Turning Tin Into Gold

Smooth transfer of data from information technology (IT) to manufacturing and back can be key not just to production control, but also to customer success.

Case in point: Ohio Coatings Co. (OCC), which places exceptionally tight controls over the microscopic thickness and uniformity of tin plating it creates on coils weighing upwards of 20,000 pounds.

There are two reasons for this ultra-tight control over variance. First, tin costs are spiraling ever higher, making unnecessary thickness undesirable. More importantly, OCC’s customers depend on narrow limits of variability. The customers need detailed data to maximize their production throughput, where small changes in thickness can play havoc with manufacturing. In addition, tin variation beyond narrow limits can have dire consequences in, for example, food packaging, creating contamination.

In the company’s quest to make uniform product with uniform processes, it has focused on smooth flow of data from its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to its control systems. By the time order information from the business system reaches the production floor, the data has generated many hundreds of production parameters. And every process involved, from incoming quality control on steel, to plating to coiling, can be aggregated into custom certifications for every coil moving out of the plant.

Ohio Coatings Co., founded in 1995 as a joint venture company of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and Dong Yang Tinplate, of Korea, produces electrolytic tin-coated steel for packaging of foods and beverages, as well as for such products as oil filters, paint cans, baking pans and alkaline battery jackets. At its 12-year old plant in Yorkville, Ohio, OCC’s 550-foot line has annual capability to produce 300,000 tons of tin plate.

Reaching deep

“Our data flow reaches into every element of our processes,” says Denver Green, manager of electrical maintenance, which includes manufacturing IT. “Orders from Level 3 move into Level 2, where operational personnel have a direct window on coil information, coating weights (which can differ on front and back), gauge and speeds. From Level 2, it comes down to Level 1, where the system further translates the information into set points, weld parameters, electroplating current, heat levels, chemistry, widths, speeds and tensions.”

“Much of the work is done by moving files into and out of SQL databases,” says Peter Marshall, manager, information systems. “We did a lot of this with custom programming.”

Literally thousands of data points along the coating line feed into in-process quality processes and parameter controls. “And hundreds move back upstream when the coil is finished,” Marshall adds. Much of this end-of-process data becomes information for the customer.

Documentation for each coil includes maximum and minimums for gauge and weights, as well as production times and key parameters, such as cleaning, plating data, pickling, chemical treatment, even water purity. Charts add quick-read, visual touchstones. Customers thus gain a window on every aspect of production that affects their particular needs.

“We depend on relationships and teamwork,” Green says, and Marshall agrees: “We asked a lot of our controls and ERP suppliers during the development of our systems, and our customers ask a lot of us. The only way to execute on this is via teamwork.”

“I’ve been at this for 30 years, both prior to the founding of OCC and after,” Green says. “Looking back on some of the projects I’ve been part of, I guess you could say they were preliminary steps to everything we’ve done at the OCC Yorkville facility. Experience helps.”

Dave Gehman, dgayman@rcn.com, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.
More in Control