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Software Helps Plants Integrate Cross-Functional Platforms

April 11, 2008
Islands of automation are giving way to plant-wide (even enterprise-wide) efforts that yield performance analysis and front-office profit maximization.
It takes 50 million lbs. of milk to churn out a year’s worth of Breyers yogurt. But over the past few years of skyrocketing milk prices, Breyers’ plant in North Lawrence, N.Y., was going bananas – and strawberries – trying to hold onto its profits.

“Instead of passing on the all of the cost increases to consumers, we looked to manufacturing to make up the difference” and keep prices in check, says Matt Davis, business unit manager. Operating 24/7, the plant seemed to be running at capacity until new management initiatives and a new software system from CDC Software, Atlanta, came online in June 2006. Some of the performance gains uncovered:

  • Reduced production line changeover from 25 mins. to 18, for a 250,000 case-a-year bump.
  • On-time order fi ll-rate increased from 94 to 99.6 percent.
  • Quality-check completion rate hit 98 percent, up from 50 to 60 percent, within two weeks of installing the new software.
  • Annual manufacturing costs reduced by $120,000.
  • A one-time, $1 million cost avoidance when the system identifi ed a $50,000 repair instead of a fi lling line replacement.

Plantwide integration now enables operational managers to directly identify what parts of an operation are meeting safety, quality, productivity and overall effectiveness targets. In turn, enterprise connectivity to the plant allows executives to know what parts of an operation are making or losing money.

With appropriate cross-functional plant integration, every product, every SKU, can have completely accurate profit profiles based on actual, real-time, KPI-powered plant data. If this sounds like a pipe dream, pinch yourself: Industry leaders are doing it now.

Business demands drive technology

A confluence of factors is driving demand for plant automation – including “slow growth, rising costs, waning pricing power, accelerated regulatory and customer requirements and a growing percentage of sales from a limited number of powerful and demanding retailers,” says John Blanchard, research director for tech analyst firm ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass.

“A lot of what’s driven us to automate has been consolidation and downsizing. You have to automate to compensate,” says Roy Speers, a control specialist with 27 years at the Molson brewery in Vancouver, British Columbia, part of the Molson Coors Brewing Co. merger. “We’ll keep running full-out as more plants close – and we’ll be looking for ways to lessen downtime,” he says of the three-shift operation now expanding as plants close in Edmonton, Alberta, and elsewhere.

Smithfield Foods has standardized on Rockwell Automation hardware and software, from real-time PLC controls (shown) to performance-managing execution systems that communicate with the front office.

“There used to be just water. Today, there’s water with nutrients, electrolytes, flavored waters,” says Charles Rastle, industry marketing manager in the Boulder, Colo., office of Rockwell Automation. “About 20 percent of the products in any given plant are new. Multiply that by however many SKUs the plant is running, and it’s easy to see the need for more, or better, automation.”

Federal requirements mandate that companies track products one step forward and back in the supply chain, and trace the cause of an incident within 24 hours. Business demands are more stringent as companies including Wal-Mart conduct mock-recall audits of suppliers and demand that causes be traced any number of steps across the supply chain.

Salmonella in peanut butter, E. coli in spinach, even an animal handling video scandal on YouTube can cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in short-term sales losses, product replenishment costs and legal and investigative costs. The longterm consequences can be far worse.

As the Chinese melamine scare of last year proved, keeping only your house in order is not enough. “As the food processing industry has become dependent on extended supply chains with multiple vendors, risk and quality management has become critical. But most organizations still implement their food safety and quality management system in a paper-based approach,” says Nikki Willett, vice president of marketing and regulatory products for Pilgrim Software Inc., Tampa, Fla. Pilgrim provides an enterprise compliance and quality management software platform.

“Companies need to take a look into the same principles of industrial automation and apply it to best practices in quality and safety management automation and think of the system as a whole,” she continues. The ideal is “a global program, trained employees, well-documented SOPs and utilizing technology properly to put global practices and procedures in place.”

Evolving price/performance

Mike Cole, a veteran engineer and information technology pro, could never have guessed how far technology would advance. Coming from the continuousprocess world where distributed control systems (DCSs) are the norm, he says, “In the mid-1980s, I put in Serial No. 1 of the Rosemount [now Emerson Process Management] RS3 [DCS]. It gave us a full 40-megabytes of hard drive to work with. And it only cost $2 million!”

Today, a single programmable logic controller (PLC) “can do everything we were doing back then,” says Cole, director of information systems and plant automated systems and standards for Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork processor, based in Smithfield, Va. And the cost of even a high-end PLC is about $500. More impressive: PLCs at Smithfi eld today handle motion, motor and process loop controls that a decade ago required multiple vendors, tools, parts and training that far exceeded the hardware cost.

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

Note to Management

“Companies lose more money on the plant floor than in their corporate headquarters,” says Peter Martin, vice president of performance measurement and management for Invensys Plc (www.invensys.com). Martin, who wrote the book on performance management (literally) more than a decade ago, has found this to be the case again and again. In one two-month evaluation of a seven-plant process operation, “We found $300 million worth of value within the plant that we could recover with process automation. How many ERP systems can do that?” He says most companies who put in ERP systems “are still wondering if they got any incremental value” from them.

Automation, like any capital investment, requires an understanding of the lifecycle cost of the asset. From initially high costs due to up-front engineering, installation and start-up, expenses level off for a period of time before increasing again with maintenance and obsolescence. But plantwide integration and enterprise
connectivity give new visibility to profit and loss centers buried within the enterprise.

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.”

MES can be seen as having has two tiers of benefits: production management and performance management. Standard features typically include data collection and event-driven alerts for operator intervention such as clean-in-place (CIP), hazards analysis and critical control points (HACCP) programs or material replenishment.

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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