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Collaboration and Ratio Control

Mixing and blending of materials is a frequent, important process in the food industry and other industries, often with the final mixture required to contain a critical specific ratio of the components. The approach most often adopted is to control the flow rate of each component into the mixing tank to realize the specified ratio, a pre-defined flow rate ratio (i.e. 5:1)

In our experience, The Batch Brothers have noticed this approach can lead to problems, in that inevitable variations in the established flowrates will result in a ratio of the components in the final blend other than that specified.  By only implementing the flow rate ratios the system may reach the end of the blending process and end up with material that was not blended in.

The Batch Brother’s solution is to monitor the weight of each component remaining and provide a homogeneous blend based on the remaining weight ratios, this way the system is constantly correcting for ratio errors based on materials remaining and not just instantaneous flow rate. The flowrates Ratio setpoints are constantly calculated to maintain a ratio based on the ratio of materials remaining. This approach is particularly beneficial if the individual materials are not homogeneous, perhaps containing particles clumped together which may lead to instant flow errors.

The Batch Brothers also advocate a collaborative work culture so that information is available to all stakeholders. This collaboration implies that opportunities for improvement identified by any employees or provider should be expressed to the team and evaluated.

Batching Across America,
-The Batch Brothers


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CIP Made Simple

The Batch Brothers wondered…can you simplify the automation of Clean In Place (CIP) sequences…yep!

The automation of a manufacturing process today necessarily includes automation of CIP sequences.  The latter is often found to be more complex than making the products and final CIP sequences are frequently defined after the process equipment is built and cleaning tests completed.

The complexity of the CIP sequence arises from the availability of a wide variety of both cleaning equipment and cleaning solutions, such as water, caustic and acid.  In addition, it is found advantageous to recover water used in the final rinse step to reduce overall costs.

The Batch Brothers have developed an approach to make CIP automation straightforward while still providing ample modularity and flexibility. This approach relies upon the use of S88 concepts allowing the separation of the Equipment and Procedure models.  It is then possible to create procedures (Products and Cleaning recipes) after the process has been automated without requiring changes to the control system, all of which can be handled by non-programmers.  The approach easily allows optimization of the CIP recipes which results in both cost reduction and shorter times for the CIP process.  Furthermore, an equipment module is used to expose all parameters on the CIP skid side as well as the parameters required at the destinations.

The key to simplifying the CIP process is to set up equipment using an Equipment Module, this module being able to define all possible configurations in a simple modular matter. Application of the procedural role of S88 enables the specification of the sequence necessary to perform the required procedures.

Batching Across America,
-The Batch Brothers

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ECS Total Process Automation featured in AutomationWorld

Earlier this month, an article written by ECS President Tim Matheny was featured in AutomationWorld. Matheny discussed the Total Process Automation approach taken by ECS and how “The best control system integrators do not only automate the production equipment, they help to automate the entire manufacturing process.” By focusing on assisting the client with the whole process, integrators can not only help create and package goods more efficiently but also help the client increase their profits. The Total Process Automation approach used by ECS results in “an organization achieving higher quality, higher performance and higher profits.”

Click here to read the article and learn more about the Total Process Automation approach.

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Blending Ratio Control

We bumped into a client that indicated their process specified a particular material ratio (i.e. 10:1) of materials A/B on an In-Line pre-blender.  Additionally, the client also specified that an amount of A was required in the beginning and at the end of the blend since it was critical that material B could not be added by itself. In the past, the control system was programmed to control the ratio of the flows (as requested), where A was the Master and B was controlled to keep up to maintain the required Flow ratio. The Batch Brothers sensed some issues with this approach…

The problem they encountered was that upon completion of material B feed, too much or too little was left of Material A to flow solo as by requirements, this was due to the errors encountered by B trying to keep up with the Master Flow rate.

After better understanding the requirements the following solution was designed to ensure the best possible ratio control. Aside from the initial Solo of Material A (SiA) and final Solo of material A (SfA) addition required, the remaining amount of Material A (RaA) should be blended as homogeneously as possible with the required amount of Material B.

The Batch Brother’s Solution continuously calculated what the Ideal Flow ratio should be based on the actual amount of material remaining to be blended. By continuously updating this ratio the system could compensate for the errors incurred by not maintaining the EXACT ratio required as well as any error incurred in the addition of the initial solo feed of Material A.

The initial approach of maintaining a fixed Flow ratio setpoint did not allow the system to compensate for any errors incurred by the feed systems, by continuously recalculating the required ratio based on the amounts remaining, the system continuously corrects the setpoints and provided the most homogeneous possible product.

Problem solved!

Batching Across America,
-The Batch Brothers


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Material Delivery Optimization

We visited a client and determined that the production bottleneck for their process was the delivery of grain from silos. The client shared with us that their intent to upgrade the conveying equipment and that a large Capital investment was being requested…This was a clear opportunity for The Batch Brothers to step in!

After The Batch Brothers evaluated the existing system, we determined that a software approach could eliminate the existing bottleneck, without a large investment of Capital equipment. The batch system required multiple grains be delivered, only one grain was requested at a time, once that grain was delivered, the next one would be requested until all the grain required was delivered. The accuracy of these deliveries had been optimized and more than exceeded their tolerance requirements.

The systems characteristic that mostly affected the bottleneck was the distance the silos where from the weigh hopper. Once a Material was requested, the delivery delay from the time the silo gate opened until the first material reached the weigh hopper was of approximately 5 minutes. Once the amount remaining to be added to the hopper reached the “in transition amount” the system would command the silo gate to close, another 5 minutes would pass before the remaining material in the transport system would arrive to the weigh hopper.

The software solution consisted of requesting from the recipe the materials and amounts required, the system will then determine the location of each silo and prioritize the delivery based on the silo that had the smallest delivery time to the hopper. Now, instead of waiting for the completion of the material delivery the logic calculated when the next ingredient/silo gate should be opened to provide a predefined gap between the two ingredients, sometimes the second gate had to be opened before the first one closed.

Once the hopper determined that there was a feed gap and the amount required was near the required amount, then the logic considered this the end of the leading material and would consider the incoming material to be part of the following material requested. The system was designed to be able to specify up to 8 ingredients and their amounts.

In this case, the software automation system could provide another 5% production capability and eliminated the need to upgrade the grain transport system. With each bottleneck change, the process becomes more efficient. Software sometimes can cause that change and may also reduce the need to upgrade the hardware.

Batching Across America,
-The Batch Brothers

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The Most Annoying Question on Earth

Why? One of my grandsons learned to say, “Why?” soon after he learned to say, “No!” and well before “Please.” He is a sweet boy whom I love dearly, but, frankly, I find his single-word reply to whatever answer I may give annoying. Too often, I end up replying, as my father before me, “Just because.”

Why? Because “Why?” is both inquisitive and challenging. At the same time, it asks to know more and it accuses its target of holding back, of giving an insufficient answer.

Why is this the lead for an Automation World blog? Because “Why?” is simply the most important question that can be asked. Why? Because it is both inquisitive and challenging. Because it is unsatisfied. Because it demands thought and commitment to an informed opinion.

Why answer “Why?” when “How?” is much easier. After all, “How?” deals in facts, not opinions. Augmenting a thorough “How?” answer with a “What?” answer makes for consistent bids, consistent deliverables, and iron-clad specifications. We, the experts, know that if you will just do this with that at a low price that we will be happy and you will get paid.

“Why?” asks some control system integrator engineer who has obviously not matured beyond four, and whose experience is not with your process, but from other industries entirely, “Why do that?”

Why not just answer, “Because… that’s how we do it here?” True, it is easy to waste time explaining something to someone who knows much less. But, it is also true that game-changing improvements come from individuals unencumbered by detailed knowledge.

Why do I ask “Why?” First, to satisfy my insatiable desire to learn. Second, because I have met many other engineers honest enough to respond, “I don’t know.” As often as not, my contribution is only to question, not to offer an answer. Third, because I have seen results from my asking. Clients reduce cost, eliminate waste, improve quality, or deliver faster.

Why? Because I was either smart enough or dumb enough, take your pick, to ask, “Why?” Perhaps my grandson will be an engineer someday.

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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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Total Process Automation = Industry 4.0

Simon Drexler of OTTO Motors blogged for ARC Industrial IoT/Industrie 4.0 Viewpoints, identifying The 5 Factors of Industry 4.0. Total Process Automation aligns with Industry 4.0 in many ways, some of which are discussed below.

1.      Big Data

ECS’ Total Process Automation, particularly when S88 Builder® is included, contributes to Big Data. Both time-based and event-based data is contextualized for more straightforward performance reporting and analysis. ECS does not provide the advanced analytics portion of a full Big Data approach. We do provide analysis of process data that makes sense in support of continuous improvement.

2.      Smart Factory

Industry 4.0’s concept of the Smart Factory is the heart of Total Process Automation. From our ERP Gateway to the end of your packaging line, ECS’ Total Process Automation integrates and automates both production management and process control. Total Process Automation turns your factory into a smart factory that produces your goods more effectively for greater profits.

3.      Cyber-Physical Systems

S88 Builder is the world’s only true ISA-88 model-based control system designed to control processes, measuring, interpreting and reacting to results. Offered as a ControlLogix controller program, designed to be reused in its entirety from one project to the next, S88 Builder performs these activities at the lowest possible layer of a typical control system ensuring precise measurement, interpretation, and reaction.

4.      Internet of Things (IoT)

Ultimately, the Industry 4.0 Cyber-Physical Systems of a Smart Factory will benefit from self-aware, smart, data-gathering sensors. Today advanced cyber-physical systems, such as S88 Builder, wrap missing smarts around available “dumb” sensors before exposing them to the IoT. All sensors of a class must present to the IoT consistently, a requirement made easy with model-based cyber-physical system software.

5.      Interoperability

ECS brings about the interoperability of Total Process Automation using commercial off the shelf (COTS) software available from the leaders in information technology and industrial automation. Common platforms such as SQL databases and programmable automation controllers provide the foundation of interoperability. Common protocols offer humans and other cyber systems straightforward interaction with a Total Process Automation solution.


Total Process Automation solves problems for real customers, helping them make what they make more effectively and profitably than ever before. Some of our success stories are astounding; we would be happy to share them with you. Ones we have been permitted to publish are available elsewhere on ECSSolutions.com. For the rest, you will just have to contact me.

Stay in control!

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A Tale of Two Service Professionals

There is a saying that I recall hearing from my very first days of being associated with a service organization, “The customer is always right.” A second goes further, “When the customer isn’t right, the customer is always the customer.”

A few years ago, I was staying in a hotel in downtown Chicago where, as is my custom, I handed my car to the valet, tipped and accepted my claim check. The next day I called the valet desk from my room 20 minutes prior to the time I preferred to leave, as requested, then went down to wait on my car. It didn’t come. At 25 or 30 minutes after I called, I asked the valet at the desk where my car was and gave him my claim check. He said that he wasn’t sure, but he got right on the radio to ask. Ten minutes more waiting and I asked again, got the same blank look, and so took my problem to the concierge.

After a brief exchange between the concierge and the valet, the concierge directed me to the front desk and the manager on duty, who asked me what area of the city I needed to get to, handed me $40, told me a cab was being called. I signed nothing but promised to bring cab receipts.

As the concierge was ushering me to the waiting cab, the valet asked if I had given them only my push-button fob or if I had also given them the physical key that inserts into the fob. He explained that the fob would not work without the key. I protested; he repeated himself. I realized that I had neither the wherewithal nor the time to convince him I was right and handed him the key as I jumped into the cab.

Ten minutes later I am at the location, tipping the cabbie, trying not to worry about my car and clear my mind for my appointment. About two hours into my appointment, the front desk manager called to say I should stop worrying because they had found my car and it was fine.

Later and back at the hotel, I gave the desk manager the change from his $40 and the receipt from the cab, tried to tip him, then moved to the valet desk and introduced myself as, “the guy who’s car you lost earlier.” “Oh,” the valet said, “the problem is with your fob. Maybe the battery is low, because if it reached further we would have found your car right away.” I asked for a replacement claim check and left not, at this point, thinking that another tip was appropriate.

The next day I again called and the valet retrieved my car promptly. Not seeing any damage, I tipped and drove off, glad to be able to get to my next appointment in plenty of time.

It is so very tempting to make excuses for failures, even to blame others as the valet did because we all have the desire to be perfect and the inner voice that tells us that we are not. Quelling that voice can become so habitual that it wells over into the way we deal with others. The more that we are successful quelling that voice, the more we start to believe that we really are perfect. Any cracks in our perfection must be denied and made others’ fault. Any criticism must be defended.

So, why tell you this story? Because service matters to me, because service failure frustrates me, ECS’ culture is one of service. We are committed to helping fellow industry professionals solve production challenges through fair and honest relationships with customers, suppliers, and employees. I expect ECS to be helpful, fair and to extend trust—until we are taken advantage of, as sometimes we are.
Why should you believe me? No reason, I suppose. I would like to have the chance to show you how hard we will work to make you successful.

Do we ever act more like the valet and less like the desk manager? Certainly. Thank you if you have been patient with us in our imperfection. I am always glad to hear from you.

Until next time, stay in control!

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Customers Return for Solutions

Some of our customers believe that they achieve the highest value from ECS by purchasing services. ECS works on a cost-plus (hourly) basis on the customer’s challenges with our customer’s own technical resources. Teaming together blends our customer’s product and process knowledge with ECS’ extensive control and information system knowledge to achieve a superior solution. Often the solution is unknown or is only a concept when the team starts work. The most competent resources are challenged to conceive and deliver the best (highest value) solution for a fair price based on the efforts required.

Some of our customers believe that they achieve the highest value by purchasing solution projects. ECS works on a fixed-price basis to achieve a scope of work. The definition of that scope may be more or less detailed. ECS delivers well-defined projects after bidding against other contractors to propose the best value project scope. As ECS demonstrates trustworthiness, ECS’ role tends toward that of a solution provider or main automation contractor. In these roles, ECS shoulders more responsibility for the solution success and less for delivering a detailed set of deliverables. The continuum might be described as ranging from “I want a faster car in order to better compete,” to “I want a car with X.X liter engine and a transmission with these gear ranges and these tires.”

Projects deliver specified results, often called deliverables. Specifying what is needed to make a project successful requires engineering. Some customers maintain strong engineering capability, either at the plant or corporate level or both. Some customers utilize a design-build contractor or main automation contractor to obtain up-front engineering. With a design and a specification, success is defined as delivery on time and at budget of the specified deliverables.

Solutions solve operational issues delivering results such as improved profitability. To deliver solutions, ECS must do a better job of aligning itself with customers’ business, not just control of customers’ production processes. Discussions between ECS and a customer focus on both parties understanding the problems that are to be solved and the value attached to solving those problems. With a full understanding of the problems, success is defined in terms of problems solved or alleviated and value realized.

Is it more important to you that your control system integrator delivers the proper items of hardware and software licenses or helps you to achieve improved production results? More often than not our customers really want solutions. Our ability to solve problems, delivering measurable performance results, keeps our customers coming back for more. Over the last six years, 80% of our annual revenue has come from customers buying again. When ECS solves real problems, customers return.

How do you solve problems? Is your company sufficiently staffed with engineering and continuous improvement staff so that you can confidently issue specifications for what you know will work? Could you benefit from association with a main automation contractor that understands process control, process automation and process operations management requirements?

As always, I would love to hear from you.

Stay in control!

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