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Helping SMEs punch above their weight

27 June 2016

Mark Daniels explains how taking a ‘connected enterprise’ approach can have big benefits for SMEs, allowing them to compete with multinationals. 

Before I explain how a small biscuit manufacturer might benefit from a connected enterprise, it is worth doing some jargon-busting. Industry 4.0 initiatives, such as Smart Manufacturing in the US, L’industrie du future in France and Manufacturing 3.0 in South Korea, all essentially focus on the same thing – manufacturing in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) or IIoT – the first ‘I’ referring to Industrial.

Now is the right time to embrace these principles. Because the future is being built around connectivity, the benefits can be felt immediately in terms of efficiency and productivity while also preparing for the needs of tomorrow’s manufacturing environment. Most manufacturers will be able to apply the principles to what they already have without incurring vast expense.

Rockwell’s Connected Enterprise is about bringing together the people and processes in manufacturing so that data can be harmonised and harnessed. It underpins the IIoT by providing the platform for Internet enabled devices to communicate with MES solutions to improve efficiency; for the operating technology (OT) to link to the information technology (IT) of a business seamlessly to unlock the power of the data that can be gathered, processed and visualised in a useful and relevant way.

To make the necessary decisions to improve flexibility, agility, output and efficiency manufacturers need business intelligence. To achieve this stock, raw materials, supply chain and machine data all need to be connected and data needs to be collated and visualised to become intelligence.

To demonstrate how it might play out in real life, let’s imagine a day in the life of a small biscuit manufacturer who is embracing the Connected Enterprise; YumiBikkies. Much of this example can be applied on a larger scale of course, more plants can be added and other benefits can be achieved.

A typical day at YumiBikkies
The YumiBikkies connected enterprise has three lines, capable of producing three types of biscuit. We will follow the company through an 8am production meeting, a 10am quality review meeting, and a 2pm continuous improvement meeting.

On the agenda at the 8am production meeting are two main issues – how to handle a rush order that would be very beneficial to the organisation, and second, a comparison of data concerning the OEE, yield and energy usage across the three lines.

The new order adds 20,000 extra boxes of biscuits to the usual output, and the retailer wants to use a new recipe and customised packaging – all in a hurry. YumiBikkies has a real-time view of its operations that presents visualisations about how each line is performing, tracking key performance indicators such as OEE with availability, performance and quality. In addition, it has increased visibility into its supply chain. When the rush order comes in YumiBikkies is able to look across the lines and shift orders to maximise capacity. It is able to identify which line has the most capacity and could get the biscuits to market quickest.

Fulfilling the order with a connected enterprise is simplified because as the order comes in to the Enterprise resource Planning (ERP) system, so does the recipe and the new packaging graphics from the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system. The order number, recipe and work order instructions are transferred straight into the MES system. The new recipe components are automatically broken down into equipment and role-specific instructions, and transmitted to the connected machines, equipment, sensors, controllers, and operator panels on the lines.

As the process moves into the production phase, more benefits of connectivity become clear – and the benefits of an alliance between Rockwell Automation and CISCO, which brings its networking experience to the Connected Enterprise. By converging information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT), Cisco and Rockwell Automation provide the networking platforms and architectures which enables customers to deploy the Connected Enterprise, achieve interoperability across business functions as well as transparency across the entire production, supply chain and maintenance functions of the business.

The operators on the plant floor carry tablet devices that they use at each step on the production line so that they can achieve more in less time. They scan each raw ingredient into the system as it arrives, and track it through the entire production. All of the supporting documentation for each ingredient is automatically updated, and the system notes and accounts for any quality issues. It can also provide instructions on where to store each ingredient, so the oldest ones are used up first, minimising waste and ensuring the highest quality end product. The tablets can also bring up other dashboards and displays that the operator needs to see. This gives the correct instructions or information at the right time, reducing errors, and enables operators to monitor and control specific stages of production based on their roles and responsibilities.

The line itself also has smart sensors that can detect when machines are speeding up or slowing down, so the system automatically makes adjustments to keep the line moving smoothly to avoid bottlenecks. The machines can self-coordinate with the AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) on the plant floor to get the right ingredients to each station at the right time depending on the rate of production. Each ingredient is tracked through the process with RFID or barcodes, and a complete ‘genealogy’ is built up as the ingredients are combined, separated, consumed, and transformed.

Item two of the agenda, a comparison of data concerning the OEE, yield and energy usage across the three lines, allows YumiBikkies to use its visibility into the process for more general efficiency improvements. Since the three lines are fully connected, YumiBikkies is able to compare performance across them and get early warning of issues arising in any line or with a particular machine. It also allows the company to optimise the supply chain, driving suppliers to higher yields and lower costs overall. It enables them to benchmark performance at each piece of equipment and share best practices – such as optimum energy consumption – to drive productivity and efficiency throughout the business.

The quality review meeting at 11am looks at how the connected enterprise would help in averting a business disaster after an ingredient contamination incident.

The plant’s quality lab has detected salmonella in a batch of peanut butter that went into some biscuits during scheduled tests of samples of raw ingredients as they arrive on site to check for quality. Some of these tests take time to complete, and since the supplier was trusted, production had already started, meaning there was no way to detect the salmonella as the biscuits were being made. The only thing YumiBikkies could do was react to the problem.

In the past the only way the plant could react was to shut down to find the contaminated ingredient. Date codes would have been the only mechanism available to track an ingredient, but these are crude and only give a rough idea of when the ingredient might have been used. By the time YumiBikkies could have isolated the contaminated batch, enough time could have passed for some of the biscuits to make it onto retail shelves. That would have led to a public recall of the entire batch, since there was no way to isolate the ingredient. Further, if they were unable to get the contaminated product back, then the problem would escalate.

With a connected enterprise the result was very different. From the moment each ingredient arrives, it is tracked via barcodes and RFID tags through the production process. The ingredients are scanned as they arrive at the plant and scanned as they are added to the mixer. Each VAT is identified with unique ID code and scanned and tracked all the way through to the RFID codes in the packaging. So, as soon as the plant detects the contaminated peanut butter it is able to instantly pull up the advanced genealogy report for that ingredient to see the situation that needs to be handled.

With advanced genealogy reports, YumiBikkies can see its full history with the supplier of each ingredient. It can see exactly which equipment the ingredient passed through on which day and at what time. They can even see who was working on each piece of equipment as the ingredient went through production. Because of this genealogy report, the company can, within minutes, isolate exactly which boxes of biscuits are contaminated.

It can even know which lorries the contaminated boxes are on if they made it that far in the process. Better still, since the lorries are all being tracked with GPS, the driver can be notified immediately on his mobile phone to inform him to turn back or not to complete the delivery of contaminated product. The boxes are stopped long before they make it to retail shelves. No public recall is necessary, no embarrassment or brand damage, and more importantly, no public health hazard.

YumiBikkies will also be able to contact the supplier that provided the contaminated peanut butter to help them quickly notify other customers who might also have received it, avoiding a larger public health problem.

If the biscuits did make it into the market, YumiBikkies is looking at how serialisation information could be used to help increase end user customer engagement. Such possibilities mean that consumers could look up their product’s serial number to see if there is an issue and, based on the information found, open up opportunities for direct communication with the manufacturer about the safety of their product.

Continuous improvement
The 4pm continuous improvement meeting is focusing on a situation with a failing bearing on a conveyor.

To meet the rush order, the two forming machines that shape the biscuits to merge onto a single conveyor belt before they move into the oven must run at 100% capacity. Long before the bearing breaks, sensors on the conveyor detect the increased vibration and changes in torque to the motors.

These smart sensors can detect changes so small that it would be hard, even for experienced machine operators, to see or hear the issue. The machine detects that it could have a catastrophic failure in the future if the problem is not corrected soon.

The conveyor is connected to the network, so as soon as it senses the problem it automatically does three things. First, the machine notifies the machine operator of the problem, updating his dashboards with alarms. The operator is able to inspect the machine with his CISCO networked mobile tablet, using a live video chat to show the off-site process engineer the problem and get instant feedback on the alarm. If the problem is serious, he can video chat with the machine’s OEM, sending pictures, or pulling up electronic manuals to reference.

Second, the machine self-diagnoses the problem and automatically schedules a work order to fix the issue during the next scheduled downtime and ensure the appropriate parts are in stock. Since they will fix the bearing before it completely fails, YumiBikkies does not need to shut down the line right away, so they do not lose productivity. Avoiding an unscheduled shutdown also avoids putting more wear and tear on other equipment.

Third, the machine communicates with the OEM who built it, contributing to a macro feedback report used to improve its work and maintenance schedules. Instead of relying on the Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) the OEM can now keep its equipment running based on when the equipment actually needs service.

Becoming YumiBikkies
Being more like YumiBikkies might seem a tall order. However no enterprise gets to this point overnight. Changes can be implemented as part of a continuous, staged modernisation. On a small scale, each line can be updated as obsolete or worn-out equipment needs replacing. There is also likely to be a great deal of data already available in your factory that can be gathered from the machines, supply chain and energy resources. Collating, analysing and utilising this data, by bringing together the operational and information technologies available, should be of paramount importance as you seek to apply the connected enterprise principles and be more like YumiBikkies.
Mark Daniels is European market development manager at Rockwell Automation.

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