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Efficiency, efficiency but what about ROI?

Author : Chris Evans

16 December 2011

Perhaps more than any other sectors, the Food, Beverage and Consumer Packaged Goods industries face the most intense pressures to meet the demands of changing customer needs, strict governmental regulation and intense competition

Changing market conditions also affect these industries far quicker than many others. For example, the availability of raw materials such as crops, which are impacted by changing weather conditions or the vulnerability of parts supply due to world events,all have an impact on the costs and availability of the goods to be produced.

How do manufacturers cope with these uncontrollable influences?
Well the key factors are “speed of reaction” and increased “flexibility”.

Dealing with these issues requires a data management system that drives a lean manufacturing strategy and delivers visibility, analysis and control of the “end to end” manufacturing process, to meet the key business drivers of increased yield, improved quality and increased profitability.

This argument has been used many times and could be seen by the senior management of the food manufacturing company as another sales pitch by the automation supplier to increase their revenue at the expense of their own.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reports that the food industry generates 10-20% waste by weight, which equates to 3-8% of business turnover and therefore understanding, controlling and managing the production process in an efficient waybecomes essential.

If we consider the key elements which reduce efficiency in a manufacturing plant, we arrive at product waste, energy waste, process issues and downtime of assets.

In order to improve these areas you first have to understand your current position. It is usually about now that the first obstacle is met, after all the plant is running (however inefficiently), product is going out of the door and stopping the process is unthinkable.

It is perceived that implementing a system to monitor Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and energy usage will be disruptive and expensive to realise. If we follow the classic model of “define, monitor, analyse, control and improve,” in a structured way, then this perception can be seen to be an “urban myth.”

The first place to start will be the definition of what is required.This should be the marriage of the business needs and goals to what is possible from the current plant architecture. The cost of this initial survey is usually relatively small and delivers an expectation of what can be achieved.

If the decision is taken to proceed to the monitor phase, then this need not involve large costs and is vital for the success of the whole project. If the automation supplier has a modular, flexible, open solution, adding a monitoring layer above the operating plant can be non-intrusive and will deliver the vital information about the current situation within the plant.

The granularity of this information will of course depend on the number of monitoring pointsbut it is often an outcome that simply implementing a monitoring system will highlight areas of inefficiency that can be improved by, for example changing operating procedures or shutting off equipment more regularly. If no other action is taken, it is likely that the savings made simply by knowing the current situation and being able to react to it in real time will cover the cost of these first two phases.

Targeting manufacturing assets with known issues can be seen as “low hanging fruit” and can deliver quick wins to build confidence in the process and return on investment.

Of course, to realise the greatest improvements and to be able to implement manufacturing strategies such as Six Sigma, TPM/TQM and Lean Manufacturing, it is necessary to implement control strategies based on the analysis carried out during the monitoring phase.

The implementation will range from energy saving methods of simply adding variable drive technology to inefficient electric motors to a full “end to end” control system integrating the plant to the business level.

Clearly this stage can result in major investment, especially if the plant automation architecture does not have the infrastructure in place to allow control strategies to be implemented easily.

However, if the automation supplier can offer flexible, open solutions then a modular, phased approach can be taken where cost/benefit evaluations can be analysed along the way and budgets assigned accordingly.

At Mitsubishi Electric, we are able to help at all stages of the improvement process, from the initial feasibility and monitoring stages to the full implementation of the integrated solution.

In recent years, our product and solution development has concentrated on delivering innovative, non-PC based data logging and data collection technologies which when coupled to a suite of monitoring and analysis business level software solutions provide a holistic integrated approach to plant and operational efficiency and energy and data management.

Another key factor is our ability to interface to each asset via a range of open network standards.

This means that Mitsubishi is able to interface with your plant automation platform regardless of the supplier, making it very easy to overlay a Mitsubishi data management solution to your existing plant.

It is understood and appreciated that it is a big commitment for plant managers to invest in this type of solution when the benefits are not always obvious at first glance. However, a properly thought out and implemented efficiency and energy improvement strategy will deliver a return on investment payback time of typically 6-12 months.

In the end, when it comes to energy, reduce it, when it comes to efficiency, improve it but in the end manage and control the areas that can reduce your key business drivers of yield, quality and profitability.

We believe at Mitsubishi, that we have solutions that can help you achieve this and would be happy to discuss your needs and requirements with you.

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