projects in process.”
Traczek says his production team regularly reviews the data for trends. Their goal is to prevent defective units from reaching final testing.
“We can identify problem areas and why things are failing. We look for the top 10 issues at any given time and go hammer on those,” Traczek says. If, for example, an unexpected number of blower motors are causing systems to fail, they want to know why. “We go to the source to figure that out.”
Turk says the testing program “has improved the consistency and reliability of finished burners for our customers with more complex testing demands without any increase in the tester cycles.”
Traczek adds, “If you are involved in this industry in anyway, you know Beckett has always been highly motivated by quality and reputation. We take quality very seriously.”