Known as the mineral of a thousand uses, bentonite clay is one of nature's most versatile materials. It can adsorb, bind and swell, and has the ability to soften fabrics and be modified through chemical or physical means. Bentonite is pervasive in our everyday lives, such as in the pharmaceutical, skin care and pet care products found in our homes, and is also used in industrial applications, including in drilling materials for oil wells and barrier systems for solid-waste landfills.
One of the top producers of bentonite in the world runs a plant housing four processing lines that together produced more than 550,000 tons of bentonite in a single year. Production at that plant is continuous, with four crews operating in 12-hour shifts. To keep production running at the highest possible levels, plant operators need real-time data on availability and uptime so they can tackle production issues quickly and continually look for new opportunities to improve processes.
Communications between the plant's four crews had been difficult to maintain, making it a challenge to get everyone on the same page during downtime events at the plant. Each crew often had a different perspective on the source of a problem or what actions should be taken to resolve it. As a result, downtime events sometimes manifested into larger, more complex issues or took longer to fix than necessary.
The company saw an opportunity to streamline the data-collection process and reduce reliance on tribal knowledge during downtime situations. The main objective was to get production up and running more quickly. This would allow for better insights into operations and provide room for constant improvement. To gain better insight into how its machines were performing, the company implemented an automated data-collection system. Unfortunately, the system was inconsistent in identifying the root cause of downtime events and didn't provide the level of information operators needed to help make better-informed production decisions. It proved to be an expensive and ineffective investment. The company still needed a solution to address its unanswered need for real-time data, but now many within the organization were skeptical about implementing another similar solution.
Rather than investing in the full-fledged, enterprise-wide launch of another data-collection system, the company decided to work with Stone Technologies, a Rockwell Automation ParnterNetwork Solution Partner, on a pilot system for one production line at one of its plants. The goal of the pilot was to collect information on the line's bulk-powder process – including event-based data on when production stopped, started, faulted or went into a different state – to ensure operators focused on the correct machine problems during downtime events.
Stone Technologies implemented an overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and downtime tracking solution based on FactoryTalk® Metrics software from Rockwell Automation to monitor plant-floor equipment, and collect real-time and historical data. The software provides plant operators with new capabilities to see how operations perform against goals, and monitors and reports on machine events so they can more quickly resolve downtime issues. When the pilot launched, they used the FactoryTalk Metrics out-of-the-box reporting capabilities and developed customized email notifications to alert operators every time there was a change in the control system's operations. The system also provides valuable reports, such as root-cause analyses, production summaries and downtime summaries. Plant operators are able to examine the reports to look for patterns and make adjustments to their processes.
Following the successful deployment of FactoryTalk Metrics software and customization of the system to the unique needs of the Lovell plant, operators were pleased with the performance of the system and the valuable data it provided, particularly compared to the previous system they had used. As a result, FactoryTalk Metrics software was extended to the plant's three remaining production lines, as well as to two dryers, two screening systems and a geosynthetic clay liner.
FactoryTalk Metrics software allowed the company to focus resources on correcting the problems during downtime. The accuracy rate in solving downtime issues was around 60 percent and is now 95 percent. The new software provides a greater confidence in tackling production issues. Since expanding the program across the plant, asset availability has improved to as high as 94 percent. Maximum achievable capacity has also improved by 30 percent across the plant. The company is also implementing the same project at two additional processing facilities. Extending the solution to the additional sites will give the company expanded capabilities to monitor, analyze and compare machine-performance information across multiple plants at the corporate level.