Project Delivery

Case Study: How to Boost Production by 166%

The Journal - as appeard in the April 2012 issue produced by Rockwell Automation

April 1, 2012

Facing a rapidly growing population combined with increasingly limited land, water and energy resources, farmers across the United States are under growing pressure to meet the mounting demand for food. In turn, their agribusiness suppliers are challenged to keep up. They must supply farmers with the volume of safe and efficient crop protection and seed care products needed to develop strong roots, the basis for healthy crops and high yields.

Recently, a global leader in crop protection and seed care needed to replace its outdated batch processes and systems at one of its chemical production facilities. The facility was outdated and no longer cost-effectively keeping pace with increasing customer demand.

At its old facility, the company relied on an outdated, labor- and time-intensive batch process that lacked automated track-and-trace capabilities. Operators primarily used a manual method to weigh and add ingredients, while making handrecorded notations along the way.

They then mixed and pumped each batch into a storage tank and awaited quality approval. The slow, cumbersome process lacked reliable, easy-to-retrieve information and reporting capabilities. The company determined it needed a new facility that would increase its production to meet customer demand, coupled with integrated information and a continuous control strategy that would make it easy for operators to monitor and manage production operations.

Company leaders also wanted a solution that would help ensure a product's end-to-end traceability so they could respond quickly in the event of a product recall.

Integrated Control and Information
The company contracted the services of Interstates Control Systems Inc., a turnkey system integrator and a Rockwell Automation Process, Control, and Information Solution Provider. This team set out to implement an integrated plantwide information and control system based on the FactoryTalk software suite and the PlantPAx process automation system from Rockwell Automation.

With this integrated manufacturing intelligence and continuous process control strategy, the customer sought to increase productivity, improve workflow and management, and allow the induction of continuous batch production with streamlined, regulatory-compliant, track-andtrace capabilities.

Interstates worked with Rockwell Automation to implement a manufacturing intelligence solution based on the FactoryTalk software suite, including Factory-Talk Historian, FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI, FactoryTalk Metrics, FactoryTalk AssetCentre, FactoryTalk Batch and FactoryTalk View.

The software automatically collects, stores, analyzes and visualizes production information using powerful data capture and storage engines that can be used within the PlantPAx control environment.

Deep Visibility into Production
The thrust of the manufacturing intelligence solution, Factory- Talk VantagePoint EMI, provides unmatched visibility into production. The application leverages a unified production model to provide access to all plant data sources, giving users a comprehensive picture of the factors contributing to performance.

It then produces Web-based reports, such as dashboards, trends and Microsoft Excel documents, providing users with role-based information most relevant to their job.

Operators, engineers, supervisors, managers and executives throughout the plant can use these reports to manage cost, quality, production, assets and resources more effectively (see screen shot below).

In addition, the plantwide information system:

  • Captures manufacturing data using automated methods.
  • Provides portable data formulation.
  • Captures machine data using automated methods so overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) can be derived more accurately.
  • Increases information accuracy (both through discipline and automation of information).
  • Provides asset management and instrumentation calibration and diagnostics.
  • Displays key performance indicators dashboards for up-to-the-minute results of monitored metrics so that plant personnel can react sooner and ultimately be more proactive.

The PlantPAx process automation system is integrated with the plantwide manufacturing intelligence solution and also extends to the entire manufacturing process including receiving, material handling, batching and blending, processing, packaging, shipping and information systems. It provides a single, open architecture that expands across the plant.

Numerous Benefits
The new, continuous process allows production runs to be performed in bulk, rather than in small totes and drums. Now operators prepare ingredients in advance and sort them in tanks.

From there, the PlantPAx system continuously blends the ingredients in the specific order, desired ratio and specified flow rate, turning the crop-protection chemicals into on-demand products.

"The continuous batch process enables the customer to more quickly and cost-effectively manufacture a quality-approved product," says Jerry Steenhoek, chief technologist, Interstates. "Coupled with the role-based visualization provided by FactoryTalk VantagePoint, users at all levels of the facility can access the specific information they need to make important decisions about their piece of the manufacturing process."

The system's track-and-trace capabilities make it easier for the customer to gather critical historical and real-time information that's accurate and readily accessible. Automatic collection of unique batch IDs and packaging lot numbers ensures end-to-end product traceability, including raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods products.

In addition, because of the traceability systems in place that track lots backward or forward, the company is confident it will be able to respond faster and more reliably should a product recall occur.

The new process-control system increased production by 166%, a productivity increase the company estimates would have required a 25% increase in labor. In addition, the standard functionality of the system has reduced labor costs, errors, nonvalue-added activities, and the total cost of ownership, all while improving ease of use.

Finally, because of the scalability of the PlantPAx system, the company has the potential to double production with only a small capital investment.

"Too often, farm suppliers struggle to meet growers' production," Steenhoek explains. "By partnering with Rockwell Automation, we created an integrated, scalable system that enables our customer to fulfill quality, ondemand supply to better meet their growing needs."