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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Systems rise to the level of performance management when they include modules for or integrate with functions outside production and incorporate deeper analytical functions such as optimal equipment effectiveness (OEE).

The practice of OEE is accompanied by aggregated data presented as key performance indicators (KPIs), such as a single-value index or percentage of a production line’s performance against an ideal goal. It’s one of many uses for KPIs that can be presented in dashboard-style values, dials or graphic bars.

Each KPI, wherever it is displayed, should be role-specific to the operator, supervisor or manager using it. This is a major, early challenge in configuring even off-the-shelf packages, according to Walt Staehle, an ex-Kraft Foods manufacturing executive who installed MES, laboratory and other systems across 50-plus Kraft plants during this 20-plus years there.

Earlier this decade, Kraft recouped $1.6 million by reducing variability in raw materials-to-finished goods conversion and improving asset utilization by using a simplified (uptimeonly) version of OEE as part of a collaborative, real-time performance management strategy, says Staehle, now technical industry manager for Siemens Energy & Automation, Alpharetta, Ga.

“Key performance indicators are what we measure and run our businesses by. It’s how we run our shop floors. It’s how we run our daily lives,” says Smithfield’s Cole.

Both Cole and Davis have injected some fun and games into the hard work of optimizing plant efficiency.At Smithfield, line-by-line OEE comparisons can “create a bit of competition” among line operators producing like products. “It’s not uncommon to hear ‘Let’s hustle! Line 3 is doing 0.1 percent better than we are, so let’s get this line moving,’” Cole says. “You’d be surprised what competition can do for you.”

Mobile key performance indicators (KPIs) can be presented on any webenabled smart phone. A system
from Transpara (shown) tracks multiple plants in multiple regions, but also can delve deeper into any single
plant, provided a company or plant database is populated with KPIs.

Likewise, at Breyers, Davis says lines “will be competing to see who has a better OEE for the day,” hustling for “targeted achievement” incentives. “Operators know that if a machine stops, whatever is causing it, they need to come up with a solution right away. They’re always contributing ideas and getting involved with our mechanics,” who in turn act as vigilant watchdogs over two or three lines per shift.

As with the maintenance shop, the Breyers quality lab is integrated with the plant system so that operator stations not only prompt users to perform tests and log the results, the underlying data also show in the lab in real time.

The economic justification for plant automation is the same, whether a plant uses PLCs or a DCS and whether the plant is dedicated to candy bars or corn wet milling, according to Peter Martin, vice president of performance measurement and management for Invensys, Wonderware’s parent. (See sidebar, Note to Management.)

His vision for the “enterprise control system” is one in which top managers gain much more visibility to plant data in executing their business objectives. For example, plant integration can now provide bottomless levels of data to feed business analyses such as SKU-specific profit and loss profiles.

“Now, for the first time, we have a real opportunity to do things differently,” Martin says, “to set up much more flexible, profitable production schedules and to measure our businesses in a way we have never done.”

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