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Boosting factory productivity with HMIs

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Seeing is knowing

Without being presented with feedback, it would be impossible to know whether or not a job is being done properly. This is the philosophy behind visual management, whether the job involves a line in a factory, the processes in wastewater treatment plant, a refinery or countless other examples.

“It really comes down to being more competitive,” Greg Bacon, product manager at Control Logic, a supplier of industrial, electrical and automation products, services and solutions since 1981, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“Knowing what’s happening in your processes is critical to being able to make adjustments to improve your productivity.”

And in manufacturing, whatever the strategy for producing more efficiency - for example lean or six sigma  - that production has to be measured.

According to a white paper by monitoring and control company Red Lion, for which Control Logic is an Australian, there are seven common KPIs for production monitoring: count (good or bad), reject ratio, rate, target, takt time (cycle time), overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and downtime.   

Familiar ideas to anybody who has worked in a production line, these can be monitored by a huge array of devices like sensors and meters, but the information collected is only as useful as the system used to collect and present it to the operator.

“Quite often you’ll find a lot of plants actually have their production personnel analysing data and they have their meetings a day later or a week later talking about production rates,” explained Bacon.

“But the moment’s passed. Whereas the visual management process or concept is more real-time based so the actual operator has a chance to make adjustments whilst it’s happening rather than talking about it a week later.”

Two solutions

A recent addition this year to Red Lion’s G3 Series of HMIs (human machine interfaces), the Graphite series is a collection of advanced operator panels that have been designed to survive in demanding environments.

“But for the Graphite Series, some of the big standout features it’s got are that a lot of its environmental features have improved since the G3 series,” explained Bacon, noting that the product is designed to operate in extremes from - 20 to 60 degrees Celsius.

“Its main features reside around where Red Line has made its mark in the market, and that’s with communications connectivity - being able to connect to a multitude of different manufacturers’ controllers and sensors etc., so being able to bring all those things together has always been its biggest selling point,” adds Bacon.

He adds that it’s a kind of black box for a facility’s operations.

“It also has an inbuilt data-logging feature for later recall of data and last but not least one of the biggest features it has is an inbuilt is an inbuilt web server, which it’s always had, that gives the management a chance to be able to come in and view the process remotely and control the process remotely as well,” Bacon noted. This includes being able to control the system through PC, smartphone or tablet.

The Graphite interface (see below) which runs on Red Lion’s Crimson 3.0 software and is available in eight models ranging in size from seven to 15 inches. It has strong protocol conversion capabilities, according to Control Logic, with programmers able to select 13 and above simultaneous protocols from more than 250 “to seamlessly integrate disparate devices such as PLCs, drives, barcode readers and panel meters”. 

Another HMI solution for monitoring and tracking improvements in KPIs is the Red Lion ProducTVity Station.

A way to pool and display KPIs and machine status messages, “on any TV, monitor or projector equipped with a DVI/HDMI interface.”

It does away with industrial, LED marquees, instead displaying intelligence from the plant floor, with over 200 communications drivers. It also has SMS and email alert functionality to issue alerts when there are problems with a factory’s lines.

“You can bring it into one place and you can expose that information via a HDMI connection on one or multiple TVs throughout the plant,” said Bacon.

“It makes it a very cost-effective and very easy system to deploy. It’s not involved like it is with some products where there’s lots of software and ongoing costs and lots of engineering involved.

“So the black box or the ProducTVity Station wears many hats and showing the actual TV component is primarily what it’s about, but there are a lot more things going on that value-add along the way.”


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