Innovation

How a Toyota supplier saved $1 million by updating its tech infrastructure

Spending $1.2 million on new Cisco equipment has led to significant savings for AW North Carolina, and 40% of these cost savings will be ongoing.

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AWNC upgraded the tech infrastructure in its Durham, NC factory.

Image: Cisco/AWNC

AW North Carolina (AWNC) has spent about $1.2 million to update its Wi-Fi coverage and network firewall and to install a Cisco converged infrastructure solution in its Durham, NC factory. In the first nine months of operation the new equipment has already saved the company $1 million in maintenance costs.

Even better, about 40% of the savings will be ongoing and realized annually, said John Peterson, IT plant manager for AWNC. AWNC is a subsidiary of Aisin AW, a major global automatic transmission manufacturer located in Anjo City, Japan that operates 200 factories worldwide.

AWNC's 1.3 million-square-foot factory supplies Toyota with more than 600,000 transmissions every year. There's little room for downtime, but like many manufacturing plants, the existing equipment was dated. The average age of manufacturing assets and equipment at all US factories is close to 20 years old, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

SEE: High-tech bacon making using industrial IoT at SugarCreek (TechRepublic)

AWNC needed a robust technology infrastructure, as indicated by Peterson's experience when he joined the company.

"I started here at AW in January of 2016 and literally on my first day of work here the phone system collapsed," Peterson said. "It was quite a first day, that's for sure. As I started to explore the rest of the infrastructure associated with the facility, it was very clear, very quickly that the infrastructure was not keeping current with where the world had gone."

Downtime at AWNC costs $272,000 an hour, so it's crucial to get systems up and running as quickly as possible. "Any downtime, particularly in shipping, is incredibly detrimental," Peterson said.

AWNC began working with Cisco to replace the phone system. But that wasn't enough. "We were then starting to have severe failures with a lot of the server technologies we had in place. Most of this equipment was anywhere from 12-15 years old and most did not have up-to-date software. We really modernized the entire facility," he said.

The equipment that Peterson opted to install included:

  • Secure Wi-Fi coverage to the entire 1.3-million-square-foot factory floor.
  • ASA firewall technology for more effective routing of traffic and security.
  • Cisco Flexpod converged infrastructure for integrated computing, networking and storage with a self-healing feature.
  • Disaster recovery system that allows AWNC's Durham or Creedmoor facilities to be run from the alternate site in case of an issue.
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Inside the AWNC factory.

Image: Cisco/AWNC

As a result of the new technology, AWNC avoided maintenance costs on the old equipment of $1 million in the first nine months the system was in place, and expects to see an ongoing annual savings of 40% in maintenance and downtime costs.

It's common in a manufacturing plant to avoid buying new equipment in a misguided attempt to save money, with IT teams not realizing that the operational costs to troubleshoot problems and the associated downtime in a factory environment can result in even higher costs, said Dan Wiggins, vice president of manufacturing and IoT solutions for Cisco.

"We found with one manufacturer we could pinpoint 80% of their problems to antiquated equipment and a multi-vendor approach," Wiggins said.

The next step at AWNC is to digitize the plan and analyze the data being collected and incorporate a new application to react more quickly to downtime or any problem within the factory. Predictive maintenance will also be part of the future of the AWNC plant with vibration analysis and energy usage included in the assessments.

"We're developing next generation IoT solutions that will allow them to build on their infrastructure and take advantage of the connectivity," Wiggins said.

AWNC has had such success with the new core Cisco system that it's already been installed at AW facilities in Asia and Europe, Peterson said.

"We utilized Cisco partners and we have had a very smooth deployment of all of these systems. From the core switches to the Wi-Fi deployments, to the phone system and then the most recent work associated with the disaster recovery has all gone really well. The big push for last year was solidifying the environment, and this year is all about pushing out into the applications and into the manufacturing space to impact yield inventory," Peterson said.

The uptime of systems has improved significantly with the upgrades, and now efficiencies and optimization will be the focus. "We're really looking for big things in 2017 with the utilization of the infrastructure we have in place to optimize the production of our product," Peterson said.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. AWNC has spent about $1.2 million to update its Wi-Fi coverage and network firewall and to install a Cisco converged infrastructure solution to update aging equipment.
  2. In the first nine months of operation the new equipment saved the company $1 million in maintenance costs and 40% of the savings will be ongoing.
  3. The next step is to digitize the plan and analyze the data being collected and incorporate a new application to react more quickly to downtime.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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