Smart Machines and Savvy Supply Chains

Industry Forum Addresses Needs of Global Machine Builders

By Joe Feeley

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Manufacturers today want innovative machines that easily integrate into their plant-wide infrastructure. As a result, equipment and machine OEMs are responding with smart machines that seamlessly connect the factory floor with the enterprise.

By using a single control and information platform, these machines can demonstrate an unsurpassed level of intelligence along with the ability to consume and generate information automatically, adapt to new situations and give industrial OEMs the remote access and insight they to both satisfy these customer demands and analyze the operational data that let's them build better, more responsive machines.

These issues set the stage for today's Global Machine and Equipment Builders Industry Forum at the Automation Fair in Houston, presented by Rockwell Automation. "'Smart machines' is an umbrella term for the important trends in the industry that include safety, leveraging information, integration, diagnostics and basically taking advantage of the information that's on machines and is becoming more available," began Chris Zei, vice president, global industry group, Rockwell Automation. "And there are three issues that we at Rockwell Automation think about in this regard that help us figure out the right value proposition for each customer."

The first issue, Zei said, is plant-wide optimization. Rockwell Automation is committed to helping end users use their assets in the optimum manner and helping reduce the total cost of ownership of those assets.

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"The second thing is machine builder performance: our commitment to do what's right for the builders, making sure we're providing the products that help them build a better machine," Zei said. "Not only that, we want to be a good partner to them so we can help them deliver on their promises of better machine TCO to their end customers."

The third item is sustainable production. "We have footprints all around the world," Zei explained. "So not only do we want to do the right things in terms of being a sustainable company, but we also want to help the many companies that come to us for help in being or becoming a more sustainable company through automation and things like improved energy monitoring."

"Safety and sustainability are big on our list," agreed session participant Ted Hutto of Panhandle Meter, a company that specializes in custody-transfer meters for crude oil. "Among other things, "we've helped improve working safety. Around liquid hydrocarbons, you'll find H2S, a poisonous gas. We have an H2S monitoring system to watch for that so dispatchers and others can alert workers and others entering the area."

Zei then dove into the trends that affect machine builder performance, some of which have been around for a while. The first is the sheer dollar volume that end customers spend on equipment. "About 75% of the purchases in the consumer products space are for equipment and machinery on the factory floor," Zei said. "In automotive, it's more like 50%, and in some of the heavy industries such as water, wastewater, mining, it's closer to 30%. But in all cases, it's a significant number."

Stick to What You Know

Another force is the increasing rate at which end customers outsource activity to the OEMs in order to focus more on their core competencies. "The CEO of a food company told me that his company had to get back to what it does well—making cookies—and it shouldn't be specifying what goes on or into the machines. It should just be specifying what they want that machine to do," Zei explained. "Those end customers want machine builders who can be good partners with them."

One of the things that nearly every end customer wants from its equipment is a combination of throughput and flexibility. "Those two are really counter to each other," Zei remarked. "If you want maximum throughput, you design and optimize a machine to produce one SKU as fast as it can. But what's typical is the need to produce many SKUs, and that means a machine designed to handle the most-difficult SKU, and that tends to determine throughput. The reality is that everyone wants both."

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Another big need is for machines to generate information that will provide these good outcomes for productivity, sustainability and flexibility needs.

Valter Marcolini of Tissue Machinery Co. (TMC) in Italy, also a participant during this session, said leveraging information is an important element of TMC's business. "Diagnostics and preventive maintenance are very important to achieve OEE," he said. "We're proud to have developed systems that can do both through specialized software, so we can see what is going to happen and analyze the data compared to the compiled data."

Gathering process information to enhance product traceability is a key factor for Ana Paula Herrstrom of TetraPak. She said that, "The information we need is to ensure that if product quality didn't reach the levels demanded by customers, we're able to stop it inside [the company]."

Equipment builder M.W. Waldrop uses data in both directions. "Almost every piece of equipment we build has data-gathering capabilities from the plant floor to the engineering desk, but we're gathering information for our own use to improve our designs," said Chris Waldrop. "How long did it take to get up and running after an upset; did the infeed not flow as well as it should have for a particular product?" Waldrop says his company also uses the data to present efficiencies back to its customers, including recipe performance and even operator or group performance.

And the emerging way to access and analyze that information is an Ethernet-enabled network, which Zei said provides the best ease of access. "So a lot of the IT tools we're used to on the business side are moving to the production areas," Zei said.

But with access comes the need to secure that information. "Just as has been shown with safety--that you can't just put a wrapper around it, you have to build it in as part of your architecture--the same applies for network security," Zei remarked. "That means building security in a layered model with best practices that include defense-in-depth that accounts for both inside and outside threats; an openness that includes strict, but appropriate access control, but which has the flexibility to deal with specific end-customer needs, while maintaining an overall consistency of approach that users will understand."

Machine OEMs are involved with line integration either directly as the responsible party or as part of an overall scheme. "In the CPG [consumer packaged goods] space, we found that in many cases, the highest or second-highest cost of a project was line integration," Zei noted. "And we heard that in some cases, the integration cost exceeded the total cost of the machines being installed."

Having determined that there has to be a better way, Zei said Rockwell Automation developed the Rapid System, which provides standard templates in a drag-and-drop environment to visualize the connected environment and can see delays, stops and other encumbrances in the operation.

More Than Just the Machine

Mike Irwin, vice president of global logistics and material planning, operations and engineering services for Rockwell Automation, followed with a discussion of how OEMs fit in the scheme of Rockwell Automation's "Design for the Supply Chain" initiative. "My job is to make supply chain a competitive advantage for Rockwell Automation," he began.

The key premise of the Design for the Supply Chain program is to have a "preferred availability" of products that get to machine and equipment builders quickly and dependably, regardless of global location. Irwin said Rockwell Automation reviewed its 377,000 parts and found there are 35,000 that represent the vast, vast majority of the purchases—parts that the company will deliver in one to three days with 97% on-time reliability. The list is segmented to account for regional differences as well.

On top of that, there are product-selection tools. "Our Proposal Works tool can suggest alternative bill of material (BOM) parts choices that are in the preferred availability family," Irwin explained. "There's a configuration tool that will lead you to a preferred product alternative to consider for your design." Irwin said that they did about 300 BOM analyses in North America last year via Design for the Supply Chain. "The results increased the use of preferred availability parts from around 80% to about 93% and created BOMs with parts delivery times that were reduced by 50%," he reported. "So now you have market-leading parts-delivery times to help you build your machine faster, a much reduced inventory—because you know we have them—and a resultant improved cash flow."

Time to market is a competitive advantage from Panhandle Meter's perspective. "SCADA usually brings the oil-field data back to management, but that can involve a lot of time and expense," Hutto stated. "Our product is one box, and, if we have everything we need, we can be at a location in the morning and be delivering data that evening."

Parts availability and other factors are essential to TetraPak's responsibility to its customer. "We have to be partners and very close with our customers and with our suppliers as well," said Herrstrom. "We have to be fast to fix any problems so our customers don't lose uptime."

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