Case Study

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Colorant Producer Uses Production Intelligence to Meet Growing Operational Demands

Company improves production visibility and reduces troubleshooting time from days to minutes

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  • Colorant plant lacked visibility into production processes and manual reporting impacted downtime



  • New system pulls data from 1,300 tags for faster, more informed decisions
  • Automated reporting tools give operators data-sharing capabilities across five plants
  • Reports are modifiable to accommodate changing information needs
  • Troubleshooting time decreased from days to minutes

We may not give much thought to the color of the products we buy. But it has a role to play in everything from brand recognition and helping products stand out on store shelves to keeping workers safe in places like construction zones.

One American colorant producer creates among the most diverse spectrum of concentrates, master batches and pigment dispersions of any colorant company in the world. The company’s 50-year-old plant located on the East Coast of the U.S. specializes in manufacturing colorants for various kinds of plastic products.

Over the years, pressures put on the plant have evolved and grown. For example, customers now require data on material quality so they can confirm the source of any issues that arise with their own products. The various uses for plastics and the spectrum of colors available have also increased. And if that wasn’t enough, higher demand led to the plant expanding from four to nine mills in just a few years.

To manage this growth and greater complexity, the company decided it needed to increase visibility into its plant processes to better understand production, fulfill reporting requirements and decrease troubleshooting time. Now, with new manufacturing intelligence software in place, operators can make better, faster decisions, and troubleshooting times have decreased from days to minutes.

Waiting on Data

The plant’s production process involves heating raw plastic pellets to a precise temperature and blending the melted material with liquid color concentrates or powder pigments. The resulting colorized plastic is then produced in large slabs and shipped to various customers that convert them into retail products.

Tracking the plant’s production performance and troubleshooting issues on any of its nine lines could be difficult because data was primarily managed manually. The reporting that was in place was limited to a small number of data points, hindering the ability to satisfy the needs of both internal and external customers.

“With nine roll mills, they had chart recorders all over,” said Franc Marmero, manager of manufacturing automation at EZSoft Inc., the systems integrator hired to help upgrade the plant’s information hardware and software and a member of the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork. “Any time they wanted to investigate a problem, they’d have guys sitting on milk crates, digging through boxes of hard copy Excel® documents. Because the approach was manual, they didn’t have clear insight into when a batch started and stopped or when production moved to a new product. By the time they identified process problems, the products had long since left the plant.”

Production data existed electronically, but it was stored on an individual operator’s computer in a file that wasn’t shared across the enterprise. That meant if the same error occurred three months later, operators were once again in reactive troubleshooting mode. Process analysis for continuous improvement, as well as preventive maintenance, was virtually impossible.

“They would have a set of parameters, such as temperature and kilowatts used,” Marmero explained. “But when the customer – specifically their engineering department – needed to look at a new data point, there was no easy way to integrate that without writing new code.”

A ‘Home Run’ Implementation

After assessing the plant’s myriad of information-sharing limitations, EZSoft recommended modernizing with a manufacturing intelligence solution from Rockwell Automation to improve quality control and real-time monitoring. The project started with a pilot phase that could demonstrate results to management.

As part of the pilot phase, EZSoft implemented the FactoryTalk® Historian Site Edition (SE) software and one client license of the FactoryTalk VantagePoint® software. The FactoryTalk Historian software automatically collects real-time, time-series data on performance parameters and archives information about plant activities. This eliminates manual data collection and archives production data for analysis of equipment performance over time.

“When a batch ends, the system runs an analysis program and stores the data,” Marmero said. “It doesn’t have to be recreated from scratch every time something arises. The archived data is searchable and filterable, so they don’t have to go digging through boxes or files to locate information.”

The historian data is then accessible through the FactoryTalk VantagePoint software, which creates simple, custom dashboards to see trends and reports. The software helps build a more Connected Enterprise with immediate access into real-time production data in easy-to-read dashboards – something that had only previously been available in hard-copy reports.

“Once they saw all the data that FactoryTalk software had to offer, they loved it,” Marmero said. “It was a home run.”

Phase two included implementing the FactoryTalk AssetCentre software. The solution provides automatic version control over hundreds of control system assets, including PLCs, HMI software and terminals, and drives. The maintenance manager can use it to assign access levels for plant employees with different needs, and to monitor equipment performance and condition data for proactive troubleshooting and process analysis.

The plant also modernized its information visualization with the FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software.

“One of the best things about VantagePoint software is that you can easily pre-configure a report for an entire class of equipment,” Marmero said. “You can be pulling data within minutes of receiving a new machine. Just tell it what you want to track, drag it to the screen and push publish – done.”

Instead of purchasing physical servers to house the software, the upgraded systems were implemented on two virtual servers.

“A big part of phase two was making sure the networking was reliable and secure,” Marmero said. “IT and upper management are happy knowing that their data is protected by the plant’s existing security. Plus, they save time and money using their existing resources.”

As an unanticipated bonus, plant employees can now access the minute-by-minute data and reports with a secure online login. By connecting equipment across the enterprise, the plant has the ability to view data remotely from five of its North American facilities.

“Because it’s all web-based, the data doesn’t have to reside in one central, physical space,” Marmero said. “For example, when there’s an issue with a piece of equipment in the Midwest, people in that plant can see the same information as a maintenance manager on the East Coast and discuss together what the problem could be.”

With these enhanced troubleshooting capabilities, the plant now works proactively to anticipate and prevent production issues from occurring. Errors that used to take days or weeks to resolve can now be addressed remotely in hours or minutes.

Passed with Flying Colors

The modernization achieved and exceeded all the company’s goals for the project. Access to a single infrastructure for enterprise-wide data collection and reporting has proven to be invaluable to the company’s operations.

Today, the plant collects real-time data from 1,300 tags and can provide customers with tailored reports on the quality data they need.

“Plant employees from engineers to maintenance workers are empowered by this set of tools,” Marmero said. “They can easily create an ad hoc report for a one-time investigation or add parameters to existing customer reports.”

The software has also eliminated the facility’s manual data-collection and paper-reporting processes. A company executive can now view data via a FactoryTalk VantagePoint web page to see real-time data for smarter, more accurate decisions. This increases plant productivity and minimizes the chance of user error.

With these enhanced troubleshooting capabilities, the plant now works proactively to anticipate and prevent production issues from occurring. Errors that used to take days or weeks to resolve can now be addressed remotely in hours or minutes, Marmero said.

The colorant producer is already planning future deployments in other facilities to expand the connected infrastructure across its enterprise.

“Initially, all they were looking to do was gather more data on what was happening in their plant,” Marmero said. “Today, the FactoryTalk solution serves as much more. It’s a totally connected maintenance and quality control tool used every day to manage operations across the enterprise.”

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, PartnerNetwork and VantagePoint are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.

Excel is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation.


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