Surviving the Great Resignation
A rapidly decreasing number of technical personnel are available who can install and maintain the higher-end equipment used in manufacturing today. “The great resignation and/or retirement” movement, along with changes associated with the recent pandemic landscape, has sent many highly qualified workers to the exits in search of new and often altogether different opportunities. The stage has been set for decades with the wave of baby boomer retirements churning towards manufacturers. Parallel to this has been the increased reliance on high-tech manufacturing machines and processes. These two situations pair well with the idea of future-proofing low-to-mid complexity manufacturing but, in an interesting juxtaposition, amplify the core problem. (more…)
ECS Solutions named on of Indiana’s “Best Places to Work” for a third year in a row!
ECS Solutions was recently named as one of the Best Places to Work in Indiana. This 17th annual program was created by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
The statewide survey and awards program is designed to evaluate participating organizations and honor those with the highest levels of employee satisfaction and engagement in the workplace. This year’s list is made up of 125 companies.
“We have many tremendous employers in the state, so it’s great to see more and more companies take part in this effort to evaluate their workplace cultures and gain the recognition they deserve,” says Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar. “These companies consistently demonstrate to their employees how much they value their contributions.”
To be considered for participation, companies had to fulfill the following eligibility requirements:
- Be a for-profit, not-for-profit business or government organization
- Be a publicly or privately held organization
- Have a physical operation in Indiana
- Have at least 15 full- or part-time permanent employees working in Indiana
- Have been in business for at least one year, at the program registration deadline
The final rankings will be announced at an awards ceremony on Thursday, May 12, 2022, and then published in the Indiana Chamber’s BizVoice® magazine after the event.
For more information on the Best Places to Work in Indiana program, visit www.BestPlacestoWorkIndiana.com.
Automation of Manual Processes
Imagine a situation where your plant floor employees require less training to become fully functional for operations. Also imagine a situation where your employees can be flexibly interchanged on different equipment and operations instead of relegated to a single machine, cell, or role. Now imagine this is done in a way that employees feel engaged and that they are achieving results easily and accurately. Sound impossible? We don’t think so at ECS Solutions, Inc. (ECS).
Every sector of employment has been hit by the employee shortage of the last few years. Covid 19 has certainly exacerbated this situation and ensured that all types of employers have felt it, from the most unskilled labor positions up through the highest level of professional employees. Manufacturing has been hit from all sides and many companies struggle to fill technical and non-technical plant floor, logistics, office, and professional openings.
Times like these force many manufacturers to take a hard look at their operations and streamline however they can. Some outsource both manufacturing and professional functions and some embrace technology with software for automated Human Resources (HRIS), accounting, payroll, logistics, and ERP interfaces. Often streamlining the most basic of operations on the factory floor is overlooked. This is frequently the result of mindsets that simply accept older equipment and processes as “they are what they are” or that newer, highly automated equipment is as automated as it can get. Are either of those situations true? World-class companies find ways to get more from their vintage equipment and they tie additional, ancillary steps into their newer automation investments. The bonus can be that all of this can empower employees as well! (more…)
Implementation of a Data Pump with Ignition by Inductive Automation
There are many tools on the market for historizing process data. These tools typically treat each point of data individually when historizing, which works great for trend screens and instrumentation reporting. However, it is often desirable to log a “set” or “group” of data together, associating many data points with a single event. This use case is particularly common with batching operations, where detailed records must be kept. This can be accomplished in many different ways. One such approach, that of a so-called “data pump,” is described below.
One of our solutions to this challenge is to create and log a “payload” of data each time an operation is completed on a piece of equipment. For example, consider a bulk material addition into a mix tank. This operation contains several pieces of relevant information that can be historized, such as:
- Start Time
- End Time
- Unit (Ex: Mix Tank 102)
- Batch ID
- Event Description: (Ex: “Sucrose Addition”)
- End Condition (Completed Naturally or Manually Aborted)
- Setpoint Amount (Requested Quantity)
- Actual Amount (Delivered Quantity)
- Error % ( [Actual – Setpoint] / [Setpoint] x 100 )
- Pump Speed
In order to capture this information, PLC logic is built into each operation to collect the pertinent data. At the completion of the operation, this data is then consolidated into a single record object, typically a User Defined Data Type, in the PLC. Then this record is placed into a queue object on a “First In, First Out” basis. Elsewhere in the control system (external to the PLC), this queue is monitored for new records. As new records appear, the control system reads the appropriate data from the front of the queue, logs it to a SQL database table, and handshakes with the PLC to indicate that the record has been successfully processed.
Once the handshake is received at the PLC level, the queue is then indexed to discard the previous record and move the next record forward for processing. No records are removed from the queue until the control system acknowledges successful processing of that record. In this architecture, queued data is essentially guaranteed to be logged. Even if the mechanism processing the queue fails, the PLC (and more importantly, the automated process) can continue to run as normal. In this scenario, the queue may accumulate a backlog of unprocessed records, but once the processing mechanism is brought back online they can be quickly processed. Providing a large enough queue object is important because it gives the data pump a buffer. This allows the control system to weather any interruption of communications that might occur between the PLC and the mechanism that processes the records. (more…)
Case Study: Methodical Approach to a Systems Upgrade
ECS Solutions, Inc. (ECS) recently helped a client with an upgrade by leveraging ECS’ methodical approach to system solutions. Their client has three very similar processing areas known as casting pits. Each was controlled by an independent GE 9030 PLC system, each with a main, and each controlled by a local BLUE Open Studio HMI from ProFace America.
The 9030 PLCs that were installed were robust and accurate for these areas when originally installed. Over a long period of time, the systems were maintained and augmented by several personnel from both inside and outside the organization. The result, as is often the case in legacy automation systems, is system drawings that are littered with hand comments and sketches on paper drawings. These systems also feature code that works…. until it doesn’t due to getting lost in a discarded section of logic that was thought to be disabled but was never removed. These situations are often referred to as “ghosts” or “gremlins” in the code and they can be difficult to troubleshoot. Frequently, the solution is to reboot entire systems to exit from the offending area.
Ignition by Inductive Automation Dataset Tags for Performant Dashboards
How ECS Solutions uses dataset tags in Ignition by Inductive Automation, updated periodically by gateway timer scripts, to drive graphics on dashboard displays.
This allows the dashboard to simply display the datasets rather than execute queries. This results in better overall performance of the gateway (queries are only running one time), faster load times for displays (data is already available and just has to be rendered), and transparent updates over time (no application hang for periodic data refresh).
Creating informative dashboards, especially dashboards that provide data analytics, can be challenging. Oftentimes the requirements for the dashboard will evolve as it is developed. Over time, the queries and scripting functions and analyses that drive the data behind the dashboard start to pile up. This drains resources and drags down performance. This can also leave end-users with a (technically) functional but inefficient, slow, or even “clunky” result. If the analyses are being performed on the clients (a common pitfall for an inexperienced Ignition developer), this problem is compounded as more and more users start to access or view the application, each client running its own separate queries and analyses.
Class-based Unit Coordination Utilizing Link Groups
Take advantage of product functionality to coordinate activities between units.
Class-based recipes allow a single recipe to be executed against all Units that meet the required functionalities. Phases required to perform inter-unit coordination can be used to transfer information from any source unit to any destination unit utilizing Phase linking functionality. Based on the equipment arbitration requirements these coordination Phases can be shared among multiple units or can be created so each unit has its own instance of the required Phase.
**THIS IS A REPOSTED BLOG FROM AutomationWorld. Click here to read the full article.
Case Study: Brewhouse Automation and Functional Upgrade
ECS Solutions was contracted to replace a control system that was becoming obsolete at a brewery in Florida. The Venezuelan-based parent company, for which ECS Solutions employees had already completed multiple projects, was concerned that the automation hardware could go bad and be difficult to replace, leading to a shutdown of the plant. The customer’s production was at risk since the hardware in the system, which incorporated old Siemens PLC, Siemens I/O (input and output), and Siemen’s software, was no longer supported or available.
ECS Solutions has worked at several of the company’s breweries in South America and had demonstrated the functionality of the ISA88 standard, which allows expansion from producing a few items to many and enables changes to be handled by brewmasters in a modular way without reprogramming the control system. The company wanted the brewmaster to be able to create recipes independent of the code in the PLC, so providing the functionality obtained with the ISA88 standard became an important goal. The company wanted the best practices, now working in the facilities in South America, to be introduced into the Florida plant. (more…)
Flexible and Modular CIP and SIP Automation Enables Continuous Improvements
The ISA-88 and ISA-95 approach allow you to combine automated and manual operator activities required to perform consistent Clean-in-Place and Steam-in-Place processes in a procedural model, while also verifying required activities were performed.
Clean-in-Place (CIP) and Steam-in-Place (SIP) constitute critical aspects of the bottom line of a manufacturing process—just as important as the products manufactured with the assets. CIP and SIP play a very important role in the product quality, as well as the overall availability of the equipment to manufacture these products. Being able to consistently execute the required cleaning step regardless of the equipment level of automation is paramount—and being able to clearly specify and enforce the steps required are critical regardless of how these tasks are executed. Operators and equipment should seamlessly perform their task to ensure the desired cleaning procedures are executed in an optimum manner.
Read the article, written by ECS Solutions CEO Randy Otto, on Automation World now!