AT end of shift, the day’s last tanker truck leaves the weighbridge of Goodman Fielder’s edible oil manufacturing facility in the Melbourne industrial area of Footscray.
The 40-tonne capacity twin-tanker is just one of around 40 tanker trucks that visit the facility during the course of any day, carrying the lifeblood for this, Australia’s largest edible oil refinery.
Goodman Fielder is Australasia’s largest food manufacturer, its range including well-known brands such as Uncle Tobys, Meadow Lea, and White Wings.
The Footscray edible oils facility--one of four company refineries and one of Asia Pacific’s most technically advanced--manufactures the complex blends of canola, cottonseed, soyabean, sunflower, corn and other oils required for today’s supermarket shelves. It also produces a range of hydrogenated oils--the semi-solid oils that provide the basis for margarines and other thickened oil products.
The quest to move to more market responsive ‘make-to-order’ manufacturing schemes, and to support demand for an ever-growing number of oil blends, inspired a production efficiency improvement program across Goodman Fielder’s edible oil plants in 2001.
Known as Project Benchmark, the program focused on the Footscray facility, with industrial automation group, Rockwell Automation, as the selected automation solutions provider.
Crude oil arrives at the plant via tanker truck, is unloaded to storage, then is run through one of the plant’s two refining lines where solid, liquid and coloured food-grade contaminants are removed.
The refined product is then blended, hydrogenated where required, then run through the deodorizer--a vacuum steam distillation unit, where undesirable flavours and odours are removed.
The deodorized product is then drawn off, stored and pumped to tanker trucks for supply to commercial customers, or to the site’s retail product packing lines.
The sheer number of intermediate blend combinations, base products and finished products makes the process complex--there are over 200 recipes, each with tens of variables.
The site comprises over 130 storage tanks (ranging in capacity from 25 to 500 tonne) linked via a maze of piping spools and 500-plus valves.
The plant is entirely controlled by a range of Rockwell Automation’s Allen-Bradley PLCs--primarily PLC-5 and ControlLogix--along with a network of seven SCADA terminals widely dispersed about the facility.
As a result, real-time plant operation data was difficult to access across the large site. A legacy batch controller linked to the SCADA system loaded the various recipe parameters for each batch to the PLCs. All PLCs, SCADA terminals and the batch controller were linked via a plantwide Ethernet network.
Batch controller blues
Functionally limited and propped up by a costly vendor maintenance agreement, the ageing batch controller was unreliable and prone to failure.
“We really had lost confidence in the old batch controller,” recalls Goodman Fielder’s state operations manager Greg Langusch.
“On weekends we were never certain whether we’d make it through the production program.”
A further tedium was the transfer of the production schedules from enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to PLC. Plant orders were dropped from the ERP system every couple of hours via an Excel spreadsheet.
The production scheduler reviewed the spreadsheet and modified it to suit any ‘real world’ issues within the plant.
The final spreadsheet was then walked across to the control room where the entire schedule was manually keyed into the batch controller--a time-consuming process that was susceptible to error.
The weak batch controller link, coupled with the limited operational visibility of the plant around the facility, prevented any move to true end-to-end automation.
“We had implemented limited automation, but we weren’t prepared to take this further with the old batch controller. It simply wasn’t reliable enough,” says Langusch.
As part of Project Benchmark, Langusch and his team explored replacement batch controller options, including a solution founded on the Rockwell Software RSBizWare family of modular, scalable middleware solutions.
The RSBizWare solution provided access to batch information and real-time operational data via a web-based portal, ensuring any plant PC equipped with a web browser could access the batch data.
Three key elements formed the foundation of the RSBizWare-enabled solution: RSSql industrial transaction manager, the FactoryTalk Data Model, and the ASP.Net web access solution.
Founded on the OLE for Process Control (OPC) standard, RSSql provides transaction-oriented linking between the database environment of the portal and the controller platform. It offers connectivity to all major controller vendors’ products, and links these to all the database products across a facility.
In contrast, other manufacturing execution systems (MES) solutions often require a complete SCADA system changeout, as they link directly into proprietary SCADA.
“RSBizWare was the simplest to implement,” says the Footscray site’s electrical engineer, Toby Atkinson.
“It was also completely independent of the SCADA system--it links straight into the controller, and this was a big attraction.”
A team solution
Rockwell Automation’s Global Manufacturing Solutions project team worked in close collaboration with Goodman Fielder personnel.
An intensive period of workshopping with the Goodman Fielder operators and managers during the second quarter of 2003 saw the portal’s database and ‘front end’ displays developed.
Most important was the systematic structure of the portal’s database.
The Rockwell Software FactoryTalk Data Model provides a powerful foundation for the portal, and has ensured the ongoing robustness of the solution.
“The FactoryTalk Data Model is the richest toolset you can have,” says Michael Cahill, who headed up the Global Manufacturing Solutions team for the project.
“It’s fully documented and built on open SQL server or Oracle architecture. It is really a mini ERP system for the factory--that’s the whole concept of MES.”
The FactoryTalk Data Model design is based on the widely recognized International Society for Measurement and Control’s (ISA) S95 standard for enterprise to control system integration.
S95 defines eleven distinct functions in the MES space--functions such as data collection, acquisition, performance analysis, dispatching and genealogy.
“S95 saves you money and integration time. The functions, naming conventions and detailed data flows are all predefined. It also provides a structure that permits easy--and essentially limitless--growth of the database,” Cahill explains.
The resultant tailored solution presents five distinct portal views of the plant: ‘schedule’, ‘reports’, ‘recipes’, ‘materials’ and ‘location’ modules.
The portal views display a wide selection of real-time and historical plant information, including batch data, recipe information, material status and locations throughout the plant.
The portal supports five distinct levels of authorized access, ranging from ‘view only’ through to ‘master controller’.
With the appropriate authority, the addition of a new recipe or oil blend to the system is simple and straightforward--a refreshing change from the legacy batch management system.
Rockwell Automation’s comprehensive site workshops, bench tests and factory trials ensured that the changeover to the RSBizWare-enabled portal in June 2003 was more than straightforward.
“We ran two batches with both batch controllers running in parallel,” Atkinson recalls.
“The portal worked from the first batch, so we simply turned off the old controller!” The portal now provides ‘vision’ of the plant production status right across the plant--up to 20 active clients are regularly accessed by a range of plant personnel, including production managers, schedulers, team leaders and maintenance engineering staff.
Production data-intensive activities, such as ‘hazard analysis and critical control points’ (HACCP) analyses, have been greatly simplified, as has the task of the production scheduler.
The Excel-based production schedules can now be uploaded to the portal with one key or mouse stroke--no manual keying in is required.
As a result, significant labour reductions have been realized in all areas across the entire site.
Savings have been made in downtime and product spoilage too.
“We estimated the old batch management system caused around $20,000 worth of downtime and ‘cocktails’, or incorrect blends per year. In contrast, the portal hasn’t faulted in 12 months of operation,” Langusch says. Similarly, the site has saved the $40,000 annual maintenance agreement required for the legacy batch controller.
The reliability, vision and security of the portal has permitted Langusch and his team to embark on a comprehensive plantwide automation program.
The group is currently automating those remaining valves not fitted with actuators, plus the hydrogenation plant, and the tanker truck unloading activities.
“The real benefits for us are realized when we upload directly from the recipe management system,” says Langusch.
“For example, the deodorizer selects the output tanks, draws up the selected oils, makes the blends, draws the oil through the deodorizer, all automatically. We’ll actually make most of the day’s product without any operator intervention.”
With completion of the current automation program in the first half of 2005, the portal will have provided new levels of plant efficiency and flexibility.
“When this is all complete, we will have actually reduced our operational labour requirements by around 50%,” Langusch explains.
“The entire plant can be run from anywhere on the site, from a head office environment, or even from home if we want, via the portal.”
The solution has been replicated at both the company’s Murrarie, Queensland and Mascot, NSW sites, with similarly impressive results. It has also underpinned Goodman Fielder’s ‘make-to-order’ production strategy.
“We can actually convert customer demands on the system that are generated by the customer sales departments into plant production orders, simply by dropping these down from the ERP to the portal,” Langusch says.
The RSBizWare-enabled recipe management system has helped the company realize the most future-proof of production schemes: one where production is tightly linked and immediately responsive to market demand--no matter how complex the final blend.