Nestlé smartens up its legacy equipment

28 August 2017

Ralf Hagen, engineering manager E&A/MES, Nestlé Germany,recently spoke about the importance of data gathering, even from legacy machinery. Control Engineering Europe reports.

Increasing productivity in any brownfield site is a challenge that is facing all food and beverage manufacturers today, and many are now looking at how to get more out of their existing, and often ageing, assets. This requires greater insight and visibility into the process to help identify any weaknesses and to reduce unplanned downtimes.

The obvious solution is to make better use of data acquisition and analysis solutions. However, implementation can be problematic on many brownfield sites which often include a great deal of legacy machinery that does not include modern communication capabilities.

This was the situation facing Nestlé Germany when its Osthofen plant set out to move towards the concept of the smart factory. Ralf Hagen, E&A/MES engineering manager at Nestlé Germany, takes up the story: “In a smart factory, components need to communicate and interact in a much better way than we are currently used to. There should be an unbroken logical chain for each customer order that can be executed automatically, start to finish. 

“A machine should know when it needs to speed up or slow down – when it should request additional materials or refuse them. Currently, these decisions still require the experience of human operators, but in the future machines should be able to handle this autonomously.”

One characteristic of a smart factory is improved resource efficiency – with reduced consumption and the resulting reduction in operating costs. Today, most new equipment will be automated with the inclusion of intelligent components that produce huge amounts of data. The end user of the equipment can collect and analyse this data to help increase competitiveness and gain a better understanding about the process. It can lead to production processes becoming more agile and responsive which helps to reduce downtime, and predict potential problems by increasing availability and preventing unplanned downtime.

Reducing downtime
Nestlé was aware that reducing  unplanned plant downtime would offer it many more benefits, in addition to the more obvious ones. “If a machine has problems with unplanned downtime, for example, you also tend to have problems with operator safety. The more often humans need to intervene with the production process, the greater the risk of injury,” said Hagen. “Another key benefit is improved energy efficiency. When a line is constantly starting and stopping it will have a detrimental  impact on energy consumption. At the same time product quality will also suffer, because of the waste that is produced when the machine is starting up or shutting down.”

In seeking a solution to gather data from even its older equipment to ensure it was able to implement its smart factory goals, Nestlé spoke to many potential suppliers. B&R was soon identified as being the only supplier that was able to offer atotal package of structure, framework, applications and modularity that it was seeking. “We wanted a solution that was able to encapsulate the necessary expertise in a thoroughly tested package that we could install, use and update with the push of a button like a smartphone app,”  said Hagen.

The solution was found with B&R’s Orange Box which enables machine operators to collect and analyse data from previously isolated machines and lines and get them fit for the smart factory. It consists of a controller and preconfigured software blocks. The controller is able to collect operating data from any machine via its I/O channels or a fieldbus connection. With this data, the software modules generate and display OEE ratings and other KPIs, and can share the information with higher-level systems via OPC UA.

Installing the Orange Box requires no changes to existing hardware or software. Equipment owners can achieve a substantial boost in productivity with a remarkably small investment in time and cost. It is as simple and intuitive to operate as a smartphone.

Versatile, open solution
It provides a versatile, open solution for collecting, standardising and evaluating data in real time. If the requirements change, the Orange Box simply changes with them. It offers complete freedom in hardware platform selection.

“Orange box allows us to add IO to old equipment, without altering the function of the machine at all or compromising its availability,” said Hagen. “It has allowed us to employ intelligent solutions without having to modify existing hardware or software and regardless of who supplied the existing control system.

“We live in a world of constant change so wanted a solution that evolves modularly and organically. If you put a system in place and say ‘OK, that's it’ you're going to run into trouble when it comes time to migrate. So far, the B&R system is the only one that can do this,” continued Hagen. “Installing and configuring the prototype turned out to be faster and easier than we expected and we are now working on improving the analysis results and how they are displayed for daily use such as shift handover meetings.”

While it can be used in any industry, Orange Box is said to be well suited to use in plants where there are large numbers of machines involved in the production process so it should appeal to industrial manufacturers and machine builders alike.

In conclusion, Hagen said: “Orange Box has offered us a solution to a very specific requirement. We needed something that was simple, reliable, sustainable, real-time capable and future-proofed. It needed to be reliable to work in an industrial environment and needed to be able to communicate to higher levels systems within the enterprise. 

“We are aiming for intelligent analysis that identifies the root causes of a problem before the problem ever occurs. Over the next four years, we want to get to a place where the machines warn us of an impending stoppage in advance, rather than having to troubleshoot after the fact the way we do now. Eventually, there should be no more unplanned downtime whatsoever, and the Orange Box will help us increase both machine availability and output.”

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