By Dan UpDyke, batch product manager, Rockwell Automation
Batch process manufacturers are continuously looking for new ways to improve processes, increase production and be more efficient to remain competitive.
While they see new technologies as key to helping improve their operations, there’s a mindset shift occurring in the role those technologies should play. Rather than trying to make a batch process fit the technology available, batch systems must provide flexibility and options that allow them to better fit and adapt to the needs of the process.
Modern batch systems, which incorporate technology advances and new capabilities, can help industrial producers do just that. As batch users in the food and beverage, pharmaceutical and chemical industries seek to implement or modernize their existing batch systems, they should look for three core capabilities in their new control and information technology:
Traditional batch systems use server-client thick architectures, with user interfaces that are stationed either close to the production line or in a control room. As a result, workers always need to be at those interfaces to make or approve any supervisory changes, or to troubleshoot and resolve production issues.
This can be especially cumbersome in large process-control operations that contain multiple lines or multiple facilities. A workforce spread out and forced to walk large distances due to the constraints of legacy platforms results in an inherent productivity cost and lost opportunity.
For instance, production can come to a standstill while a supervisor is sought out and then brought to a station to approve an action, such as a starting a new batch or making a recipe parameter change. Likewise, a downtime event or product changeover can last longer than necessary simply because of the time spent waiting for a technician to arrive.
A batch system with mobile capabilities can free up workers from these time-draining activities. A mobile platform allows operators, supervisors and maintenance technicians to perform a range of actions — such as running schedules, viewing logs and troubleshooting diagnostics — from a mobile device regardless of their location. This can help reduce steps and improve workflows in batch operations to keep production running and minimize downtime.
Also, mobile solutions must be easy to implement, and offer the same control and security expected from traditional control methods. A mobile solution shouldn’t be a simple display of traditional human-machine interface (HMI) on a mobile device. The wide array of devices, operating systems and sizes calls for an adaptable interface with consistent usability in all applications.
In many cases, there’s been a shift to place custom-batch sequences in the controller, but a modern batch system should provide flexibility regardless of the infrastructure. Depending on a facility’s specific architecture and process needs, the correct solution could be controller-based, server-based or a combination of the two.
Bringing batch operations to the controller — and closer to a process — can be especially useful in critical applications, where close control of equipment or batch processes must be maintained. A
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bio reactor or tire rubber mix, for example, may experience transition speeds between phases that are too fast for a server. And a simple server disconnect could result in a lost batch, costing the company hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Maintaining a server-based solution also is a key component of modern batch systems. Managing large complex batch operations is best performed in a supervisory system independent of the controllers. A server-based batch solution provides a layer of security and incorporates visualization capabilities that are required to fully contribute to a connected batch enterprise.
As process control solutions continue to become more integrated with manufacturing execution systems (MES), warehousing, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, it’s important to incorporate a batch-management server as a key component within the infrastructure. This offers more options for future integration, connectivity and scalability across large facilities.
A modern batch system truly differentiates itself by easily allowing server-based and controller-based architectures to work together and create a unified user experience. Consider the example of a clean-in-place (CIP) skid for a pharmaceutical operation.
Traditionally, the manufacturer receives the skid from the equipment builder and then has to reprogram it for integration with the batch control system. Not only is the end user paying for unused engineering, but also has to spend additional time rewriting the skid’s code, and redoing the testing and commissioning.
Building the batch operation down into the controller can remove the need to rewrite coding because the skid is seamlessly integrated into the larger control system. This can help reduce startup and commissioning times by as much as two months, while also minimizing or even eliminating redesign and engineering costs.
Modern batch software allows users to configure, view and obtain batch-sequence data stored in the controller. This can help increase visibility and accessibility to all stages of production. In a Connected Enterprise, batch and process data can be seamlessly shared via industrial-process and enterprise systems to support better decision-making at all levels of an organization.
For example, Campari, the Italy-based spirits giant, saw an opportunity for making use of its data at a recently constructed processing and bottling facility for its iconic Wild Turkey bourbon. The 144,000-ft2 facility houses approximately 40 tanks, three high-speed automated bottling lines, and one manual bottling line.
Campari implemented a modern process batch system to provide ingredient receipt, batch management and control across the processing operations. The company coupled this system with a visualization software that allows operators to monitor the flow of spirits down to the gallon. Operators can use this information to track production and provide reports for regulatory purposes.
In the first 10 months, from when the new facility opened to when it became fully operational, operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) increased from 10 to 20% to approximately 70%. Despite this significant improvement, the operations team set its sights even higher with the goal of reaching a best-in-class OEE performance level of 85%.
“The system has helped us get better and better every day with regard to our processing, bottling and material-handling operations,” notes Wayne Knabel, packaging director for Wild Turkey. “Our KPIs are all trending up, and our cost per case is going down.”
Of course, with greater connectivity and information sharing across an enterprise come new security risks. Batch end users must keep this in mind when specifying and selecting their batch control system. New control technologies, for example, are developed using a design-for-security philosophy, in which quality, resiliency and operational integrity are built into the product.
Batch manufacturers are under pressure to increase production performance, achieve faster product changes and turnovers, and improve yields, while at the same time meeting quality, safety and compliance goals. As a result, they’re looking for more innovative batch systems that go beyond a satisfactory compliance experience.
Modern batch systems can help address all of these challenges by providing faster, more reliable control and by empowering workers through smarter, more responsive decision-making.
Learn more about Rockwell Automation Process Solutions.
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