DCS migration offers increased availability, reduced cycle times and less waste

21 February 2012

Cost and operational efficiency benefits have been identified at Fuchs Lubricants, since the addition of Siemens’ PCS 7 distributed process control system and SIMATIC Batch to the control system mix.

PCS7 specified to help future proof production at the Fuchs Lubricants Stoke-on-Trent manufacturing site
PCS7 specified to help future proof production at the Fuchs Lubricants Stoke-on-Trent manufacturing site

The company managed the migration from an obsolete system without disruption to production levels and is now benefiting from increased plant availability, reduced cycle times, lower levels of waste, total production transparency and flexibility.

Fuchs Lubricants UK plc is the UK subsidiary of Fuchs Petrolub AG. The Stoke-on-Trent facility, responsible for production of approximately 10% of UK lubricant demand, manufacturers over 500 complex lubricant formulations ranging from engine oils to metal working fluids and medicinal products such as petroleum jelly.

With increasing demand for the company’s products driving production, the role of the legacy process control system was scrutinised. The decision was made to migrate from what was considered to be an increasingly vulnerable and obsolete system, and to specify Siemens’ PCS 7 with SIMATIC Batch DCS.

The decision to move to PCS 7 was based on the confidence gained through an earlier trial undertaken at the site. Prior to addressing the entire control system, Fuchs had teamed up with Siemens to install PCS 7 on its medicinal-based petroleum jelly production line. The enhanced performance of the system – including reduced plant downtime - convinced the production management team to extend the role of PCS 7 into other key areas of the manufacturing process at the site.

A key factor in pre-planning stage of the migration from the old system to PCS 7 lay in the absolute requirement that the changeover would not interfere with the production capability. The solution was a staged migration that would ensure that as identified elements of the system were switched over, the existing system was kept running in tandem. With over 5,000 I/Os, 1,000 valves, 90 raw material tanks, a large number of finished product tanks and 38 blending vessels to contend with, it was clear this would be a major challenge. However, through careful scheduling, the joint efforts of the Fuchs and Siemens’ teams ensured that the switchover from old to new occurred seamlessly without any disruption to production and within the timescales laid out.

The PCS 7 is now driving many operational and management benefits for the company. Steve Hallam, engineering manager for Fuchs, explains in more detail: “Since the expansion of the PCS 7 system we have been able to see real progress in a number of key areas. We are achieving a significant first time pass rate for the finished products which has increased from 85% to 97%. This means a drop in failure rates to just 3% and that adds up to significantly lower levels of waste product having to be thrown away and substantial cost savings in terms of raw material consumption. In addition, our knowledge of the process is now far more in-depth, as the data we can extract from the control system informs us exactly of the type of key and highly accurate information we require to ensure product consistency and drive improvements to our efficiencies - such as around how we can reduce cycle times. This allows us to plan our production scheduling far more accurately, as well as driving flexibility.”

The PCS 7 also allows the Fuchs engineering team to undertake a continuous improvement programme so that constant scrutiny is given to how the system can help improve production efficiency even further. With PCS 7 and SIMATIC Batch based on open system platforms, not only can it co-exist with existing tools in place on the site, but it is also the foundation on which all reporting and control intelligence is based.

Steve Hallam continues: “I believe we are currently only utilising a part of the full functionality we could from PCS 7 through its technology, and the great thing is that it allows us the flexibility to continue to gauge how we are running the production process and to seek to improve matters. The programme of continuous improvement is set to stay as we realise the full potential of the control system and the next stage is to look closely at the feasibility of real time production planning.”

With so many products manufactured on site, and with some demanding customers who are keen to ensure their products are manufactured to highest possible quality, Fuchs is benefitting from the control system transparency it is able to demonstrate. The ability to access clear process audit trails for all products helps satisfy customer demands. Data intelligence follows the product through the process from raw material intake, via the blending stage through to filling up the finished product tank. This provides evidence of the product’s history through its manufacture and the system’s clear, prescriptive process ensures ultimate product consistency and, by association, customer satisfaction.

Other operational benefits include the elimination of the potential for cross-contamination issues related to storage. Controls are in place to ensure the correct link between raw material intake, storage and blending tanks and finished product tanks at the end of the process and this control functionality has, for example, removed any instances of intake stock tank spills.

A need for high plant availability has been totally supported since the inception of the system and this is contributing to the efficiency gains at the production site. With the ability to remotely access the system from other locations via VPN dial-in, the engineering team can speedily analyse and respond to any issue and swiftly rectify problems before they hinder production.

With a seamless changeover, increased production visibility and transparency, reduced cycle times, lower levels of waste, and an automation technology platform on which to seek further improvements to daily operational efficiency, migrating to the PCS 7 control system has proven highly beneficial to the company. The system ensures that Fuchs Lubricants can continue to go from strength to strength with an intelligent and flexible distributed process control system that can support it every step of the way.

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