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Process plant performance in a portal

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In any processing plant achieving optimal performance is only truly possible if the base data is available in the first place.

Therefore, accurate acquisition and analysis of this operational data, in real time, is the real challenge.

In 2002, Smorgon Steel decided to improve performance analysis techniques at its Victorian North Laverton plant.

Keeping track of the company’s dynamic production schedule and whether its production objectives are met is essential. For inclusion in the end-of-shift production report, all downtime is logged, prime yield tallied, product types recorded and rolling efficiency calculated. Management uses this data to assess mill performance and identify immediate opportunities for performance improvements.

In order to maximise efficiency and accuracy of data collation, the company began a staged project to deploy manufacturing execution system (MES) software technology to rationalise disparate manual reporting systems and automatically log production delays.

The day-to-day production scheduling, inventory tracking, customer orders and logistics for the rod and bar mills are handled by an existing ERP system.

However, most of the reporting functionality of the ERP system is targeted at the commercial enterprise and senior management; in order to accurately and regularly assess the operational efficiency of the plant, a more widely accessible and flexible system was required.

Smorgon Steel project electrical superintendent Wayne Pearse says the company was using an Access database to store all production data, which was extracted manually from the ERP system.

“The shift supervisor would also have to type in all production delays as reported by the operators, who were recording these manually,” Pearse says. Aside from the vast volume of paperwork, the main issue was the data was not readily accessible for analysis.

Pearse says that one of the main goals in introducing a new MES was to make the performance data more widely available to the operations management team, and presented in a way that made analysis quick, easy and flexible. The other objective was to automatically log production downtime to get a more accurate idea of machine performance, while allowing the operators to focus more on running the plant.

After preliminary discussions with Rockwell Automation’s engineering group, Smorgon Steel agreed to trial the Rockwell Software RSBizWare suite of modular, scalable MES solutions in early 2002.

“We provided some computers and Rockwell Automation set up a pilot system, which we ran in the background for about six months,” says Pearse.

According to Rockwell Automation consulting engineer Michael Cahill, starting off with a basic MES that can be scaled up as required is the best approach.

“In the initial stages, it’s not always easy to predict exactly which information is going to be of the most use,” Cahill says.

“There’s not much point collecting a whole lot of data that no-one looks at. We had an idea of what sort of data would be useful; they had an idea of what data they wanted. We put that together as the foundation.”

The first phase of the RSBizWare MES solution used the RSSql industrial transaction manager software, in combination with RSLinx communications interface software, to retrieve real-time information from the plant-floor PLCs.

Whereas the operators previously logged delays manually, and often inaccurately, the RSBizWare PlantMetrics component of the MES now automatically logs delays to the fraction of a second. Operators are then presented with a screen embedded within the existing SCADA for each mill; this allows them to enter details about the delay from drop-down menus.

RSBizWare’s structured database, the FactoryTalk Data Model, will replace the Access database used to store production data.

“The FTDM is an open documented system, which means it’s easy to interface with other software systems,” Cahill says.

“This is what allowed Smorgon to interface it with their existing SCADA. We can put it over the top of any SCADA system, which makes it very flexible.

Dual Ethernet communications cards in the MES server provide independent connectivity and in-built security to the process network (controlling mill operations), which allows operator access via the SCADA only, and the steel mill or office/management network respectively.

During this first phase of the project, Pearse and his team monitored the accuracy of the automatic data logging, plus experimented with production data analysis and reporting using the in-built RSBizWare QuickWeb interface. The manual legacy system was run in parallel for comparison purposes. An Active X screen was also introduced for event editing. This provides opportunity for operators, supervisors and management to review and edit comments regarding delays.

By the beginning of 2004, Smorgon Steel had identified the path into phase two of development. To provide the extra functionality they required, which included refinements to the reporting and data analysis capability plus broader user access with appropriate security, Rockwell delivered a web-based portal solution founded on Microsoft ASP.net web access technology.

“Once they’d established how they wanted to use the MES, we sat discussed how to take the system further,” Cahill says.

“A lot of the production information in the database is not standard for MES, it’s more typical of an ERP system. They were already using Crystal Reports, so we integrated this with the web portal, and overlaid it onto RSBizWare, to give them reporting on demand. The open software means that Smorgon can now set up any new reports as they conceive the need.”

In addition to the most common shift report and downtime report screens, the portal allows new data analysis flexibility.

Pearse says the portal gives them functionality from any PC on site.

“We can generate reports with just the click of a button; plus we can manipulate the data using Excel pivottables.”

“It allows us to monitor the performance of the mills on a per day or per shift basis.”

According to Pearse, an interesting revelation has been the apparent increase in delays since automatic event logging began.

“It has made us realise how difficult it has been for the operators to accurately record these events. In some cases, recurring short delays of say, one or two minutes have been revealed where before they may have been overlooked. Now that RSBizWare logs everything in real-time, we can investigate anything that looks suspicious.”

RSBizWare is a tool for tracking uptime as well as downtime, which allows users to track overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

“Introducing OEE is the main way in which the overall impact of the MES on actual operations will be measured,” Pearse says.

However, in order for OEE analysis to work it will need the automatic transfer of production data from the ERP system to RSBizWare.

More info: (03) 9896 0300

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