Case Study: Increasing Machine Utilization through Visibility and Real-Time Analysis with an Easy-start Solution using Signal Towers

Company News, Case Study

“SIGNAL CHAIN has proven invaluable
for unattended machine operations.”

~ Jon Walczak, Senior Director of Operations,
Mid-States Aluminum Corporation

Faced with issues such as limited visibility and delays in performance monitoring on the shop floor, Mid-States Aluminum, a leading aluminum manufacturer in Wisconsin, Illinois, overcame these challenges by implementing mcframe SIGNAL CHAIN.

The scalable and cost-effective shop floor monitoring solution enabled real-time analysis, reduced setup time, and improved workforce communication. SIGNAL CHAIN eliminated the need for complicated PLC manipulation by wirelessly collecting machine operation data through PATLITE® signal towers.

Mid-states achieved an immediate increase in machine uptime, while benefiting from implementation costs that were 30% less than other monitoring solutions. By tracking downtime reasons and making sustainable improvements, Mid-States Aluminum experienced enhanced productivity and efficiency.


At a Glance

At the Mid-States Aluminum facility, there were no visual indicators to show if machines were running, and technicians had to be contacted when machines needed attention. Performance monitoring was not conducted in real-time, and it was difficult to track progress on improvements. SIGNAL CHAIN solved these problems.

The solution provided significant benefits:

  1. Increased machine uptime through improved visibility and communication by placing monitors and data entry devices throughout the factory.
  2. Collected manufacturing performance data in real time, such as production count through specified signal lights patterns.
  3. Enabled unattended equipment operation by sending text messages for immediate action, and provided escalation with alerts to supervisors after certain lengths of stoppage.
  4. Tracked downtime reasons for evaluating root causes and making sustainable improvements.

Mid-States Aluminum Corporation


Products and Services: Designing, engineering, extruding, anodizing, assembling and packaging of aluminum products of all sizes and specifications.
Incorporated: 1964
Employees: 275
Web Site:
Founded in 1964 in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, Mid-States Aluminum offers a range of products and services related to aluminum extrusion. With a team of nearly 275 associates and a large 298,837 square foot facility, they produce and fabricate aluminum extrusions for many industries, including transportation, building and construction, medical, and electronics fields, among others.

Boosting Shop-floor Productivity with Improved Visibility and Communication using Data from Signal Towers

Challenges: Lack of Visibility in Machine Operation

Mid-States Aluminum is a leading manufacturer and supplier of aluminum extrusions and related products. They operate 50 machines and 20 industrial robots, including Cobots . Before implementing mcframe SIGNAL CHAIN, the company faced issues that hindered productivity. “One major problem was the lack of visual indicators to determine whether machines were running or idle”, says Jon Walczak, Senior Director of Operations at Mid-States Aluminum.

“We didn’t have many visual indicators on the shop floor, so we didn’t really know if our machines were running or not unless we were right in front of them. There were a lot of pieces of paper, but nothing that
told us the real-time status of which machines were operational.” Insufficient visibility also created challenges when machines required attention. “We had to find someone to help us get them running again. We would have to realize that the machine had stopped and then use a handheld radio to call the technician. This resulted in a lot of idle time for the machines.”

In addition, the company was not able to monitor performance in real time. “We had to wait for data at the end of the shift to show how many pieces we had produced. There was no ability to measure progress in real time or quantify the improvements we made,” Walczak recalls.

Solution: mcframe SIGNAL CHAIN:
Monitoring via PATLITE® Signal Towers


Walczak discovered SIGNAL CHAIN when he and his team attended an industry trade show. After carefully evaluating the other solutions, Walczak recognized that SIGNAL CHAIN offered the right features, focusing on real-time visualization and operation analysis without complexity.

“SIGNAL CHAIN was easy to launch, allowing us to complete the installation with our own staff,” says Walczak. Some of the other systems he looked at were integrated through the PLC, requiring coding knowledge, and making the application very challenging.

SIGNAL CHAIN offered a different approach to provide the visualization that Mid-States Aluminum needed by using PATLITE® signal towers. IoT devices can be attached to the towers for wireless transmission of machine operation statuses. Thus, SIGNAL CHAIN works without complex PLC programming or network wiring.

Scalability was another crucial factor. “SIGNAL CHAIN provided the flexibility to start small and expand gradually over time,” says Walczak. In addition, SIGNAL CHAIN offered significant cost advantages. “SIGNAL CHAIN proved to be economical, with an upfront cost that was 30% lower than other options,” Walczak points out.

Result: Smart KAIZEN -
Increasing Utilization with Low Investment

msa05Mid-States Aluminum has experienced significant improvements in its factory operations since installing SIGNAL CHAIN. The system has led to increased uptime due to enhanced visibility and communication. With real-time updates, including production count, the team can easily monitor operations and make quick decisions. Walczak also witnessed a reduction in setup time through better changeover tracking. By closely monitoring downtime during setups, the company has been able to identify areas for improvement and
streamline the changeover process.

Additionally, SIGNAL CHAIN has enabled the company to run equipment unattended. Text messages are sent to employees when machines require immediate action. Mid-states established email groups for supervisors and engineers to be notified of specified stoppage length, so they can investigate and fix problems before they
become bigger. “SIGNAL CHAIN has proven invaluable for unattended machine operations,” says Walczak.

“Twice as good,” says Walczak regarding the ROI (Return on investment) of SIGNAL CHAIN when comparing it to other competitors. As their understanding of the system grew, Mid-states began enhancing their capabilities, confirming the benefits, and eventually expanding from 4 to 24 monitoring work cells within a year.

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