Metrics are Spreading to the Manufacturing Dashboard

Real-time metrics are helping plant operators fine-tune their plant processes to real cost savings.

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The Boise Building Materials plywood plant in Elgin, Ore., is using metrics to watch everything from line speed and load counts to vat conditioning temperatures required for pre-treating wood prior to peeling veneers. “We’re not a modern mill, but we’re trying to get into the 21st Century,” says Scott Noble, computer controls specialist at the plant, which is part of Boise Cascade LLC, in Boise, Idaho.

The plant implemented display metrics produced by Software Toolbox Inc., in Matthews, N.C., to show when the plant is slipping away from its optimum production rate. Operators also monitor the plant’s environmental control system both for temperatures in the boiler and opacity of the emissions plume. “Now, when we get a text message warning that something needs to be addressed, we can take a quick look at the desktop to see if we’ve exceeded a parameter,” says Noble. “Then we can address it immediately.”

Noble notes that he can use the metric display tool to track whatever data is critical for performance. “Say, you’re looking at the line speed. Anything less than 100 per minute will turn the display from green to red. It’s like the gas gauge in your car,” says Noble. “I can look at a lot of complex data in a quick peek to see what’s going on. It saves time in keeping things working.”

Different operators can use different metrics to track different aspects of plant operation. “One of the users wanted to see the stacker to make sure they were stacking the plywood evenly,” says John Weber, president of Software Toolbox. “Another operator wanted to track water temperatures, and another wanted to track sawmilling production by board feet.”

Plants are using metrics to measure everything from production rates to the depletion of raw materials or the temperature of a particular boiler. More and more, these metrics are integrated with financial data so that operators can also see how various degrees of production optimization impact actual costs.

Metrics can show operators how a decrease in line speed at one end of the plant can drive up the cost of each widget during shift one and compare that additional cost against the cost of widgets on shift two. Meanwhile, additional metrics on the control dashboard also let operators know whether emissions are exceeding the environmental baseline.

Information is power at the plant level. If you are aware that a temperature level exceeding baseline affects quality and you can track the temperature, you’ll respond when the temperature rises. “Imagine if the people on the shop floor knew how the cost of the steam affects the cost of the goods as they change the levels of pressure,” says Chakib Bouhdary, senior vice president, value engineering, at enterprise software supplier SAP Americas, in Newtown Square, Pa. “The system will read the plant data and the financial data and tell them the deviation that costs the plant $1,000 per hour.”

Instant corrections

One of the biggest gains is metrics display is being able to watch them in real time. In the past, operators examined plant performance using a spreadsheet produced at the end of the week, month or quarter. If they saw efficiency problems, a month might pass before correction. With real-time metrics, corrections can be made instantly.

The metrics available to plant operators are not just production statistics. Metrics that analyze everything from maintenance to safety issues or asset utilization give operators data that can be used instantly to make improvements. “Real-time analytics on the utilization of an asset can show you the cost of the machine, the cost to run and how much you produce on the machine,” says Tony Malangone, chief information officer, RTI International, a manufacturing research company in Research Triangle Park, N.C., that is using SAP tools to create effective data display. “OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) and the effectiveness of the machine are brought together.”

Watching the metrics and making production changes accordingly can directly affect the costs of running the plant, as well as affecting unit costs. “A lot of clients want to see the variable cost factor. They want cost reduction,” says Russ Barr, senior director, performance measurement and empowerment, at automation supplier Invensys Operations Management, in Plano, Texas. “Plants are seeing savings in the range of 5 percent in variable costs per year. That can give you payback in one or two months.”

Many plants are taking data and creating a baseline for optimum performance. Because they have the baseline and the real-time data, they can create graphs that instantly show operators when optimum performance is slipping. A simple graph can go from green to red when a boiler exceeds a prescribed temperature or if energy costs at a peak hour mean it’s time to switch energy sources. “This is the future,” says SAP’s Bouhdary. “Operators can’t look at data all the time. They only need to know the exceptions. You’re either in the good range or you’re out of it. The most important thing is to know about the exception.”

With a wide variety of metrics available —from production key performance indicators (KPIs) to asset utilization or inventory levels, metrics can be isolated for use in addressing specific problems. “When the boss says we have to improve some aspect of the business, we’re doing a much better job of figuring out the metrics we need to use to address the problem,” says Julie Fraser, president of Cambashi Inc., a research firm in Cummaquid, Mass. “This leads to better corrective behavior. You can use metrics to pinpoint what the action should be.”

Even while you can identify individual metrics to address specific goals or problems, tweaking one metric can affect another metric. “It’s tricky when you’re improving things across all fronts. You need to improve on-time delivery and customer service, but not to the detriment of expense,” says Fraser. “So there have to be some trade-offs. If you cut inventory, it affects delivery. You can’t go off the chart in any area.”

In order to manage overall performance, plant operators are displaying a variety of metrics so they can monitor plant performance over a number of considerations that might include quality and production rate as well as emissions. “You always want to watch your costs, but you may have other strategic factors to consider, such as better grades or throughput,” says Invensys’s Barr.  “Those strategic factors are controlling what metrics are in use. You might have multi-dimensional metrics on one dashboard, including OEE, cost factors and a look at emissions from a critical boiler.”

Because plant data and financial data can now be integrated, the display of metrics can be sliced and diced depending on who’s watching. While the plant operator may want to know the line speed and fill rate, the financial office wants to know the cost per item fluctuation and the sales office wants to see what orders have shipped. “People can see what is necessary for their jobs,” says Malangone from RTI International. “The shop-floor guy sees his productivity, and he can see how it compares to other shifts. The CEO (chief executive officer) gets a link to see the operation of the plant. In the past, this data was delayed a month.”

Metrics go green

With greater emphasis on sustainability and emissions at plants, metrics are being used to measure environmental objectives. Metrics are now used to show everything from the percentage of renewable fuel to emissions data. “The metrics empower the people in the refinery to take into account data about energy consumption, especially if they get data from finance to see the energy costs,” says SAP’s Bouhdary. “The metrics affect sustainability and contribute to the social environment. There’s nothing better for motivating the people on the shop floor.”

Using the old adage that you can only change what you can measure, improvements in the metrics displayed on control dashboard are giving plant operators greater leverage to optimize plant performance. Metrics are getting tied to financial data, so plant operators can see if they’re meeting or exceeding their baseline cost per widget or their emissions parameters. They can watch real-time metrics to see if they’re beating shift two in overall plant performance. If not, they can make adjustments to affect those metrics positively.

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To read the article accompanying this story, go to www.automationworld.com/feature-7259.

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To read the article accompanying this story, go to www.automationworld.com/feature-7260.

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