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Customer Story

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems speeds production thanks to real-time data visualizations from the PI System

Person holding paint spray gun
  • Challenge
    Access, display, and share data to enable data-driven business
  • Solutions
    Real-time visualization of paint booth conditions and access to historical data trends
  • Benefits
    Engineers and managers can monitor data from anywhere to increase production and save money

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has a diverse set of business activities, including as a Department of Defense contractor and leading manufacturer of remotely piloted aircraft systems, radars, ground control systems, and electro-optic solutions. This diversity of products, however, led to difficulty in sharing data between business units, and data that took hours to retrieve because it was collected and sorted offline by third-party operators. “We’re very vertically integrated and a lot of our organizations don’t know what the others are doing,” said Russell Manson, integration automation architect at General Atomics. To address these and other challenges, General Atomics’ internal team, Manufacturing Center for Continuous Improvement (MCCI), chose the PI System and FogLAMP to harvest, display, and share data in an easy, intuitive way.

We did our due diligence and we looked at other options. All signals pointed back to the PI System.
Russell Manson
Integration Automation Architect at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

Increasing production speed in paint operations

General Atomics’ paint operations house four paint booths where aeronautical components are sent after they are fabricated. Spraying can only occur when the conditions inside the booths are within a narrow temperature and humidity range. The company was using a third-party contractor to collect information about conditions inside the booths. But that crucial information was only available on hard-to-read display boxes, hidden on the sides of the booths.

To make this information more readily available, the MCCI team outfitted each spray booth with two Raspberry Pis, temperature probes, and humidity sensors. It also attached 55-inch monitors to the outside of each booth. FogLAMP collects data from the Raspberry Pis and moves it into the PI System. From there, PI Vision displays provide real-time data visualizations of temperature and humidity conditions inside the booths.

These displays enable booth operators to easily read the status of each booth — even from across the room. The web-based displays provide immediate visual feedback about booth conditions, allowing operators to spray sooner, which increases production speed. General Atomics uses Asset Framework (AF), a contextualization layer of the PI System, to enable engineers to configure and track multi-state events such as temperature and humidity conditions. The PI System also allows information about booth conditions to be collected across time and compared to coating quality standards to ensure that expected outcomes are met.

“I didn’t have to write a single piece of code to do this,” explained Manson. “It’s bittersweet. I like to code but PI Vision is really cool because there are a lot of default features there that are just ready to be displayed.”

General Atomics will also implement Event Frames so that operators can be alerted via text or email when a booth is ready or when conditions are outside of the acceptable range. “We want to be able to take full advantage of the Event Frames so that we’re sure we’re within specifications,” Manson explained.

Providing company-wide actionable data for increased ROI

The PI System provides other people in the company with access to real-time and historical data. They can now analyze data that was previously unavailable. “Manufacturing engineers can view trends from anywhere in the company at any time,” Manson said. “They can also do their own analysis to compare temperature readings between paint booths to justify insulation or cooling,” he said.

GeneralAtomics_paintPI Vision displays, with color-coded alarms, help monitor temperature and humidity in real time inside the paint booths for drones.

This actionable data can help General Atomics make sound business decisions. “We want to show ‘hey, in paint booth number two, it’s taking you twice as long to heat up after spray operations. And maybe it’s taking three times as long to cool down.’ Those are production delays. How much are we spending to heat up a paint booth because we don’t have insulated walls? I’m really excited to be able to drill into this information and show some returns on investment,” Manson said.

Inspiring new PI System projects

MCCI’s success with the paint booths has inspired other data projects throughout the company. People passing by from other General Atomics organizations have noticed and been impressed by the new PI Vision displays.

“These people said, ‘Wow, what are you guys doing here? We want that!’ So, this project has generated a list of opportunities. We’re starting initiatives around machine connectivity, data collection from all of our CNC and shop floor machines, and the various communication protocols,” Manson said.

Watch the full presentation for more information about General Atomics and the PI System.

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