Tracking manual operations in discrete, batch, and continuous manufacturing processes can greatly benefit from off-the-shelf products. Clearly specifying your procedures, enforcing their execution, and capturing pertinent data are all major benefits that can be quickly and easily be obtained by implementing off-the-shelf, procedure management software.
To ensure consistency, manufacturers use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to specify how operations are to be done. SOPs may be developed for product operations, safety, periodic maintenance, startup or shutdown operations.
Often, discrete manufacturing processes require a high level of manual operator activities that rely on paper-based SOPs to specify how to manufacture their products.
It is the responsibility of employees to perform the tasks specified in the SOP and to capture any required data. Even in relatively automated process control systems, it is not uncommon to find SOPs that require an operator to input the setpoints or record readings before initiating the required tasks. Sometimes data is recorded on the SOP or a related paper form, but, oftentimes the date and employee identification is required.
As the volume of amount of data and the value of accuracy increases, as does the justification for automating the SOP and data collection.
Standard, off-the-shelf products can be used to replace the paper-based SOPs and electronically interface with the operators via portable devices such as phones, iPads, industrial portable terminals, etc. One such product is Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk Batch.
The unfortunate name of the product implies that it is only helpful with batch manufacturing processes, but, in fact, it is very helpful automating any operation where following an ordered set of steps and collecting data is required. FactoryTalk Batch is really a sequencing engine that follows the steps of an operating procedure or recipe.
The operating procedures are clearly specified electronically. A sequencing engine is responsible for prompting the operator to perform the tasks in the order specified by the electronic SOP. Off-the-shelf sequencing engines contain features that streamline the process of following the SOP and recording required data. Many sequencing engines, including FactoryTalk Batch, can transfer required set points to the process control system as well as directly capture process information without relying on the operators. In partially automated processes, data collected from operators via electronic forms can be merged with automatically collected data.
The sequencing engine is now the orchestrator of the process activities and is responsible for interacting with the operator, to instruct them to perform manual tasks and capturing information not available electronically; at the same time, it coordinates all activities with the equipment it can interact with.
This off-the-shelf sequencing engine can be interfaced with the enterprise-resource planning system in order to receive production orders, it clearly specifies and maintains SOPs and their versioning, it coordinates all manual and automated procedural activities, and it captures all pertinent information to recall how a product was made including material traceability.
Fixed industrial human-machine interface products or mobile devices can be used for operator interaction.
Clients see return through increased product yields and improved overall equipment effectiveness. An ISO-9001 certified client realized tremendous benefit in reduced labor costs. Being able to use an off-the-shelf package, significantly reduces implementation cost and schedule. Perhaps you can benefit too.
Timothy S. Matheny, P.E., is president of ECS Solutions, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). He is also author of a paper on model-based control, presented to the ISA Food and Pharmaceutical Industry Division in 2014. To obtain a copy of Matheny’s paper, or for more information about ECS Solutions, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.