Making data useful on a laptop with a BI dashboard

Data is only useful if you can get to it

Posted by Optimal Analytics

The problem

A major food and beverage manufacturer has many plants scattered across the country. While these plants have been strong money makers for the business, leadership doesn’t have a clear window into how each plant is performing until its monthly production reviews.

While they’ve been tracking overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) for some time, this has been accomplished through paper logs, spreadsheets and Visual Basic macros.

With any legacy system using paper logs and manual data entry, there are both latency and errors. Plant leadership needs to wait for the data to be entered, and executive leadership needs to wait for their report/scorecard. There is also tremendous variation site to site.

The solution

We deployed Inductive Automation’s Ignition software in a hub and spoke architecture to both allow automatic OEE tracking that can be accessed on the company’s corporate network. This means that data are tracked automatically, freeing up the operators and supervisors to focus on their jobs while making the data accessible to site and executive leadership as the plants are running. Instead of waiting at least a week to process data for the past month, it’s accessible at that moment.

The Ignition system watches each plant’s connected PLCs and records data via industry standard OPC-UA. It tracks when the lines are running, how many units are produced, tank levels, batch time, and all the measurable information to let the plant know if the lines are running smoothly. All this information is securely transmitted from an on premise server to a central server within the client’s private cloud in Microsoft Azure. Leveraging their existing single sign on, the right people can get to each site’s data. A Vice President can access the same data at headquarters that the line supervisor can see from their office.

The value

This saves 85% of valuable supervisor and production manager time for data entry. The time savings alone produced an ROI within a year and continues to allow the team to focus on their jobs running the plant.

In addition to the time savings, the sites now have more accurate data to act on. An example here is one site’s plant manager was able to see a slower than expected process start up consistently happening. He was able to see this from his office, call the production manager, and have it addressed within a few minutes. In the past this would have shown up as an unexplained inefficiency in the weekly and monthly reviews.

Key points

Centralization of data is key

There are extremely secure methods for transferring data from on premise (the plant) to a centralized system, whether it is in the cloud or within the business network. This improves the effectiveness of any insight because of the accessibility.

Data has to be accessible to be useful

Stranded assets and bespoke systems are useful to a handful of people. By centralizing data, the right person can see the right information at the right time.

Using the same ruler to measure

Using a centralized system is inherently standardized. While each site has its own nuance that needs to be addressed, measuring metrics the same way at each site allows one to compare one site’s performance with another.

Hub and spoke - not just great for wheels

A system architecture that has one main hub, connected by plant or regional spokes is a robust and secure way to manage this centralization. There is redundancy that is built into the system if there are network outages and there is precise control over the data transfer between each spoke and the central hub, so compliance with IT requirements can be easily maintained and managed.