Software Helps Plants Integrate Cross-Functional Platforms

Islands of automation are giving way to plant-wide (even enterprise-wide) efforts that yield performance analysis and front-office profit maximization.

By Bob Sperber, Contributing Editor

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Unlike Smithfield, whose real-time controls and higherlevel plant systems plug into the enterprise pipeline, most food plant operators lag far behind.

The Food Processing 2008 Manufacturing Trends Surveyfound that while most plants have at least some production and packaging automation, little more than one-fi fth have fully automated production lines. And those who have automated their entire plants registered in the single digits.

“For most of our customers in food and beverage, our system platform becomes the starting point for improvements in other areas,” says Claus Abildgren, program manager for Invensys Wonderware’s production and performance management software solutions, Lake Forest, Calif. “Most plants start small and evolve incrementally.”

A key enabler of today’s automation systems is standardization. Beyond purely technical standards (e.g., Microsoft, Ethernet), two ongoing efforts are beginning to have an impact on the unique batch processes of the food and beverage industry. ISA-88 and ISA-95 consist of common terms and defi nitions for manufacturing functions; common process models that map real-world plant processes and data fl ows; and programming conventions shared by automation professionals. As such, they serve both as templates for training as well as technology development. Some of their key features:

  • ISA-88 and allied efforts (such as Make2Pack for packaging) address most production environments found in food plants, including automated product changeovers. This standard has paved the way for “higher throughput and yield and reductions in product variability,” says Dennis Brandl of BR&L Consulting, Cary, N.C., and chairman of the standard’s work group.

This standard first affected first-tier control software such as human-machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software and grew with batch and manufacturing execution systems (MESs) that lie between control and front-offi ce enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

  • ISA-95 is a control-to-enterprise standard built upon ISA-88, according to Brandl, that maps workflows between production, packaging, quality and maintenance. It broadens the effectiveness of MES-level models with extensions from production to functions throughout operations and up to the ERP level, where SAP has been a leading proponent.

Food and beverage companies supporting these standards range from multinational giants Nestle and Mars to Tillamook County Creamery Assn. and Danish dairy Arla Foods. These and other companies are finding significant savings in more rapid integration of their SAP systems with “any of the major automation companies” via a standard interface, says Keith Unger of Stone Technologies, Chesterfield, Mo., and chairman of ISA-95’s standards committee.

At Breyers Yogurt, a touchscreen operator station displays buttons for equipment, supplies and performance status (top), a set of quality dashboard buttons (left) and an OEE rate that measures target fi rst-run quality throughput. Aggregated
data drive KPIs in the plant and the front office. 

Smithfield’s Cole refined his systems strategy thanks to Rockwell’s conformance to such standards – and due to the opportunity afforded by his own company’s greenfield plant. The strategy now is being implemented gradually across all plants. Not only did he integrate plant applications with the ERP system, web services make this information available to remote managers monitoring plant-by-plant performance levels. Sales personnel can track orders to levels of partial completion.

Executing a command performance

Most companies with revenues above $250 million are using MES systems at some level. “But most of them still lack the integration of production floor management with the business system, warehouse, logistics and other applications,” says ARC’s Blanchard. “And they lack the bidirectional exchange of information processors need to monitor and improve the efficiency and overall performance of their manufacturing, packaging and supply chain operations.”

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