Leather Manufacturer Scales Operational Workflow

A mid-size Italian supplier for the automotive and fashion industries adopts a new manufacturing execution system as it looks to modernize operations.

Production data—made more accessible in recent years by advances in industrial networking, cloud computing and sensors—has been front and center in 2016 as manufacturers catch on to its potential. Another interesting development has been the democratization of automation, with smaller manufacturers gaining access to the tools that can help them increase efficiencies and scale their systems.

A clear example of this is Dani SpA, an Italian tannery company that has grown recently to about 1,000 employees and contractors. The manufacturer produces leather products for multiple industries, including the automotive, consumer packaged goods (CPGs) and fashion industries.

Recently, Dani added a manufacturing execution system (MES) that connected its custom enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at four of its production plants in Italy. The business drivers were simple: Create a production execution system that could scale, improve production reporting and reduce paperwork.

High Tech Consultant (HTC), a Vicenza, Italy-based management consulting company with system integrator services, designed the MES for Dani and used Inductive Automation’s SQL-based Ignition MES platform for the modernization project.

Today’s regulation climate is a severe challenge for Dani, as it is for most mid-sized manufacturers. And so are the reporting requirements from customers. For its automotive clients, Dani has to track multiple phases of the production process and various technical characteristics of its leather products.

“Work-in-progress (WIP) orders are now collected by the MES solution—also known as Linkki (Finnish for link)—and then shared with the ERP system so that it can accomplish full traceability,” says Enrico Aramini, CEO of HTC. “The system records the quality control data collection and reduces the use of paper on the shop floor.”

Dani uses an IBM-based ERP system, developed by a local software company, and can talk directly via a Microsoft SQL database to its MES. The ERP system calculates the expected week of readiness of finished goods to accomplish the customer’s request, assigns the route and releases the work orders to the Ignition-based MES.

“The MES scheduling module distributes work orders in an initial optimization step and then analyzes workloads for each different production center,” Aramini says.

For this project, HTC implemented a single license of Ignition that includes HMI, SCADA and MES modules. The MES module at Dani features scheduling, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and track and trace.

Before implementing the MES, HTC outlined an operational framework, created definitions and identified different roles at Dani. Along with Alessandro Maruzzo, project manager at Dani, they examined operational relationships and sequences to determine process constraints and roles for the MES, such as a planner, scheduler, supervisor, maintenance technician and quality system manager.

With these roles in place, HTC built in some flexibility. “The first schedule is set directly by Linkki, while an operator can change assigned lines or an expected start time of each batch at the plant,” Aramini says. Operators can choose to start an operation and change the sequence schedule only if the modification is compliant with some built-in constraints (i.e., previous operation closed). Via a PC, operators can also change a start time or optimize sequencing via Gantt charts.

This particular aspect of the MES follows the ISA-95/ISO 62264 model for detailed scheduling and dispatching. According to HTC’s business case report on this project, this workflow method has been in place for about five years in the food and beverage industry with “surprising results.” HTC also included other ISA-95 components for this rollout, such as the execution phase, data collection, performance analysis and tracking phases.

With a full-plant HMI module from Inductive Automation in place, the mid-size manufacturer moved forward with a strategy being implemented by many large manufacturers these days: mobile devices on the plant floor.

“HTC provided both a mobile and PC version to interact with this application,” says Travis Cox, director of sales and engineering for Inductive Automation. “Rather than having dedicated workstations everywhere, they built a mobile project that operators can use on tablets or phones.”

In conjunction, Dani built out a Wi-Fi network to enable the mobile devices and use a standard web browser to track production through an Ignition server via a single TCP port. HTC designed a built-in access control list for mobile devices, but limits scheduling with tablets and smartphones on the floor.

Operators also use tablets for the production lines not connected to the Linkki system. For those applications, operators have to measure parameters and enter them into the tablet. If the parameter is outside the setpoint range, the system reports the problem in real time to the maintenance department. This immediately stops operations and resumes only after a maintenance technician repairs and unlocks the system.

In total, there are 30 screens, 100+ clients, PCs and Samsung Galaxy Tab A and Tab Active tablets involved with the initial rollout. With the new operational infrastructure in place, the growing Italian manufacturer can scale this model to other plants and compete in a competitive business landscape.

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