Optimising all your assets

15 January 2013

In the current economic climate it is vital to establish strategies to remain competitive and profitable. This can mean either reducing costs of all kinds, or improving the yield, and therefore the yield-cost ratio, preferably both.

Continuous improvement programmes are put in place to detect the potential to make savings. When done right, this should not just be a matter of saving money but also contributing to the image of the company as a socially and environmentally responsible one. The production line has the potential to realise many improvement strategies.

The end product is more than the sum of the raw materials or parts that go into them. The cost is also defined by the labour required and the production line equipment.

The use and performance of all of these assets needs to be optimised. This can take multiple forms, including supporting staff to carry out their work in a more efficient manner; reducing errors and waste; scheduling maintenance jobs can help reduce unexpected downtime of equipment; monitoring the line in real-time allows for timely interventions and helps avoid downtime; monitoring and comparing energy consumption per equipment or station, or per production line can reveal ‘leaks’.

Separate realities
In larger plants, each line is often a ‘separate reality’, making it hard to enforce continuous improvement strategies and to realise tangible benefits from the corporate production IT. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), maintenance and energy consumption are three areas that these lines have in common and these aspects can be addressed by bringing the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) directly to the production line in a distributed architecture, establishing a monitoring platform directly on the line, creating autonomous areas.

Such a distributed data acquisition network is particularly crucial in data intensive environments, such as plants with hundreds of PLCs. Local buffering of data strongly decreases the impact of network failures, in terms of line downtime and unproductive time of staff.

By adding a historical dimension to the SCADA level, the collected data from these line PLCs can be aggregated into usable information immediately, contextualising them with relevant historical line data and presenting them in-line or station-specific KPIs directly to the line operator.

Such an approach will give the operator a complete interface for production transparency, including data related to orders, materials, energy, plant capacity utilisation and production quality and costs.

This real-time data monitoring integrated with KPIs and historical data visualisation the operator will be able to steer the line towards operational improvements, optimising line availability and identifying weak spots. Operations can also be optimised in terms of scheduling, fine-tuning the timing of preventive maintenance operations at the best-suited time. Or, in case of production orders, the available information could allow the operator to shift from automated to high precision production order scheduling.

This level of insight into the line and the potential it offers for decision making to benefit from immediate operational improvements and asset optimisation also gives operators an increased sense of responsibility and contribution to the corporate improvement programs.

Modularity, configurability and scalability
Rolling out this type of approach line-by-line, plant-by-plant will require a user-friendly graphic interface for configuration that allows personalisation of the data representation at every level of analysis. Scalability across plants and regions can also be simplified by multi-language systems.

All of the information from different lines can, eventually, be aggregated line-by-line into a server at MES level and can feed an Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence system. The return on investment of rolling out the line monitoring platform to different lines and plants is secured through the immediate operational improvements on the lines, and it can be further increased by aggregating the lines and plants at enterprise level.

Combining components at MES level and interfacing them, where necessary, at automation level will create a line monitoring platform for job control, tracking and tracing, quality management, and plant floor process control. At production level the SCADA system offers direct visual representation to the line operators of the production line status acquired from PLCs on the lines. At plant level, supervisors have a high level view on the different production lines with drill down capabilities to production shifts.

The availability of real-time line monitoring enables immediate decisions and interventions in the process and the combination of the information at line level with production order planning and other data sources allows for better management of maintenance orders, not only reactive, but also predictive and preventive. Line operators can also visualise energy consumption in real-time, in correlation with production performance and quality information, as well as historic energy consumption data.

This forms a solid base for energy and asset management and the tools are already in place. All that is needed is an MES intitiative to make the most of the information.

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