Case Study: Proprietary Replacement
For many years, a large nutrition company used a Proprietary program that was developed in-house, to manage the recipe database and to calculate the mass balances of the ingredients to meet the nutritional profile of each product. The application/program has become difficult to support and maintain. The customer approached ECS Solutions to undertake a review of the Proprietary application and recommend how it may be replaced or rewritten.
ECS engineers quickly recognized that Proprietary was a custom application, written in Microsoft access with a significant amount of custom VBA code incorporated into FactoryTalkView. The problem became how to obtain the functionality of the Proprietary application in something that was more manageable, accessible for troubleshooting, and ideally “off-the-shelf”. ECS engineers recommended that since the client was running FactoryTalkBatch in their operations, simply adding the Material Manager feature, which is a free add-on with FactoryTalkBatch, the required functions would be obtained. The customer’s management felt that ECS had to dig in and truly understand the very complicated Proprietary application and how critical it was to their operations.
ECS and the customer’s personnel collaborated to understand and evaluate options to develop an acceptable solution and proposal to rewrite the Proprietary application. In January 2021, a proposal was accepted allowing a project to start. It is today about 60% complete and thus far everything that has been reviewed by the customer’s management has exceeded their expectations. A top engineer there has now invited ECS personnel to contribute to a presentation to their management to include a description of the project, to show the key benefits of the current phase, and to outline the proposed Phase 2.
ECS engineers restructured the customer’s recipes to have a per ingredient recipe format. This modification was more suitable to using the Material Manager FactoryTalkBatch feature and allowed storage of ingredient profiles and properties. This is important since the amount of the ingredient added is dependent upon the ingredient profile, e.g., percent carbohydrate, percent fat, or percent protein. In the current mode of operation, profiles were stored in the Proprietary application but this function was migrated into built-in features of FactoryTalkBatch. With the Proprietary application, the required amounts of ingredients were calculated using complicated matrix algebra to solve the equations, but ECS engineers showed that a simpler approach such as the math being done sequentially, was equally reliable. Furthermore, that code was written into the PLC making it significantly more transparent.
With the project only 60% complete it is ambitious to quantify the advantages that the changes will make. Feedback from the top engineer was that the product quality has improved and there is significantly less waste material. The Proprietary system essentially starts five different recipes simultaneously, each doing something different to make the final product. At present everything is integrated into FactoryTalkBatch following the best practices of the ISA-88 guideline, all the calculations are now being performed in the PLC. With the changes, it is now streamlined because everything happens in the same place and there is more visibility into what must happen to make a specific product.
The decision by ECS Solutions to use the Rockwell FactoryTalkBatch application with the Material Manager added on to replace the Proprietary program was predicated on two facts:
- The customer already licenses and uses FactoryTalkBatch software in the same process cell.
- The FactoryTalkBatch software does have the capability to perform the Proprietary functionality if the Material Manager feature is added.
The modifications did require some reconfiguration of FactoryTalkBatch as well as the installation and configuration of Material Manager. Some existing configurations had to be replaced requiring simulation and testing in parallel with the existing Proprietary system before installing the new solution. There are additional features with FactoryTalkBatch that can be leveraged advantageously by the customer:
- Enhanced logging of batch data and reporting.
- Recipe driven Operator prompt to drive sequences and improve quality.
- Ensure materials are coming from the correct source.
- Provide material traceability.
The changes made by ECS Solutions not only provided all the functionality of the Proprietary application but also retained some functions that were available but not used. For example, the customer can use either powdered or liquid ingredients for many of their recipes. The option to use pre-made liquids avoids carrying out separate powder and water additions. Although the customer has not used that capability in recent years, it was a function they wanted to retain.
The customer now can count on an application that can be supported by the customer’s personnel or any FTBatch knowledgeable engineer. The solution consolidated recipe islands of operation and all Automated and Operator activities are captured and reported with standard off-the-shelf products’ product functionality.