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2022 ECS Scholarship Award

 

Congratulations to Noah Smith for being selected as the 2022 ECS Scholarship Winner!

ECS Scholarship recipients demonstrate outstanding high school leadership and academic achievements with promise in the Engineering Industry.

Noah will be attending Indiana University in the fall. Best of luck in your studies and as you pursue your career, Noah!

Find out more about the ECS Scholarship here.

Read More | Posted In: Blogs

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…)

Read More | Posted In: Bakery Industry, Beverage Industry, Blogs, Chemical Industry, Food Industry, Life Science Industry, Metals Industry

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…)

Read More | Posted In: Blogs

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.

Solution Overview

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…)

Read More | Posted In: Blogs, Inductive Automation, PLCs

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.

(more…)

Read More | Posted In: Blogs, Inductive Automation

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.

Read More | Posted In: Blogs

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…)

Read More | Posted In: Beverage Industry, Blogs

Batch Forensics: Class-based Unit Coordination Utilizing Link Groups

 

Take advantage of product functionality to coordinate activities between units.

(more…)

Read More | Posted In: Bakery Industry, Beverage Industry, Blogs, Food Industry

Batch Forensics: The Case for Procedural Unit Tags

Simple to implement, unit tags provide instrumental value that can enhance recipe editing capability and execution.

A unit tag is a class-based tag that identifies a characteristic of a unit.

The values of these tags are usually associated with information captured via the control systems analog and digital input cards, signals like temperature, weight, pressure, level, conductivity, pH, level switch, etc. Other unit tags can contain the status, state, material of construction, or any other user-defined attribute that can enhance the recipe editing capability and execution.

**THIS IS A REPOSTED BLOG FROM AutomationWorld. Click here to read the full article.

 

 

Read More | Posted In: Blogs

Batch Forensics: Additional Report Parameters Enhance Process Performance

Understanding your process performance starts with having unambiguous data that is contextualized. This data provides information that quantifies and qualifies the different aspects that provide insight into the overall system performance. This data ends up in a repository and gets analyzed to produce actionable information and these reports may look at different aspects of the activities required to make products or to clean the equipment. By looking at the process from the ISA 88 and ISA95 point of view, we are able to provide additional context to the information for which the basic activities are reporting.

Additional information may be added to provide more insight into the activities related to:

  • Quality – (amounts, tolerances, durations, temperatures, lethality, etc.)
  • Cost- (materials, energy, personnel, equipment, etc.)
  • Material information – (lot ID, material properties, storage locations, etc.)
  • Personnel – (who is performing tasks, signoffs, etc.)
  • Energy – (transport, heat/cool, mix, etc.)
  • Equipment – (raw material source, equipment utilization, portable equipment information.)

– as well as other aspects that can be used to make informed decisions. (more…)

Read More | Posted In: Bakery Industry, Beverage Industry, Blogs, Chemical Industry, Food Industry, Life Science Industry, Metals