Sonoco Boosts Production with Machine Data

To meet its zero-loss performance goal, Sonoco uses Rockwell Automation PLCs and FactoryTalk software with its Oracle Enterprise system to address machine data collection, communication and analysis.

Tod Easterling, supply chain commercial services manager at Sonoco, is fond of saying, “I’ve been working here for nearly 20 years and when I first meet people they often think I’m with an oil and gas company.” But that would be Sunoco, the wholesale distributor of motor fuels, based in Texas.

Sonoco is a 119-year-old global provider of consumer packaging, industrial products and packaging supply chain services based in South Carolina. It produces packaging for many of the world’s most recognized brands in markets such as appliances, automotive, food and beverage, dairy, produce, deli, seasonings and spices, and coffee. Though Sonoco is not as large a company as Sunoco, it is a sizeable enough in its own right with 300 plants around the globe and $5 billion in revenue.

Even with its long history of success and continuing growth, Sonoco is always on the lookout for ways to enhance product quality, while bringing even greater efficiency and effectiveness to its manufacturing and production operations.

An initial objective set for a recent production improvement project involved compliance with Sonoco’s zero-loss performance goal. Easterling said that the first efforts around fulfilling this aim began with a focus on one line in one plant. Even with such narrow parameters, the project encountered a challenge early on. Easterling said, “We quickly realized that we did not have accurate machine time data to support the project, since we were using a manual process.”

Realizing that they would have to address machine data collection, communication and analysis from the ground up—and with just a team of two people working part-time on the project—Easterling established a clear scope for the project with the help of Wendy Armel, principal MES analyst with system integrator Stone Technologies. The resulting project scope comprised five aspects:

  • Standardize on one model for use across 33 global plants.
  • Automate data collection that can be easily used by operations (e.g., Is the machine running or not? If the machine is down, why? At what speed is it running?).
  • Alignment of loss buckets across the division. This is tracked in four categories: start up/shutdown, changeovers, minor stops and breakdowns.
  • Capture production with a continuous process overview using live visual factory dashboards showing current shift performance.
  • Shift company culture by transferring the tribal knowledge of experienced workers to an automated system using Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk Metrics; providing for data accountability for integration into daily plant standard work, such as process and procedural standard tasks; and providing data ownership (i.e., Define an owner of machine data at each location).

The ultimate goal of this project is not just to track line performance, but to get real-time machine data into the company’s corporate data repository for plant-to-plant and line-to-line comparisons, said Easterling.

He noted that during implementation many changes and enhancements were requested. Many of these ideas were good ones, Easterling said, “But we stayed in the box to see this through to completion.”

Key to this project, as noted in the first point of the project scope listed above, was standardization. Sonoco adopted Rockwell Automation’s Allen-Bradley PLCs as its controller standard. “We stay on Rockwell Automation platform because of the critical role of the controllers in our technology standardization," said Easterling. “We use the FactoryTalk Transaction Manager engine to incorporate non-OEE data [from the controllers] back to our Oracle Enterprise system. FactoryTalk Metrics handles all OEE data and downtime tracking.”

Armel said the open-end data structure of what Sonoco has in place allows them to pull data from FactoryTalk Metrics and Oracle into a central data repository for high-level reporting.

In order for the collected data to be easily used by plant operators and to enable the company to achieve its goals, 55-in TV screens are placed above the lines so that operators know the real-time status of their operations. The dashboards on these screens display machine run time, down time, run percentages, the top five reasons for downtime, current speed, average speed and a scrap overview.

These dashboards have been a big factor in driving operator improvements, according to Easterling. As Sonoco rolled out this system to its other plants, Easterling encouraged managers to use the dashboard as a positive motivator. Based on his experience with the initial project, Easterling saw that the data provided on the visual dashboards are directly instrumental in driving positive operator improvement.

Easterling added that the Oracle Enterprise system is able to “monetize” the operations data fed into it, which gives these data points a direct link to the company’s profit and loss statement.

Armel helped Sonoco establish the dashboard and refine the pilot system for a base configuration that has now been rolled out to 33 of Sonoco’s tube and core plants across the globe. Twenty-six of these plants are in North America, with the others located in Italy, the U.K., Thailand and Taiwan. Easterling noted that, because of the way this project was developed with limited scope and a focus on standardization, “It can be rolled out centrally to any of our plants worldwide.”

In the four years since Sonoco launched this project, machine uptime averages have increased by 30 percent and changeovers have been reduced by 20 percent. In addition, overall efficiency of the lines using this system has improved by 15 percent and capacity has increased by 3 percent.

As the project is rolled out to different facilities, the dramatic improvements in uptime and changeovers translates into a return on investment for the machine data automation technologies of one year or less, said Easterling. He expects to implement this standard solution at 81 of the company’s facilities across more than 300 lines.

Sonoco’s success with this is proof of why it’s important to start small, make sure your data is accurate and that you're getting what you want out of it, said Armel.

Easterling added that the work they’ve done with this project provides Sonoco with a foundation for moving toward smart manufacturing and plant network optimization.

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