With smaller engineering, operations and IT budgets in response to increased global competition, companies are turning to new technologies to get the information they need to improve their processes without adding new employees.
“Today’s manufacturing plants are like data centers,” explains Don Busiek, general manager for manufacturing software at automation vendor GE Intelligent Platforms. “The explosion of data from manufacturing systems and customers is being used to drive more efficiency and more revenue. Just having more data makes people curious about what they can find out about their production systems, and that drives continuous improvement.”
The greater the impact of faulty products on companies—whether they produce food or pharmaceuticals that could create public safety issues, or high-value systems that require great precision like an aircraft engine—the more valuable detailed operational intelligence becomes. But any manufacturer can gain important benefits from using information gathered from production systems to improve manufacturing and business operations.
GE Lighting reduces cycle time
GE Lighting used the Proficy software suite from its sister division, automation software vendor GE Information Platforms, to improve the speed and productivity of its manufacturing systems for both its high-speed lamp business and its custom, made-to-order fixture facility. Craig Platt, IT director, global supply chain, for GE Lighting, says one of the most important aspects of the software is the support it provides for local decision-making. “We’re getting better information, faster and to the right people,” he says.
“Our operators get real-time alerts so they can make immediate process adjustments, process engineers can monitor the health of the entire production system, and our advanced manufacturing engineers get a big picture view of productivity and the cost of product, so they can determine whether a wholesale process change is needed,” explains Platt. The division is now piloting an executive channel that will summarize plant-level key performance indicators (KPIs) vs. operating parameters.
“We’ve been impressed by the usefulness of the information collected and how much faster it has made problem identification and resolution,” Platt adds. “We can also share knowledge across multiple facilities, comparing the performance between different shifts and between similar plants.”
He points to one example of the value of the detailed process information the system collects: When the cost of rare earth materials from China soared, the lamp plant was able to tighten process parameters to use less of them for coatings—without sacrificing performance.
GE Lighting’s outdoor road fixture plant in Hendersonville, N.C., used the information gathered by its Proficy system to reduce the cycle time for its made-to-order products from four to six weeks down to 10 days—and soon it will be three days, says Platt. By digitizing order information, what had once been a paper-intensive process is now down to one sheet of paper. Plant personnel use wearable computers that can print labels as needed. Touch screens and a human-machine interface (HMI) that respond to hand gestures also simplify worker interaction with production equipment.
“Automation and information technology are critical to manufacturing today,” says Platt. “The keys to improving performance and reducing costs are data aggregation and analytics.”
Hillshire Brands yields improvement
Hillshire Brands, makers of Jimmy Dean and other branded meat products, has deployed software tools from Rockwell Automation to gain operational intelligence at three plants. While the goal at each plant was to reduce waste while improving efficiency, quality and safety, intelligence gathering was aimed at different steps in the process, depending on the issues identified at each plant.
Jon Riechert, a senior project engineer for Hillshire Brands at the corporate level, led the implementation of the manufacturing intelligence solutions at all three plants. They leveraged FactoryTalk VantagePoint software from Rockwell Automation to aggregate information from multiple sources—controllers, historian and SQL server—to provide access to real-time data and KPIs using Internet browsers. The dashboards created for this web-based reporting platform vary according to operator needs and are accessible to both corporate and plant personnel.
At the Newbern, Tenn., plant, the goal was yield improvement. Operators were having difficulty maintaining exact weight for their Jimmy Dean one-pound fresh sausage rolls, affectionately called “chubs.” As a result, quality control personnel were either throwing out or putting back into the system hundreds of pounds of underweight or overweight rolls daily, a costly option.
While managers initially assumed the problem centered on “giveaway,” overweight rolls that presented a loss in potential revenue, operational intelligence from the system developed with assistance from Grantek Systems Integration (www.grantek.com) determined that the cost of reworking the product to achieve a consistently uniform weight was actually costing the company more than the few grams of giveaway that might occur in a typical chub.
Now, armed with information on weight fluctuations, machine downtime, OEE and even meat temperature, operators are able to address variations earlier in the production process.
Newbern engineers achieved a yield improvement of 0.10 percent within six weeks of deploying the new system, translating into savings of 105,000 chubs per year and thousands of dollars in cost of goods sold. Ultimately, their goal is to increase yield by up to 0.50 percent, or more than half a million pounds of sausage.
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At Hillshire’s plant in Florence, Ala., the focus was on gathering process data from the pressure cookers preparing Jimmy Dean sausage. The goal was to assure food safety by monitoring humidity, temperature and cooking time. By being able to identify when production issues start and end, personnel can make sure that any affected product will never go out the door.
The information gathered at Hillshire Farms’ lunchmeat plant in Kansas City, Kan., involves every department in the production system, from receiving to shipping. The goal was to show worker progress against their targets so they could identify any problems that were affecting their performance.
In one example, plant personnel were convinced that case packers were not functioning properly. After tracking performance for a month, they determined that the box erector that preceded the case packers in the production line was not keeping up with the process. By building a predictive model based on upstream data, the operational intelligence allows workers to manually adjust the speed of the machine to match process needs.
“Beyond meeting and potentially exceeding our project goals, it’s important to our company that this solution is flexible enough to grow not only with production changes, but with our engineers’ changing perspectives,” says Riechert. “Once operators start to see the high-level patterns that were previously impossible to collect or see manually, they can determine exact causality and what changes we can make to improve production systems.”
Saft America invests in technology
When the success of your company depends on being able to continuously innovate, production intelligence provides an invaluable edge. Saft America in Jacksonville, Fla., designs and manufactures advanced technology batteries and high-tech energy storage systems for the military, aerospace, aviation and alternative energy companies. That product line of the Paris-based company includes energy storage systems as big as a tractor-trailer for wind, solar and electric utility companies.
Saft has been developing lithium-ion battery technology for more than 30 years and its Jacksonville production facility has greatly expanded its capabilities to keep pace with rising market demand. In just two years from startup, the plant now operates with two production lines and two shifts. Ramp-up has begun for a weekend shift and the plant is planning for a third production line. At maximum capacity, the facility can accommodate six production lines.
“We’ve invested $200 million to create this high-volume, advanced manufacturing facility for processes that require an environment cleaner than an operating room and drier than a desert,” explains Alan Parsley, human resources manager. “It requires a great deal of automation and a lot of control systems to create these advanced battery systems.”
The company has also taken business intelligence to a new level, according to Parsley, drawing information from Rockwell Automation production control systems and Siemens building environmental controls to improve the quality and safety of its production processes and products.
“We operate in a world-class mode based on the Toyota production system, and the production team is focused on continually identifying kaizen (continuous improvement) opportunities. The real-time data we can gather from our control systems is like gold, helping us achieve our goal of building the world’s safest and highest-quality batteries.”
As Saft America continues to expand its production capabilities, Parsley says, the company looks for a very particular type of employee. “Human intelligence is just as important to us as operational intelligence,” he says. “We look for people at every level who are problem solvers with a strong aptitude for electrical, mechanical and electronics skills. We want employees who look for opportunities to make their jobs better and to continuously improve our manufacturing processes. That expectation is part of everyone’s job description.”
Using human intelligence to improve manufacturing intelligence is the best application of all.