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Industrial WLAN enables mobile monitoring

23 June 2015

CP Kelco is in the process of rolling out a controller-based, wireless network in its Danish factory. Working with iPads and QR codes, it is hoped that this will deliver a significant reduction in costs and time as well as offering greater flexibility.

CP Kelco in Lille Skensved, Denmark, a producer of pectin, is striving toward a production environment in which each operator moves around freely with an iPad, monitoring and managing machines quickly and efficiently – without the need for a stationary computer and IP addresses instead of stationary operator stations and push buttons.

The key to transforming this vision into reality is a controller-based, wireless solution that makes it possible to connect production to several dozen wireless access points, minimising administrative work.

CP Kelco project engineer, Jesper Knage, and automation engineer, Henrik Parbo, tested a wireless solution with a SCALANCE WLC711 IWLAN-controller and a variety of access points on a limited section of the production line. The success of this trial led to a plan to implement the solution throughout the factory.

The solution is now being rolled out, with the expectation that the factory will, over time, be equipped with up to 100 access points. 

"We thought that it was probably time to take a chance and try to make our production wireless so that our operators could move around with tablets and smartphones instead of being bound to expensive, fixed operator stations. The various technologies were available, so it was really just about taking a chance. And we've done that successfully," said Knage.
The facility processes several hundred thousand tons of citrus peel and dried seaweed, turning it into pectin and carrageenan. Large quantities of ingredients pass through production in a short time, with high demands on quality and flexibility as well as rapid changeover between the different types of items being produced. 
"The factory is constantly changing because we are constantly optimising the controls of existing equipment and building new ones," explains Parbo.

The automation division has used Industrial Wireless LAN (IWLAN) technology before, but only for programming. Operator interfaces, for example, were not connected to the wireless network.

The six access points were configured individually and through their own website. If a new user needed to be added or the selected channels needed to be changed, these changes had to be made at each access point. For six access points, this was easy. However for a facility of CP Kelco's size, for which a fully developed network would need up to 100 access points, it would be a hopeless administrative task," said Parbo.

"We had just six of these, and that was already more work than we could manage,” said Parbo. “We could see that we could not implement a full rollout in the factory using that technology. We needed a tool that would allow us to see everything at one control point and make changes at one place."
Faster troubleshooting 
The controller-based system from Siemens offered a solution. The signal strength and channel selection of the individual access points is continuously optimised. The entire management and configuration – for instance the downloading of firmware and IP addresses – are carried out in one place. So, there is no need for individual configuration of each access point, no need to look through hundreds of websites to perform troubleshooting. If one access point shuts down, the two nearest access points increase their signal strengths and cover the gap. In addition, the diagnostic options have also been combined, providing a much better overview. 

"Now we can open one website, look through it, and see whether an access point is lighting up in red. This means that we can provide the individuals troubleshooting the fault a better indication of where it might lie," said Knage. "In a fully connected network, troubleshooting speed is ten times faster."

Knage estimates that the solution will allow the company to handle deliveries using just one or two access points and a tablet or smartphone – at a third of the cost of the currently used operator stations.
One of the advantages of the wireless network is related to maintenance and service. Knage believes that there are also potential rewards to be gained in daily operations. CP Kelco aims to equip each machine and all process instruments in production with a QR code which will allow the device to be monitored or allow operational data and parameters to accessed. This will allow operation to be moved to the production line, rather than being done from a desktop PC located in the central control room.

If a particular valve needs to opened, the operator can stand next to the machine with a tablet or smart phone and open the valve. If a bag of a particular substance needs to be poured into a hopper, the employee does not need to search the order book and match the order number with the bag contents and hopper number. They only need to scan the code, and the mobile device will indicate what needs to be done.

Finally, the QR codes also allow the operator to create a maintenance order directly in SAP while standing next to the defective equipment. The relevant data is recorded automatically, which ensures that the correct component failure is reported. 

All of these productivity improvements are only possible because the controller-based solutions minimise setup and maintenance.
"As such, there were no alternatives. It had to be a centralised solution so that we would not be overburdened administratively. There are certainly other suppliers, but we needed the technology and reliability. So of course, the wisest choice was an industry supplier such as Siemens, rather than an office supplier," said Knage.

The next step for the company is to set up another controller so that the system has full redundancy. In addition to the ongoing rollout of the wireless network in production, consideration is also being given to connecting the administrative network to the controller solution, so that both production IT and administrative IT are controlled in one common network and multiple virtual networks.

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