5 ways to make manufacturing more intelligent

By Brian T. Horowitz

Manufacturing is undergoing a digital transformation, as companies get a real-time view of data to streamline production.

Research firm Frost & Sullivan projects the market for process control systems will grow to around 4 percent by 2020. Factors such as lower oil prices affect growth of this market, according to Piyush Dewangan, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

Automation — both physical and digital — can improve the quality of products, lower their cost and reduce dependence on workers, he said.

If your company hasn’t made the switch yet, consider these tips on how to digitally transform your manufacturing processes.

1. Use big data analytics to gain a global view of raw materials

By using big data analytics, companies can get a global view on how a machine is performing at a certain point in time.

“We can easily access, connect and visualize all kinds of data to attain a complete, global view of raw materials, competitive pricing and everything else that goes into making and marketing our world-class products,” said Art Kuntz, IT manager for Polyform U.S., a company that manufactures buoys and other parts for boats.

This type of visibility also helps Scapa Group, a global manufacturer of bonding solutions and adhesive components for the electronics, health care, industrial and automotive markets.

“Having better visibility means we can shift resources around more easily if we need to,” said Cavan Baillie, SAP support manager for Scapa North America, in a case study.

The visibility gained by using SAP Manufacturing Execution System (MES) helps Scapa Group better manage its business overall, Baillie said.

A personalized interface now allows supervisors at Scapa Group to provide feedback on operations at the company’s Knoxville plant.

2. Link your corporate ERP system to plant control systems

One way companies improve their competitiveness is to link their corporate enterprise resource planning platform (ERP) system to the control system in their plants, says Dave Imming, vice president of product and services marketing for Emerson Process Management.

An ERP system consists of software used to manage processes such as inventory, shipping and payment.

Companies’ automation systems might update ERP inventory once or twice a day to keep track of inventory at multiple locations. This visibility “enables them to make smarter decisions about potential orders, since they have up-to-date information on their inventory levels,” Imming told Power More.

3. Increase data collection through automation

Greene Tweed, a company that manufactures thermoplastics for the aerospace industry, was able to increase data collection by switching to automation using SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII).

Previously, Greene Tweed relied on manual processes that included paper spreadsheets, leading to difficulty in accessing data, according to Girish Hegde, SAP technical manager at Greene Tweed.

“This approach, of course, was inefficient and hard to analyze,” Hegde said in a Dell case study. “For example, we couldn’t develop a quality baseline that we could use for analyzing trends over time.”

Greene Tweed integrated SAP MII with its SAP ERP system to automate its recordkeeping.

Using a Dell project management tool, Greene Tweed was able to cut its deployment time for the SAP software from a forecasted 18 weeks to 16, according to Hegde.

4. Use algorithms to control key manufacturing tasks

In manufacturing, control algorithms are used to monitor and manage all of the conditions of the plant or facility such as the pressures, temperatures and flow rates. To do so, companies can deploy a platform such as Emerson’s DeltaV distributed control system (DCS), which, through an agreement with Dell OEM Solutions, can be powered by the Dell PowerEdge VRTX converged architecture platform.

VRTX consists of servers, storage, workstations and thin clients.

“By working closely with Dell OEM Solutions, we can deliver process control workstations that are optimized to deliver the performance, reliability and ease of use that our customers expect,” Imming said in a case study.

In addition to controlling the primary plant conditions, DeltaV also allows users to run advanced algorithms in a controller, enabling customers to not only control the plant but also to run the plant at the optimal conditions,” Imming said.

The advanced automation ensures a high conversion of raw materials to finished good and minimizes use of energy, he said.

By using the algorithms, companies can “calculate the best place to run this distillation column or this reactor to maximize the conversion of the reaction and get the biggest yield of finished goods from the raw materials that are [added],” Imming said.

5. Consider virtualization across client and enterprise

Virtualization is a strategy that can help make companies more intelligent for the future. By virtualizing “non-critical IT assets,” manufacturing plants can save on costs and reduce the time required for hardware installation, Dewangan noted.

Installation of industrial automation systems can require a significant amount of time. With virtualization, companies can have “easy installation and instant configuration,” he said.

Platforms such as Emerson’s DeltaV use Dell Wyse thin clients, which allow for redundant traffic at the desktop level. Virtualizing servers allows a plant to maintain high uptime by controlling a facility from one system, according to Imming.

“People in our industry want incredibly high uptime,” Imming said. “All the intelligence in the world doesn’t help you if the system is down.”

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