August 28, 2014   Case Studies

Results include 42% improvement in machine utilization, 100 hours reduction in operator overtime per month, 400 hours per month decrease in previously outsourced work, all in the first 5 months.

Industry: OEM Machine Tools

Company Profile

Mazak is a global leader and the largest machine tool vendor in the world offering innovative and productive manufacturing solutions.  Mazak produces sophisticated turning and milling machines at its Kentucky Manufacturing Campus, which is the only machine tool manufacturing plant in the USA with facilities dedicated to the manufacture, repair and rebuilding of machine spindles.  To meet the growing technology demands of its customers across all industry segments, and to bolster its commitments to both its customers and quality manufacturing, Mazak strives to advance the engineering capabilities, product development efforts, and production efficiency of all its plants.

Business Situation

The manufacturing world is a competitive one where demands are continuously changing.  Efficiency and productivity is crucial for success.  Mazak has assumed a role as a designer, as well as a builder, of machine tools that are exported around the world.  The Florence, KY plant produces machines at a rate of 200 units per month in its 800,000 square foot facility and explores manufacturing processes and continuous improvement methodologies that can be implemented in other Mazak manufacturing plants to improve productivity and efficiency.  The team at Mazak understood that in order to maintain their title as a world class leader in OEM Machine Tools, they needed to improve production across the shop floor, particularly in regards to machine availability and associated downtime.  Moreover, any technological advantage Mazak incorporates into its manufacturing stream is also offered to its customers.

Technical Situation

The challenge for the Mazak team was that they needed to figure out how to improve upon their already successful operation, and so began the hunt for a commercially available software package, adhering to the MTConnect protocol that could produce meaningful reports that both production and management teams could act upon.  “This total embrace of MTConnect is intended to make a statement,” said Brian Papke, President of Mazak, who personally drove the project.  “We want to be a leader in both promoting and implementing MTConnect.  We want our example to show the importance of moving toward data-driven manufacturing.  MTConnect is an essential part of what makes data-driven manufacturing possible.”

MTConnect is an open, royalty-free standard intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software applications.  After its introduction at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in 2008, Mazak executives recognized MTConnect’s potential to facilitate plant-wide integration and enhance automation.


Mazak formed a task force of 10 senior executives to evaluate commercially available software solutions, and invited nearly a dozen vendors to present their machine monitoring solution.  After an exhaustive search, this group unanimously selected Memex Automation’s MERLIN product.  “We ended up choosing MERLIN for its ability to collect data using either MTConnect adapters (to newer machines) or through its Universal Machine Interface circuit board (for legacy machines).  This advanced technology board can capture signals directly from the machine and translates them into the MTConnect standard protocol” said Ben Schawe, VP of Manufacturing at Mazak.

“The combination of MTConnect software protocols and hardware circuit boards means that every machine on the shop floor can be MTConnect-compatible enabling a common technology analysis platform.  In particular, we liked MERLIN’s ability to display and report on information related to downtime, and to answer questions such as ‘Why is the machine not running and what can we do to get it running?’” said Schawe.

Demonstrating the truth of the axiom “you are what you measure”, MERLIN had an almost instant impact at Mazak.  In a test section of the plant designed to contain a cross-section of plant equipment, a series of 60-inch display monitors were installed to present real-time machine utilization data.  This data assisted in establishing performance benchmarks and identified the need for related training that could easily be extended across the entire machine-tool manufacturing plant.

MERLIN’s easily interpreted, visual report format provided shop floor operators with at-a-glance information on how machine tool conditions were influencing efficiency.  Bar graphs that summarized activity across a number of machines simultaneously informed supervisors and managers of trends useful for decision-making and long-term planning.  Analysis of this data provided opportunities to reduce or eliminate many stoppages, improving overall machine utilization.  At team production meetings, Mazak personnel were able to identify and easily fix several downtime-related inefficiencies, including optional program stops, feed holds, spindle overrides, dissimilarities in casting suppliers creating more machining and other factors preventing a machine from running.

Similarly, they detected stoppages for tool changes.  Some operators were stopping the machine every time the access to the tool magazine was opened to replace or check a cutting tool.  Instead of using the feed-hold button, which stops the machine, they should have been using the magazine manual interrupt switch, which enables the machine to continue running safely while they perform tool maintenance.  Training that addressed this issue took care of the problem.

Schawe also praised the advantage of MERLIN’s ability to take the guesswork out of tracking machine utilization.  “We can tell at a glance how we are doing, and the basis is in real-time and historical data,” he explained.  “There is so much information, accurate and detailed, and all easily accessed, whereas before it was difficult to find information if it was even available,” he added.  “We have full visibility of production both electronically and posted on production boards.  The office staff has access to status reports and can relay information directly to customers.  Utilizing the web services capability of MERLIN further enhances information dissemination, as various devices can access these data using their browsers and dashboards.”

“Creating a comprehensive machine monitoring system is a big step forward, but universal connectivity and secure reporting for shop floor and plant-wide communication is truly powerful,” continued Schawe.  He further pointed out that MERLIN is also showcased in Mazak’s technology centers across North America, enabling Mazak customers to see MERLIN in action.  “We think we’ve only scratched the surface with MERLIN’s transformative possibilities.  We’re working closely with Memex Automation to bring more and more equipment online with MERLIN.  There’s more productivity for us to discover, and that’s what we intend to do.” 


This effective deployment of real-time machine automated data collection resulted in the following benefits:

  • An immediate 6% increase in machine utilization after MERLIN’s real-time dashboards were displayed.
  • A 42% increase in utilization across machining areas monitored by MERLIN in the first 5 months.
  • A reduction in operator overtime by 100 hours per month, a direct cost saving.
  • A return to Mazak of 400 hours per month of previously outsourced work, improving profitability.
  • Enhanced visibility of production, with over 75 standard MERLIN reports automatically sent out daily.
  • Instantaneous, automatic and timed pro-active email and text alerts to minimize downtime.
  • Detailed analyses of downtime root causes, pointing to areas requiring more operators training.
  • Identification and removal of unnecessary optional stops, recovering lost production time.

Products and Services Deployed

  •  MERLIN MES Lite Software
  • Ax9150 Universal Machine Interface for MTConnect
  • MERLIN Operating Portal Software
  • Machine connectivity circuit boards and software protocols
  • e-maintenance alert system software
  • Memex installation, implementation and training services

Information for this case study was reported in Modern Machine Shop, April 2014 and, July 28, 2014.