Big data has created a super-sized challenge for manufacturers as they continue to grow through acquisitions, expansions and new product introductions. While companies reap the rewards of new revenue streams, they also struggle to share the volumes of data available across their sprawling enterprises.
Recent advances in manufacturing-intelligence technologies provide businesses with the tools they need to not only access operations data but share the information companywide. Many of these manufacturers are combining automation solutions that can collect and archive historical and real-time data with Web-based reporting platforms.
The technology providers themselves are leading this evolution, along with a new breed of plant employee known as the information engineer.
For Rockwell Automation, one of the keys to enabling information sharing is the company’s FactoryTalk® software suite, which includes the FactoryTalk Historian data-collection software. This software gathers data tags directly from a controller for real-time, granular production data. The system helps operators quickly locate and correct sources of inefficiencies and ease regulatory compliance by keeping an electronic history of the data transactions.
Data Sharing Improves Batch Yields
A global food producer recently deployed FactoryTalk Historian SE and FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software to address low batch yields. The company struggled to collect critical production data after it had expanded to 65 plants across North America. As a result, the producer could not figure out why batch yields were lower than expected and needed a solution that allowed them to investigate the issue.
Grantek Systems Integration, a Rockwell Automation Solution Partner, discovered the company lacked support for enterprisewide information sharing. The company did not have standards around control system-to-SAP interfaces – the primary means of connecting plant-floor data to enterprise information systems – or data reconciliation and error handling. Without common standards, integration of plant-floor data from each plant with the enterprise-level SAP system was spotty and costly. It also could not handle SAP outages, rendering data inaccessible or lost.
Grantek installed a framework that mapped the customer’s manufacturing-facing SAP modules for every production-facility scenario and provided a bidirectional store and forward system. This allows the SAP system to collect plant data and plant operators to view stored SAP data even during SAP outages. The framework incorporates FactoryTalk Historian SE software and an SQL server to collect and archive historical and real-time data directly from production equipment and to optimize historical data storage. Grantek then implemented an open, Web-based reporting platform using FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software that aggregates information from multiple data sources and provides access to real-time data and key performance indicators via any Internet browser.
After the full implementation, the company was able to view a trend report of unscheduled line stops across facilities and drill down into the faults causing each stop. They realized a large portion of stops were caused by a lack of inventory to run production and warehouse operations. The company corrected the issue by interlocking information flowing from SAP, so plant operators had a clear view on inventory from the enterprise system. The company’s actions reduced unscheduled line stops by 50 percent. In addition, transaction-completion speeds improved from 25 minutes to less than two minutes, and failure resolution time per failure was reduced by 15 hours.
“FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software is unique because it allows us to essentially create a Yellow Pages of the company’s disparate information,” says Ian Tooke, business solutions practice manager for Grantek. “They were able to leverage the dashboards, digging into deeper levels of data to understand where problems were arising, even without completely understanding all of the technology that made the solution possible.”
Enter the Information Engineer
The food producer’s operations team used the technology to move from a fix-it-and-restart mentality to an observe-and-prevent operating approach, Tooke says. As more companies realize the benefits of manufacturing intelligence, the role of the plant engineer is evolving into a type of information engineer, says Michael Pantaleano, business manager, information software, Rockwell Automation.
More than 10 years ago, engineers were typically the only people on the plant floor who had access to information from a controller. Today’s manufacturers want their plant engineers to empower other people around them with the information they can access. These information engineers are expected to take initiative to help the rest of the operations team access important data, such as maintenance and quality information.
Supplying a wider base of stakeholders with access allows a larger team now vested to help improve operations. At the Greater Wellington Regional Council, a water treatment facility responsible for more than 10 percent of the population in New Zealand, data analyst Lily Wang handles both internal and external reporting with access to real-time and historical plant information. She checks water intake and production data every day. “With real-time data from our plants immediately available, it’s as easy as doing a balance check,” she says.
In the summer of 2012, during one daily validation, more water was taken in than what was fed into the drinking-water system, signifying a leak. Wang was able to immediately contact the maintenance engineers responsible for the appropriate plant and direct them to the relevant pipeline to find and fix the leak. The problem was discovered and solved before the leak was noticeable to production engineers or developed into a larger issue.
“They’re providing this information at a level that is automated, so it isn’t last week’s news that is being recorded on a clipboard,” Pantaleano says. “They’re able to understand root causes on the production line and help enable other people in their company make better decisions.”
FactoryTalk® is a trademark of Rockwell Automation Inc.