Lubricants are essential in everything from mining and railways to space travel. They keep gears moving. They reduce friction to improve performance and longevity. For NASA, they help transport space shuttles to the launch pad.
The Whitmore Manufacturing Company is responsible for producing these industrial lubricants, as well as sealants, coatings, cleaners and oils. The company produces over 16 million pounds of lubricants each year, ranging from biodegradable and dry fi lm lubricants to hydraulic oils and tire sealants.
Whitmore manages all steps of lubrication production, from R&D and product formulation to application services for customers around the world. Recently, it began a $20 million, 120,000-square-foot expansion of its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Rockwall, Texas.
The creation of a Whitmore lubricant begins in a batch mixer. The solution is then heated within specific temperature parameters. Traditionally, the industrial lubrication industry has relied on labor-intensive batch processes. At Whitmore, operators were required to manually select the number of gallons of raw materials to be processed at a charging and mixing station.
Workers had to manually move the hoses and manifolds from each charging station to different areas of the plant floor.
Once the requested number of gallons was pumped out, a valve would shut. Operators then had to blow air through the hoses to remove any lingering product. Forgetting to clear the hose could cause contamination in future batches that used the same hose with a different raw material.
Operators manually activated the motors to spin and heat the contents. As the lubricant warmed, operators had to keep a close eye on the temperature gauge and turn the mixer off at the prescribed temperature for that specific batch of lubricant. Operators then added other ingredients and repeated the mixing and heating process all while watching multiple mixers and temperature gauges at the same time. Errors at this stage were responsible for the majority of batch re-work or losses.
The entire process was time-consuming and error-prone, as Whitmore employees moved hoses between mixers, or moved about the floor to monitor batch temperatures.
Contamination within hoses was always a concern,” said Tim Meyer, quality manager, Whitmore. “Operators could choose the wrong hose or choose a hose that hadn’t been cleaned correctly. This led to quality issues with our products.”
In order to reduce nonconforming batches, improve quality and meet customer expectations around the world, Whitmore decided to automate its lubricant making process and gain access to real-time information from the facility floor.
Whitmore engineers began working with Innovative Control Inc., a Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator, to build an integrated control and information system built on the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system.
The multi-year project began by installing an Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable logic controller that was seamlessly integrated with Allen-Bradley IntelliCENTER motor control software for the facility’s charging and temperature control systems. FactoryTalk View Site Edition software from Rockwell Automation provides a comprehensive and accurate view into the newly automated lubricant charging and mixing systems via tight integration to the ControlLogix platform and other FactoryTalk applications.
FactoryTalk Historian software tracks key variables, such as lubricant temperature, weight, and mixing time for the facility’s more than 20 mixers. Operators now can easily see where modified batches originated by reviewing historical and real-time data.
The historian information is fed into FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software from Rockwell Automation, which provides greater accessibility to in-context data and trend reports. This manufacturing intelligence solution enables operators to analyze multi-batch data more efficiently. Whitmore engineers can now chart connections between average cycle times and production rates. The solution’s dashboards allow operators to monitor and troubleshoot the system remotely or on a mobile device.
The controllers’ integrated platform and single programming environment has minimized operator interaction with materials that go into the lubricants.
Whitmore also implemented an electronic batch ticketing process using FactoryTalk Batch software to drive work flow. Every recipe and formula is programmed by engineers in the FactoryTalk Batch application, which requires signoff s before recipes are released to production.
Whitmore was able to automate all 20+ mixers without any downtime and then moved on to automate the motor control and charging systems. Since the implementation of the fully automated integrated control and information system, Whitmore has reduced product variation significantly because the new process replaced manual procedures and nearly eliminated human error.
For lithium-based greases alone, Whitmore was able to increase production capacity by 28 percent – adding 150 batches per year and reducing cycle time by an average of nine hours.
The new system has minimized work order variances – including cost and material usage – and yield is carefully monitored and controlled.
“This system puts Whitmore at the forefront of production technology in the lubricants industry,” said Meyer. “More importantly, we have our production methods down to a science and a lot of happy customers.”
Whitmore’s engineers are working with its IT team to integrate its new enterprise resource planning (ERP) and automation systems. Once the automation system is completely integrated with the ERP, Whitmore expects even more benefits, including real-time inventory control and increased reporting.