February 01, 2021
In the process industry, three things can impact your productivity; machine downtime, variations in batch cycle times and losing a batch because it is out of specification.
In the process industry, three things can impact your productivity; machine downtime, variations in batch cycle times and losing a batch because it is out of specification. In either case and simply put, when your equipment is down or it’s not reliably producing product, you risk missing production targets – in every case – are losing money. It’s very easy to delay revenue realization and fall behind the competition with inefficient production.
The root causes might be due to environmental factors, a faulty gauge, non-conforming raw materials, human factors, or a myriad of other causes. If you happen to be on-watch when this occurs, you, and everyone around you, is going to have a bad day. And there is real peril to the health of your company if the problems are chronic enough or if a dramatic event were to occur.
I worked with one company that batch-manufactured sterile materials for the healthcare industry. They had a chronic problem during manufacturing which was traced back to one part of the process that involved a few steps and required that all the equipment was sterile. To achieve this, the operator had to manually configure the equipment. But if the configuration was not performed in the proper sequence (like a pre-flight checklist), the environment, and the batch being produced, could be compromised.
Operator error was not the only potential root-cause. A defect in the equipment or instrument that monitored the equipment, could also compromise the production of the batch. Since the production line lacked an alarm system warning of the perilous situation, the operator would not realize they were producing a bad batch until the final product was tested.
The solution involved better adherence to production protocols and the accurate and timely reporting of production parameters – as well as the introduction of a system that more closely monitored for compliance.
The lessons learned were that there is real opportunity to increase Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) by getting people to work together on the shop floor and collaborate to eliminate expensive batch outliers. The root-cause of reasons for failure or unreliable output need to be identified, communicated, investigated, understood, and resolved. And the people at the front, the plant operator teams, are best suited and positioned to identify and realize opportunities for improvement through their continuous improvement efforts.
Facing the challenge
In today’s process industry, production errors should not be for lack of data. We should be able to collect reliable data from sensors that feed our Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. We don’t even have to be at the plant to monitor the health of the equipment and the progress of the processes being performed. We monitor the readings and data from the various control systems at the point of presence.
And beyond the technology, there are the people. Shift operators often work for many years in the same control room and know their plant by heart. The plant – its equipment, supervisors, and operators – are working 24/7, keeping track of the process and are readily available to prevent or fix any issue in the process.
So why do these problems and failures still occur as often as they do?
Certainly, better preparation and training of the operators to perform their respective tasks and ensuring production procedures are updated, simplified, and standardized are necessary starting points – and you will not be successful otherwise.
But companies would also benefit from maintaining more comprehensive performance logs and the tracking and reporting of the plant and equipment; their condition, operating effectiveness, production exceptions, reasons for failures, and alerts to risks.
However and even in this day of “digitization”, these logs and the critical information they contain are often prepared in a non-standard and haphazard way – sometimes not even in electronic form – with the information itself not being readily available to the people who might need it to make the real-time decisions they need to make.
What is needed is a data historian which is set up to satisfy the requirements of ISA 88 which will ensure that all information from the process control level is available, accurate and curated in a standardized manner. On top of that, shift operators need have to a managed process to identify the reasons for outlier events, circumstances, and results and document reason codes for the loss. To the extent that they are able, they should be making decisions on the shop floor and effecting counter-measures to rectify special cause variations as they occur. And they are a structured log to discuss the problems encountered in the morning meeting.
It would also be advantageous for the information to be aggregated from all the activity occurring from all plants and equipment and made available across the enterprise so that others who might be further afield can learn from the experiences.
What’s required? Where to start?
As with the introduction of any “new way”, those who are going to be the most effected (in this case, the operators) need to be introduced and involved in the deliberations early-on in the process. They must be shown and convinced that the introduction of any change in processes is not just for the benefit of the company but will have an indelible and positive impact on their daily lives. Otherwise, you will not be successful.
What is the lost value of one-hour of downtime or non-compliant batch of production? Depending upon the industry and what is being produced, the costs can easily exceed $20,000 per hour.
Likewise with management; they need to be shown and convinced that the introduction of the new way will have an unmistakable benefit to cash-flow and earnings. Best would be that the proposed solution also supports other corporate-wide initiatives and programs such as; Digitization, Operational Excellence, and Manufacturing 4.0. Otherwise, you will not be successful.
But in addition to starting with the people, you will need a solution. Eschbach with their Shiftconnector system is that solution.
With Shiftconnector, you will establish a managed process for communication, documentation and performance improvement. The solution specializes in batch and continuous operations and is successfully used in process plants worldwide.
Our team at eschbach will partner with your team to understand the challenges that you face and to share with you the opportunities that exist to improve OEE and the additional and accelerated cash flow that would result from the improved awareness of the health of your equipment, its management, and operations.
Then we will work with you and your team to gain an understanding of success criterion and expected outcomes from implementing your solution. And we will work together to gain an alignment as to the approach and to what is involved in order to achieve these expectations. And lastly, before we proceed, we will gain the commitment from both the operators and management necessary so that success is a foregone conclusion.
With alignment and commitment being settled, we will start with a pilot project prove-out the approach, technologies, use, and results so that the benefits can be demonstrated whilst minimizing disruption to the operation of your organization. Of particular importance will be the standardization of “reason codes” and their specific meanings so that the information being collected, disseminated, and acted upon has meaning and context across the enterprise.
Lastly, once the protocols and results have been proved, we will work with you to roll-out the solution to the remainder of your operations – ensuring the highest level of participation from all stakeholders and the resultant success of the implementation.
What real and tangible benefits should I expect?
First and foremost, the most real and tangible benefit you should expect from using Shiftconnector for performance improvement is an increase in both uptime and the reliability of the product being produced. To calculate these benefits all you need to do is calculate the value of one-hour more of uptime or the value of one batch that isn’t wasted – then multiply this by the hours of additional uptime and decrease in wasted batches.
To achieve these results, the system will;
With Shiftconnector, you can increase overall equipment efficiency and safety. The additional capacity to produce good product will accelerate the revenue realized by your company and reduce the cost of outliers and sub-optimal production. Contact Eschbach today to discuss the opportunities that exists within your plant that we can help you achieve.