Steel Producer Improves Product Quality with Manufacturing Intelligence Software

Aug. 18, 2010
By pulling together data that had been isolated in multiple systems, FactoryTalk® VantagePoint from Rockwell Automation allows a leading steel producer to improve quality by increasing visibility, correlating potential defects and customizing reporting.

Manufacturers are beset on all sides with increasing external pressures—volatile customer demands, growing regulatory oversight, sustainability requirements—while inside their own organizations they are being asked to slice costs and improve profitability. To be successful, manufacturers must learn to leverage data that is often fragmented into islands around the enterprise. On each island workers can operate their systems—whether programmable controllers, inventory management or LIMS, e.g.--and they can focus on appropriate KPIs for their function. An operator can monitor throughput and cycle time. Maintenance can monitor performance and works to predict—and prevent—downtime.

While these islands allow people to do their jobs, improving the manufacturing process as a whole has been more challenging. Why? Most plants are comprised of capital equipment, software and infrastructure from different generations and different vendors, and communication between functional areas has been difficult to achieve.

But what if that wasn’t the case? What if manufactures could find a way to unify their existing investments in hardware, software, sensors and the like, so that each role-player in the plant could make informed decisions that would directly impact plant performance?

That’s what a thoughtful Manufacturing Intelligence platform provides. Each role-player in the plant has visibility into a range of data, understands the context of that data and how it affects performance, and is empowered to tailor daily decisions to affect those results in a role-appropriate way. In addition, for those whose roles require it, a Manufacturing Intelligence platform makes information available across functions and from multiple systems.

Achieving that cross-functional insight requires the type of unified production model provided by FactoryTalk VantagePoint from Rockwell Automation. FactoryTalk VantagePoint is a vendor-neutral intelligence layer that pulls information from any system in the plant--control systems, sensors, historians, and business systems--contextualizes it, and presents it effectively in customized dashboards. That customization provides users access to data at whatever level of detail they require to do their job, but also makes that information available in real-time to other parts of the enterprise, enabling users to achieve important overall performance goals like improved OEE, just-in-time ordering, waste reduction, and improved quality.

Unified for Better Quality

A leading steel producer used FactoryTalk VantagePoint to improve product quality by pulling data together that had been isolated in multiple systems and processes--power levels and oxygen inputs in the furnace and water flow and temperature in the caster, for example. The X-Y plotter has enabled the manufacturer to correlate size and temperature variable to better identify potential defects; and the customizable reporting tools have helped to improve accuracy and speed time-to-value while minimizing the cost of analysis. This visibility—the ability to compare batch-to-batch—has enabled Arkansas Steel to move more quickly in its ISO 9000 compliance program while increasing throughput.

Once installed, FactoryTalk VantagePoint enables users to view and quickly analyze performance with trending, reporting and dashboards that cover:
• Key performance indicators (KPI)
• Alarms and events
• Control loop reports
• Device and equipment performance
• Batch, production run and shift information

The role of a Plant Manager is one that demands the ability to mingle multiple plant functions. Clearly, he is interested in whether a line is running (as is an Operator); he is also interested in whether a line is experiencing downtime (as is Maintenance); and he’s interested in whether or not products coming off the line are meeting spec (as is Quality). But add to these his responsibility to management for the overall performance of the plant – not just operationally, but also profitability.

So, for example, by looking at OEE/Uptime and Yield over multiple shifts, he may discover that by reducing machine performance and decreasing unscheduled downtime, he can actually find another shift’s worth of production each week—the so-called ‘hidden factory’. On a common dashboard, the Plant Manager can burrow down into, say, yield data and discover that OEE and scrap trends may be contributing to lower yield than expected.

The drag-and-drop functionality of FactoryTalk VantagePoint enables users to overlay equipment, line and plants trends for comparison and optimization. So, digging deeper yet, the plant manager may be able to identify a specific product or particular line as commonly deviating from the norm or dragging down the average.

With a Manufacturing Intelligence system in place, an enterprise can re-evaluate and analyze performance on an on-going basis, and provide for the continuous performance improvement that will satisfy both external and internal demands for operations that are better, faster, and more cost-effective.

For more information, visit Manufacturing Intelligence.

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