Facing a rapidly growing population, combined with increasingly limited land, water and energy resources, farmers across the U.S. are under growing pressure to meet the mounting demand for food. In turn, their agribusiness suppliers are challenged to keep up. They must supply farmers with the volume of safe and efficient crop protection, and seed-care products needed to develop strong roots – the basis for healthy crops and high yields.
Recently, a global leader in crop protection and seed care identified the need to replace its outdated batch processes and systems at one of its chemical production facilities. At its old facility, the company relied on an outdated, labor- and time-intensive batch process that lacked automated track-and-trace capabilities. Under the system, operators primarily used a manual method to weigh and add ingredients, while making hand-recorded notations along the way. The slow, cumbersome process lacked reliable, easy-to-retrieve information and reporting capabilities.
The company determined it needed a new facility that would increase its production to meet customer demand, coupled with integrated information and a continuous control strategy that would make it easy for operators to monitor and manage production operations. The company also sought a solution that would help ensure end-to-end traceability of a product so it could respond fast in the event of a product recall.
They contracted the services of Interstates Control Systems & Manufacturing Intelligence, a turn-key system integrator within the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program that provides automation solutions, manufacturing execution-systems, and manufacturing IT-services. Together, this team set out to implement an integrated plantwide information and control system based on the FactoryTalk® software suite and the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx™ process automation system. With this integrated manufacturing intelligence and continuous process-control strategy, the company sought to increase productivity, improve workflow and management, and allow the induction of continuous batch production with streamlined, regulatory-compliant, track-and-trace capabilities.
Interstates worked with Rockwell Automation to implement a manufacturing intelligence solution based on the FactoryTalk software suite. The thrust of the manufacturing intelligence solution – FactoryTalk VantagePoint Software – provides unmatched visibility into production. The application leverages a unified production model providing access to virtually all plant data-sources, giving users a comprehensive picture of the factors contributing to the performance of the operation. It then produces Web-based reports, such as dashboards, trends and Microsoft Excel documents, providing users with role-based information most relevant to their job.
The PlantPAx process automation system then extends to the entire manufacturing process including: receiving, material handling, batching and blending, processing, packaging, shipping and information systems. This multidiscipline approach offers a single, open architecture that expands across the plant to provide a comprehensive solution for control and information.
“The continuous batch process enables the customer to more quickly and cost-effectively manufacture a quality-approved product,” said Jerry Steenhoek, chief technologist, Interstates. “Coupled with the role-based visualization provided by FactoryTalk VantagePoint, users at all levels of the facility can access the specific information they need to make important decisions about their piece of the manufacturing process.”
Furthermore, the system’s track-and-trace capabilities make it easier for the company to gather critical historical and real-time information that is accurate and readily accessible. Automatic collection of unique batch ID’s and packaging lot numbers ensures end-to-end product traceability, including raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods products.
The new system increased production by 166 percent – a productivity increase the company estimates would have required a 25 percent increase in man power. In addition, the standard functionality of the system has reduced labor costs, errors, nonvalue-added activities, and the total cost of ownership, all while improving ease of use. Finally, due to the scalability of the system, the company has potential to double production with only a small capital investment.
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