Celebrating Spring Success at ECS

It’s springtime and here at ECS, we are celebrating a hugely successful and profitable quarter with our annual Spring Employee Event! We kicked things off with our employee-planned Spring Luau, where prizes, food, and fun were had by all. The celebration continued at Bosse Field, a baseball stadium here in Evansville, Indiana, where we attended the Evansville Otters baseball game. Everyone at ECS wore their Luau shirts as we cheered on the Otters to finish a fantastic quarter.

Pictured here wearing their Luau shirts are ECS employees: Kurt Daunhauer, Tim Matheny, Roger Brauser, and Nick Scheutz.

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Introducing A New Line? What’s Your Breakdown Plan?

The marked increase in the use of automation in manufacturing industries has been driven not only by the need to realize the lowest possible costs for a product but also by consumer demand for variety and customization.  Control systems are cost-effective and provide the means to maximize efficiency and accuracy of the processing lines.  Therefore, today the set-up, change-over, product scheduling, and sequencing, together with quality control are necessarily automated.  The control systems also allow the collation of documentation for all materials and processes used in production, which is essential to meet product safety.  It is also necessary to be able to recall defective products quickly and cost-effectively.  These demands have led to the integration of critical information from the plant floor and from suppliers into corporate enterprise resource planning systems.

The adoption of automation technology has not happened without problems.  In the planning stages for the installation of control systems, the focus is predominately upon the existing product line or new process and the in-house production team that will be involved.  Training programs to improve the skills of the in-house production team and/or the hiring of additional engineers with the required skills will be included in the planning stages.  The plant services are often overlooked, yet it is these engineers, technicians, and electricians that will be required to respond to maintenance problems that arise, some of which may result in costly downtime.  It is possible that there is a lack of understanding of automation technology within management.  It has been suggested that in some instances the control systems selected for a project may be limited to the ability of the available in-house engineers and electricians (the KISS philosophy). This apparent reluctance to accept automation is somewhat reminiscent of the reaction to the introduction of fuel injectors in automobile engines several decades ago.  The fuel injector represented an innovative technology that at first was regarded as complicated and it replaced the carburetor, which was a simple engine part.  Technology for the automobile has advanced to such a degree that today it requires the assistance of a computer (a specialized technician) to service the engine.  Yet this is no longer difficult to accept.  Similarly, it should be realized that the maintenance of control systems and automated equipment will require “a computer,” that is expertise not readily found in the electricians and engineers that make up the in-house plant services.

Automation brings the ability to control, process, track and manage production in real time while reducing labor costs and improving efficiency.  However, once a company has invested in automation technology, that technology and equipment must be protected from breakdown and the expected early wear and tear.  As stated earlier, the question of how to provide that protection, particularly over the long term, is not often addressed in the planning stages.  It may be that providing the required support services increases the overall project costs and this is a concern to management.  But surely it is obvious that such support will be needed.

There are three approaches to the maintenance of control systems and automation equipment that may be considered:

  1. Create an in-house team of electricians, engineers, and technicians to provide the necessary maintenance and support. This will likely require the addition of personnel with specific skills related to automation.  Training programs directed to support services may be introduced, the training customized to the product line.
  2. Completely outsource maintenance activities related to the control systems and automation equipment.
  3. Establish a hybrid arrangement in which the mission-critical engineering skills are kept in-house, but general maintenance services are outsourced.

There is a key factor that should be considered in determining how to best provide maintenance and support services.  Determination of the impact of downtime should be given the highest priority since downtime affects both productivity and profitability.  Establishing in-house capability that can quickly deal with breakdown problems is advantageous.  However, it must be recognized that the in-house team will need ALL the necessary skills related to automation technology and control systems to quickly deal with every problem over the long term.

If it is decided to keep the critical engineering skills in-house several questions arise:

  1. What is the availability of skilled engineers and electricians?
  2. With possibly a relatively small number of skilled individuals available, do you hire to support current operating systems or for new processes under consideration?
  3. Should you seek multi-skilled individuals with considerable experience in automation?
  4. Should these individuals have the ability to grow and change as technology changes and how is this ability recognized?
  5. Are you able to offer attractive compensation packages, including pension and healthcare benefits as well as salary?
  6. Will you be able to retain these individuals?
  7. Is the location of the plant attractive and interesting to mobile, skilled engineers?

Clearly, these questions only apply to options 1 and 3.  Completely outsourcing maintenance activities avoids these uncertainties, and it is possible to acquire the skills needed without long-term commitments to employees. However, it is recognized in manufacturing industries that plant managers may struggle with the loss of control that results from outsourcing activities.  Under these circumstances, the plant manager finds it difficult to directly manage, set priorities, and instruct the workforce.  Yet, without question outsourcing delivers expertise, efficiently provides high-quality work and is NOT costlier than establishing in-house capabilities.

Finally, it is the responsibility of the end user to determine the focus, flexibility, control, and cost-effectiveness, required to manage maintenance activities.  Automation has perhaps upset the traditional balance between the process and the maintenance required by that process.  Automation and today’s control systems demand a range of specific skills to install and maintain and outsourcing does offer immediate access to those skills.  It may be argued that many companies are prepared to invest in their own people, recognizing the positive impact that competent and responsive maintenance has on their business.  That indeed may well be true but there are situations where it is better to outsource the responsibility, e.g., the lack of sufficient skilled people being available, where maintenance is cyclical and has periods of low activity, where equipment is highly specialized or where the facility is too small to warrant investment in an in-house maintenance function.

 

Resources

www.engineerlive.com/content/maintenance-house-or-outsource

https://www.chemicalprocessing.com/articles/2006/075/

https://www.efficientplantmag.com/…/maintenance-outsourcing-is-the-answer-or-is-it/

 

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THE BIG PICTURE

In meetings with clients, we should always endeavor to more fully understand the process of concern. The client has usually identified a problem and believes that an efficient and reliable control system will correct that problem. Hence the focus is on the problem, and perhaps, this is one step in the process. We believe that understanding the big picture can enable a better solution, that is why we ask questions about the overall process and not just the problem area.

  • What are the factors that affect Quality, Quantity and Cost?
  • Why is the process conducted in that way?
  • How many variables are controlled and monitored?
  • How do these variables affect the problem area?
  • How accurately should the variables be controlled?

We are convinced that by having a better understanding of the process in question, additional control system capabilities may be incorporated into the solution.  In this way, significant improvement in the efficiency of the process and/or the quality of the product may be realized.

We recently met with a client from the food industry, who required a system to control the blending of the content from Two tanks into a third tank.  The original requirement was to blend at a specific ratio i.e. 10:1 We learned that the quality of the product was dependent upon the ratio of the two materials in addition to initializing and completing the blend requirements.

It was thought that simply controlling the flow rates of the materials into the blending tank in that specific ratio would suffice.  We pointed out that small variations in the flow rates from either or both tanks would change the ratio of the remaining materials to be blended, perhaps significantly.  We suggested that the system must, therefore, focus on controlling the flow rates to maintain the required remaining material ratio instead of a fixed one.

Another example.  We recently learned from a manufacturer that a chemical reaction occurring in a reactor at one stage of the process generated a foam.  This foam formed an undesirable layer above the materials in the tank and it was necessary to allow it to dissipate.  This slowed and delayed the overall process.  The control system that had been installed included the capability to purge the tanks and pipes with gases when required.  We realized that the pressure control system could be used to accelerate the dissipation of the foam and minimize the delay in the process.

It is well known that control systems can offer a wide range of capabilities often more than may be initially envisioned by clients.  Added value may be obtained from the control system if the factors affecting the finished product are shared by the client. Try to view the “big picture”.

By understanding the factors that affect the finished product we may be able to take advantage of functionality that can be achieved with the existent control system.

Until next time, friend!

Batching Across America,
-The Batch Brothers

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ECS Partnered with Southwest Baking on a Batch System Upgrade

Southwest Baking collaborated with ECS Solutions Inc., a Recognized System Integrator in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program, to help design and implement a replacement for the limited legacy system.

After assessing a number of vendors, Southwest Baking and ECS Solutions chose to standardize on a flexible batch recipe management system using FactoryTalk® Batch software from Rockwell Automation (Figure 1). The company upgraded its control system to Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix®controllers with an advanced HMI interface and process historian.

Southwest Baking wanted a reliable system with local support to help increase batch consistency across the facility. The company not only achieved this goal but exceeded it.

Since implementing the new batch solution, Southwest Baking increased production by 5% — approximately 10 lb. of dough per minute and an additional 400,000 cases of bread per year.

In addition, the company reduced its cycle time by more than 20%, meaning it can run more batches in the same time frame. Additionally, Southwest Baking has reduced downtime from an average of one hour of downtime per event to a couple of minutes of downtime per event.

Read more about this system upgrade and contact ECS when you’re ready to increase downtime and maximize production.

 

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Need help solving your batch manufacturing needs? Look no further than the Batch Brothers.

ECS Solutions is proud to focus on Batch Manufacturing. Assembling a team of experts, headed by industry expert, John Parraga, ECS is positioned to successfully tackle our clients’/prospects’ toughest problems. We are more than a capable bidder, we are a valued consultant for our clients.

Throughout our journey, we will keep you posted on our progress, new members added to the team and the latest in industry news. Today we bring you our team leader’s thoughts on some batch practices that will become more common in the future:

  1. Batch Processes that are executed manually will follow procedures that are guided and tracked with portable electronic work instructions; electronic work instructions better report the activities the operators are performing, this data can be used to pinpoint opportunities for improvement and justify investments in process automation.
  2. Being able to demonstrate in an expeditious manner how products have been manufactured is becoming more important in many industries, this is driving plants to use systems that allow to clearly specify how the products need to be made, enforce their execution throughout the process steps and capture the data to easily demonstrate how the product was manufactured.
  3. Material Properties and Process diagnostics will be commonly used to dynamically adjust the formulation of active batches without requiring human intervention. (S88 control recipes)
  4. Some of the existent Batch processes may be converted into continuous processes. This will require a high degree of automation and a clear understanding of the process dynamics and the materials.
  5. Due to the total cost of ownership and the lack of engineering resources, manufacturers will rely more on OEM vendors to provide the automation required to operate their offerings as well as interface with other OEM equipment.

S88 Builder is a model-based process control system used specifically for equipment control in a batch or continuous process control system. Based on best practices and 40 years of experience, ECS developed S88 Builder to be one common application for controlling any process cell. The model provides an extreme level of both consistency and flexibility for equipment control throughout a process. The consistent model optimizes your process control system for top performance and quality, which lowers production costs and increases equipment availability.

Process manufacturing continues to improve, some improvements come from the implementation of new technologies others improve are motivated by economic or regulatory pressures. ECS Solutions looks forward to expanding our team and working with our clients to ready them for the future of batch manufacturing.

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Modern Batch Platform Prepares Bread Maker for Growth

ECS Solutions was featured in Automation World for the work they did with high-volume food producer Southwest Baking. They upgraded their batch process and control platform, based on ISA-88, and prepared for growth with this flexible automation platform.

Southwest Baking brought in ECS Solutions for the system integration and helped design the new batch process platform based on ISA-88 standards, providing more decision-making capabilities to the plant-floor operators. “The upgrade to ISA-88 was done in two stages and completely changed our HMI setup,” Wroblewski says. “We now gave the operator full control of the batch system. They can see what is wrong and resolve issues without calling engineering to fix the situation.”

To read the entire article, click HERE.

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The Value Of A Truly Modular “Clean In Place” System

Improving overall manufacturing process efficiency is not limited to the tasks and methods used to make the products; important opportunities also exist in the clean in place process (CIP). CIP is a factor that directly impacts the utilization of the plant equipment, as well as the unit cost and quality. A modular CIP system fosters more innovation by providing the process owner the ability to pilot solutions with minimal effort. A properly designed CIP system will not only allow the owner to optimize the execution of the cleaning procedures, but it will also reduce the costs associated with cleaning solutions, water and energy.

Typically, CIP systems are commissioned and their procedures are seldom changed. This is due in part to the rigid logic that provide the process owners very little flexibility to improve the procedures, programs are created to perform tasks such as the pre-rinse, detergent(s) wash, and a final rinse, etc. The process owners find themselves limited to changing recipe values (parameters) and are not given the flexibility to optimize the procedures. If a change needs to be made it may require the intervention of an engineering group to gather requirements, make and test the changes, then release these changes to the process owners. Often, improvements don’t happen because of the time and resources required to make such changes.

The key to allowing the plant to improve the cleaning process is to provide a truly modular CIP system that allows the process owner to configure procedures based on the capabilities of the equipment instead of coded routines.

ISA S88 provides guidelines for the design and specifications of batch control systems. The capabilities of the equipment are exposed to the recipe authors and these capabilities are captured in what is defined as the equipment model. These capabilities are then programed as sub routines (Phases) that can be called upon to be executed at any time.

A procedural model (Recipe) provides the recipe author the granularity that allows the author to define tasks to be performed as well as their triggering conditions. This recipe authoring flexibility empowers the process owners to quickly author new procedures that reflect the current best approach, these can be tested without requiring programing and revalidation of code.

Given the mathematical capabilities of modern automation controllers it is also possible to write equations that can be integrated over time to provide a cumulative cleaning factor, such concept is used for steam sterilization cycles (“F-sub-zero”). This method can be used to dynamically determine when the cleaning cycle is complete without having to follow the traditional method, a direct benefit should be the reduction of time, materials and energy required.

*A major food manufacturer initially reduced their total clean in place time by eight hours per week—creating far more efficiency.

Important opportunities to improve the overall manufacturing process efficiency exist in the clean in place process automation, key to this is a well-defined ISA S88 Equipment Model that provides a modular and flexible solution to the process owners.

ECS is a Control System Integrator’s Association (CSIA) certified control system integrator offering Total Process Automation—from your ERP solution to the end of your packaging line. We help customers solve real problems, making them more profitable. After more than three decades of hands-on process control system development, ECS has refined its ability to deliver high-value, agile, solutions at a fair price and within an amazing schedule.

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