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…)
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: FactoryTalk Batch Integration into a Control System for a Pharmaceutical Company
A large pharmaceutical company was commissioning and testing a new control system that was limited to providing only manual control of Equipment Modules. In some cases, manual control of Phases was available, with these Phases operating as coordination Equipment Modules but not having the infrastructure capable of interacting with a standard sequencing engine. To run a Batch Process the operators were required to manually enter recipe values and capture report information via an HMI, while tracking all activities in the various units. This allowed significant opportunities for operator errors (errors in setting parameters, errors in running the Equipment Modules in the correct sequence, or, in some cases, the physical inability to run multiple Equipment Modules at the same time).
ECS Solutions recommended and subsequently undertook the addition of a sequencing engine that not only stores the recipes (which contained the order in which the phases should be executed) but also stores all pertinent Parameter Values. With this modification, the operator is required simply to select a recipe together with all the equipment needed to run the batch. The batch engine is responsible for coordinating all the activities, including the parameter value transfer and Report information capture. The system also has the capability to prompt the operator regarding those tasks that require operator interaction. The installation of the addition did not interfere with any existing activities and all the existent code and functionality was preserved, with no changes being required.