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Mining Company Reduces Reporting Time by 80 Percent with Production-Intelligence Software

Challenge

  • Manual reporting processes caused engineers to spend at least two hours per day calculating data for reports

Solutions

  • FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI Software - Automatically generated reports on a real-time basis; compatible with existing and disparate data sources; allowed for front-end relational model customization

Results

  • Reduced reporting time by 80 percent
  • Eliminated reports that were human error-prone
  • Month-end reports generated 80 percent faster
  • Easy user experience allowed for seamless training

Phosphorous is an essential element necessary for the nutrition of plants, animals and humans. This naturally occurring substance is present in our food and water – and can even be found throughout our bodies. For that reason, companies mine phosphate rock to incorporate the nutrient into fertilizers, animal feeds and food additives.

One mining company’s expansive operations include a site in Florida that extracts phosphorus from ancient sea fossils and processes the ore into phosphate rock. Using sulfuric acid produced on-site, the rock is then converted to phosphoric acid and shipped to customers throughout the world.

Overall, the operation mines millions of tons of phosphate rock annually, producing 1 million tons of phosphoric acid and hundreds of pounds of phosphate feed. During that process, data must be collected and logged for continuous environmental and operational reports.   

A Manual Shift

Throughout most of the life of the mining operation, statisticians manually processed operator data and transferred the information to various spreadsheets for daily and monthly reports. But after a major staff reduction in 2013, statisticians were soon few and far between. This meant that chemical engineers throughout the plant inherited the responsibly of collecting and logging data, as well as the manual calculation of forecasting trends in preparation for production reports seen by company executives.        

Each day, engineers sifted through multiple data sources, including Excel® books and papers to manually calculate material-balancing recordings, branded inventory and more. 

“The engineers would spend a lot of time circulating the data to get it right,” explained a systems analyst for the mining operation.

In fact, engineers spent at least two hours per day – and sometimes up to 20 hours per week – performing static calculations. At the end of the month, closure reports could take as long as six days complete, pulling personnel away from the heart of the business.

“The process left many engineers with too much on their plates,” the analyst said. “It was time to look into a different solution.”

Automating with Manufacturing Intelligence

After identifying what was clearly a process deficiency, the company determined the answer was clear: automated data collection and reporting.

“Man-hours and having the right amount of people were the two catalysts that fueled the jump to automated reporting,” the analyst said. “It was something that needed to happen, and it kick-started the project.”

The company needed a system that would be easily integrated into multiple databases. Data at the site was currently being reported from multiple sources, including three historians, several Oracle® databases and paper log sheets.

During the company’s hunt for a solution, one of its process control engineers recommended the FactoryTalk® VantagePoint® EMI software from Rockwell Automation as a tool for time series data and report generation.

“VantagePoint software was the only tool that had native connectivity to all disparate data sources,” the analyst said. “There really is nothing else out there that has that capability.”

After conducting a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the software’s feasibility, the company connected its historians and databases to the FactoryTalk software to begin the automation process. As part of the project, the company also upgraded hardware, created its own dynamic, asynchronous manual data-entry form (OLS) for report customization, and retrained operators on the reporting process.

In the end, the company was able to generate automatic reports based on logical models shaped by the users. Additionally, operators could access data on a real-time basis, also helping to improve operations. Users learned that if they were unable to gather the report through the eventing feature, they could use the Web portal to access information instantly.

Seamless Integration Results in Savings 

The mining operation’s use of FactoryTalk software resulted in multiple reports, including material-balancing recordings, that can now be generated automatically.

While a structured training curriculum is often required after the implementation of a new process, the company’s operators and engineers were actively crafting reports after roughly one training session.

The automated reporting also significantly reduced the time it took for operators to pull together month-end reports. What used to take more than six days to complete now takes operators half a day – a time savings of 80 percent. Today, roughly 80 reports are produced each night, all of them created without manual reporting and the probability of human error.

Overall, the company saw a 25 percent increase in bandwidth for its engineering staff and supervisors because they were freed from the manual reporting process. Operators were also alleviated from documenting data on paper log sheets because the automation migration resulted in the creation of a custom relational model.

“With a little training, operators no longer write on paper,” the analyst explained. “They write into our custom front-end. We mimicked the same fields on our paper log sheets, so now when they type it in, it’s synchronized and there for everyone to see.”

After the successful integration of the plant, the company decided to incorporate similar models into two other locations, with plans to bring the system to other existing locations.

The results mentioned above are specific to this company’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

FactoryTalk and VantagePoint are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.

Excel is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

Oracle is a trademark of Oracle Corporation.

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