Automation Technologies Do Exist

June 7, 2013
Users give examples that show the benefits of digital technologies, including reduced scrap through better data, and money savings in operations.

“Are all those technologies real?” he asked.

A professional in the audience during my presentation on digital technologies (networking, fieldbuses, OPC, MES, diagnostics and the like) at the recent Maintenance and Reliability Technology Summit (MARTS) interrupted my presentation with that question. I didn’t mind the interruption. In fact, I prefer them.

But that question really stopped me. There was one person in the room who was up to date with the benefits of using Foundation Fieldbus or Profibus PA. One other person voiced some outdated information that continues to survive. In this person’s case, engineering (or someone) had told him that it was impossible to extract diagnostic data from all the HART devices they had in the field; that they could not feed a manufacturing execution system (MES) with data so that his maintenance crew could get more information than just alarm data from operations before going out to check on the problem.

This discussion could not have been more timely. There are few better places to gather information about technologies that work than a conference focused on operations management. Only the week before, I attended MESA International’s 2013 North American Conference in Greenville, S.C. Several people who had implemented an MES/MOM solution spoke to the lessons learned and benefits gained from the technology.

>> Cross-Industry Learning: You probably know far more about the leader in your specific industry than you do about the leaders in other manufacturing and production industries. Can you ever become the leader with just that type of view?

Mike Yost, MESA president, discussed how his first MES project several years ago yielded many benefits that were never documented, so they never received credit for them even though enough benefits were documented to justify the project. Members and practitioners alike need to educate the market, Yost said.

Users speak
I was able to attend two sessions presented by manufacturers who had recently implemented an MES/MOM solution. The first used the Catalyst Workflow application from Savigent Software ( as part of a continuous improvement program specifically targeted at improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) numbers. The second implemented a solution from Rockwell Software (, also as part of a continuous improvement effort, saying he was “pursuing previously hidden information” to aid the effort.

Rather than saying, “What gets measured can get managed,” we should say, “What gets managed gets improved,” according to the first speaker. He had been looking for a platform to automate data collection. The company needed to reduce the need for additional capital while reducing costs and improving OEE. The company was able to track metrics and manage accountability. By gaining increased visibility into manufacturing processes, gap analysis could be employed to improve manufacturing metrics. Manual data entry gave false OEE reads. Better data gave insight that led to scrap reduction of 6 percent.

The second speaker, from a major automotive manufacturing company, spoke of using a holistic approach to pursuing previously hidden knowledge and value. Much of the project involved plant visualization. They made the line status and problems visual. The idea is that no problems are hidden. When the project was begun, there was either no plant visualization system or only a legacy system. This also meant a lack of data for problem identification.

The program unlocked machine data, adding visualization into the process. One of the most important things they discovered is the need to have a unified data model. Environmental reporting improved greatly by having access to more information than ever before. Critical process checks were made reliably and automatically, where previously they had people wandering around checking instruments and writing down the data. The plant moved five dispatchers to more critical areas, thus saving money in the operation.

Both of these projects were IT projects done in cooperation with process engineering, showing that it is possible for the two groups to collaborate.

So, it is real. Failure to use all the tools that technology offers is a recipe for a failing plant.

>> Gary Mintchell, [email protected], is Founding Editor of Automation World.

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