Driving improvement with proactive network management

28 November 2016

An exploration of three best practices for determining what to measure to allow management and operations to effectively and efficiently run the entire industrial network. 

The manufacturing plant floor is a complex environment with many of physical resources to measure and manage, ranging from drives and motors right down to sensors. It is common for facilities to have a preventive maintenance program in place based on certain measurements, but what about the plant floor network? How can this asset be measured? 

Ethernet networks have become a critical link between manufacturing and automation systems, and business systems, and are the standard communication link between automation devices. It is important to monitor and measure device performance to properly manage the overall health of the plant floor network. Best practice to achieve this can be described in three steps:

Step One: Understanding the importance of KPIs – The first step to managing the plant floor network is to determine the factors that need to be measured, before consolidating the list to identify which items are the most crucial to organisational goals and the health of the systems. These key performance indicators (KPIs) offer a quantifiable measurement which can be used to determine how well a device meets its operational and strategic goals. KPIs are unique to the organisation and are based on each department’s expected performance to ensure the entire organisation is successful. 

Several combined measurements could equal a single KPI. The basic characteristics needed to establish an effective KPI include ease of understanding, measurability, relevance (it needs to be up to date) and there needs to be as few in number.

Step Two: Developing KPIs – To develop the most effective KPIs, organisation first needs to have well-defined goals and established benchmarks in place. One common way to begin is to explore the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) to identify the percentage of planned production time that is productive. To determine an organisation’s OEE score, observe the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time, noting that scheduled downtime is not included in this equation. 

With the emergence of Industrial Ethernet turning disparate systems into a connected plant, world-class producers realise that they must account for uptime of the industrial network infrastructure as a key driver of OEE.

Many organisations have a break/fix mentality when it comes to the plant floor network infrastructure. So, when there is network downtime, it has to be addressed immediately to get the plant running again. This directly results from reviewing KPI data for a segment of the plant that does not necessarily address the interconnected nature of today’s industrial operations. This is a crucial practice for companies where incidents on the industrial network impact plant production. Instead of searching for an interruption on a cell or machine, where the impact is obvious while the root cause may be obscure, a more effective approach might be to observe the performance of the overall industrial network infrastructure, and its interactions throughout the various machines on the plant. 

To establish a KPI that will help move towards the ideal 100% network uptime, operations should first decide which devices within the industrial network are required to run constantly, such as the HMIs, PLCs, I/O controllers, industrial switches, and drives that, if taken down, would stop production. 

Next, it is important to establish which network events to record and which events will trigger an immediate alert. While all network events should be recorded, alerts might only be triggered if the network capacity drops below a specific threshold. It is important that this threshold is not a full ‘break’ of the network that results in downtime. Finally, organisations need to determine a time frame, such as daily, where key operations and controls management will review network reports. Using this approach, controls and operations managers can see trends in the network over time and can identify when  the network is operating even slightly below target efficiency. These issues may not cause a noticeable problem with the network, but can be early indicators of future network issues.  

Step Three: Making informed decisions based on KPI data reports – Having data to make informed decisions is vital. Often, continuous improvement is overlooked because it is difficult to provide data that shows the benefits of the improvements versus the costs. For a plant floor network, data which shows where degradation is occurring and where improvements are needed to appropriately manage the network and output of the plant is key. For example, the network KPI can show that although network uptime is still above goal, the number of events occurring on the network is increasing rapidly, pointing towards network instability. Exploring this data can show an intermittent connection to a critical I/O module that can be identified and resolved quickly, even before failure. 

This information can help justify the expense of capital improvements needed for proactive maintenance instead of relying on a reactive maintenance approach. To gather the appropriate data, a tool is needed that can easily show controls and operations management a snapshot of the industrial network’s health based on the pre-determined KPIs. Controls and operations management can remotely observe the KPIs using an easy-to-understand, web-based interface. Tools such as the new KPI report are available in the IntraVUE industrial network and visualisation software from Panduit, allowing management to make informed, data-driven decisions by providing visibility into how the network is performing. 

The devices that comprise the industrial network within an automation system are a key asset to the success of the plant output, which drives profitability for manufacturers. Proper metrics for industrial network infrastructure performance allow controls and operations teams to make informed data-driven decisions to manage network uptime and mitigate the cost of unplanned disruptions. 

A shift from a reactive to a proactive approach to manage the industrial network can drive improvements in time-to-resolution of separate downtime events by as much as 75%, while providing objective measurement on the uptime of important devices to drive improvement in overall plant effectiveness. 

For more information about IntraVUE go to: www.panduit.com/intravue

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