Better Management of Production Data

A controller-based MES interface module delivers application-specific data to help a Colombian animal-feed processor optimize production efficiency.

After years of servicing the development, production and marketing of animal feed in the country of Colombia, Solla S.A. decided to streamline its operations using industrial automation equipment. The deployment of an SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in 2009 provided real-time access to plant floor information, reducing the possibility of redundancy errors. The new system, however, required integration with industrial components, including conveyor sensors, networked I/O, and programmable logic controller (PLC) data.

To address the challenge, Solla partnered with Metalandes S.A.S. and installed the MES Interface IT e-F@ctory module for data management from Mitsubishi Electric Automation.

Solla produces hundreds of varieties of animal feed products for farmers and distributors, specializing in foods for household pets, horses, livestock, broiler chickens, pigs and cattle. The company has seven plants in Colombia with plans to expand into new areas such as Peru and Ecuador.

Raw materials are transported into silos for storage, after which sections of machinery are used to dose, grind and mix the material before it is palletized and packaged for distribution. Industrial automation equipment has always played a key role in successfully managing recipes, providing weight control, and handling conveyor distribution and safety.

Solla had already implemented various technologies from Mitsubishi Electric such as human machine interfaces, industrial control networks, and analog and digital control elements including Mitsubishi’s iQ Platform PLC. (The iQ system is capable of integrating, PLC, motion, CNC and robot control onto a single backplane.)

With the help of Metalandes, a system integration services company with clients throughout Medellín, Solla installed the new MES Interface IT module. This enabled bi-directional data communication between the plant floor and the SAP ERP system. Metalandes also installed additional software known as Admin Planta, which is used to manage information related to metering systems, grinding and bagging, says Jhonier Jiménez, Metalandes technical manager.

Production doubles

The new system for data management optimized production management at Solla. It helped increase Solla’s productivity from 12,000 tons of feed per month to 20,000 tons per month, almost doubling the production capacity. It also improved Solla’s internal operations by providing a 75 percent reduction in data entry time, and a 17 percent reduction in Work In Process (WIP).

The MES Interface IT is an industrial-hardened, rack-mounted module that resides in the iQ Platform automation system. It is running a program that allows the control environment to be event-driven, to poll for data at a particular time interval. At Solla, it looks for events to take place in the control system. Once that event takes place, action can be taken, such as logging a group of data to a particular database or to a table for IT to review and evaluate.

The module is monitoring either the local sequence CPU or remote CPUs for events. It can be a PLC register equaling some value, or it can be a bit being turned on or off, meaning that you’re at the end of a production run. It also can be a time-based event. The module can then aggregate a group of data, macro process it (perform mathematics and combine some standard deviations), then send that useful information up to a consuming application, typically a database.

A second way it works is to listen for requests from the IT applications. So if someone wanted to push a production schedule down to the control environment, the module can be used in that capacity as well.

Without the module, companies like Solla would need a custom application with custom communications interfaces. Typically they would use OPC, or some SCADA application to do some database interfacing. OPC would then poll the control system for data on some specified interval, like every 100 ms, which would produce lots of un-useful data that might be confusing and overwhelming.

The MES interface IT module is designed to produce actionable data that does not require a lot of data manipulation on the IT side. It’s collecting very specific data designed for what application will be consuming it. As an example, it can just retrieve and present quality metrics to the quality database, present info to the production system on whether there were any production stoppages, and tell the inventory system only the raw materials consumption.

In addition to the production improvements mentioned, Solla’s new automation equipment has helped the company improve product quality, and enabled it provide its customers with product guarantees related to consistency and quality.

Hernán Toro Botero, the general manager of the Solla plant in Bello, Colombia, said Solla offers to pay the difference whenever customers are dissatisfied with their products. “Our results are the best,” he says. “We help our customers make a profit, and continue to focus on improving the automation of our plants through using innovative technology.”

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