Advice offered: Effectively, efficiently apply controls

Efficient applications of automation can make manufacturing more profitable (and desirable as a career choice). Effective use and integration of information throughout manufacturing can make the enterprise safer, more reliable, and profitable. Quantifying automation benefits assists in "selling" current and future controls projects internally.


Efficient applications of automation can make manufacturing more profitable (and desirable as a career choice). Effective use and integration of information throughout manufacturing can make the enterprise safer, more reliable, and profitable. Quantifying automation benefits assists in "selling" current and future controls projects internally. These were among messages at the Rockwell Automation Manufacturing Perspectives media event, on Nov. 15, in St. Louis, precursor to the company's two-day Automation Fair. Comments and insights follow.

Integrated manufacturing systems architecture with a plant-wide information system will provide the next quantum leap for manufacturing productivity, according to Keith Nosbusch, chairman and CEO, Rockwell Automation. Investments have to be measurable; acceptable time for return on investment is less than half of what it was only five years ago.

Getting people interested in engineering at a younger age is among key interests at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), says John Engler, NAM president and CEO (and former Michigan governor). Noting the value of industry, Engler says about two-thirds of all patents relate to manufacturing. It's very clear that the focus needs to shift to look at manufacturing and related skills more favorably, he suggests; no one should leave school without having a skill, but U.S. schools don't test or measure that very well. "At NAM, I worry about currency issues, financing excess capacity, and global competition for capital. I also worry that internationally, the ground rules for manufacturers aren't the same," Engler adds.

To create a better future, industry also needs to dispel the unfortunate perception that manufacturing careers are full of backbreaking, menial, thankless, and repetitive tasks, Nosbusch says. "The power of automation has removed the majority of those kinds of activities from manufacturing. The latest and greatest technologies can be found on the plant floor." Manufacturing is one of the only areas that creates wealth in an economy, increases the standard of living, and offers a life-long, competitive global environment for people to learn, live, and grow. More than 60% of Rockwell Automation charitable giving goes toward education, he says, to get young people excited about engineering, science, and math... the components of manufacturing.

Training and education have been a challenge as Mercedes-Benz launched and expanded its first U.S. plant, says Bill Taylor, president and CEO, Mercedes Benz U.S. International (MBUSI). As Alabama's largest exporter, MBUSI and its people produce something that's measurable, Taylor says. "Where else but in manufacturing can you find technologies, people, and processes? It's holistic, touching so many parts of the business." MBUSI efforts include an 11th and 12th grade apprentice program that's half class work and half hands-on training in a manufacturing setting. Those completing the program have the opportunity to apply for a position, which includes 57 hours of testing, covering teamwork, ability to learn, and communication. A $600-million MBUSI plant expansion doubled employment on site to more than 4,000 team members.

Saving customers money is among key concerns for Rob Crow, controls engineering manager, Tri-Way Manufacturing (OEM for machining power-train components). Examples include reducing project delivery time from 52 to 32 weeks; upgrading operator and maintenance interfaces to reduce start-up time and ease troubleshooting, with remote monitoring; and integration of I/O devices, HMI, and machine safeguarding. One automotive customer saved an estimated $1.5 million with 50% reduction in engineering and installation time, 50% savings in machine costs, and 40% less floor space, Crow says. HMIs can switch languages on the fly and offer diagnostics and prompts for maintenance.

Condition monitoring improves safety while saving money, suggests Simon Hurricks, machine dynamics engineer, Genesis Energy, New Zealand. He tells of efforts to install and use condition monitoring at Huntly Power Station, with four 250-MW, coal- and natural-gas-fired generating units. Pictures and statistics emphasize costs of catastrophic failure, in damage, downtime, repairs, and lost generating opportunity. For instance, one main turbo-alternator, producing 250 MW at 16.5 kV, is driven by 2,300 psi steam at 1,004 °F (540 °C), with 100 tons of rotating weight at 3,000 rpm.

Hurricks says it gets a statutory inspection five days a year and a major overhaul every four years for 13 weeks. Online vibration monitoring offers protection and diagnostics. Oil condition is analyzed, valves exercised, and stress monitored. A catastrophic failure of a another similar unit at another utility created a pile of rubble that cost $100 million, not including lost generation in 18 months of downtime, Hurricks explains.

Moving from mechanical to automated controls were among upgrades at the Panama Canal, says Carlos Patterson, project manager, Panama Canal Authority (now a for-profit enterprise). Original mechanical controls, circa 1914, were upgraded to state-of-the-art Rockwell Automation devices, with more than 80,000 I/O points and more than 800 PLCs in the nine-lock complex. He shows how human-machine interfaces provide exact information of what's going on. All operations were manual and now can run full automatic, semi-automatic, or manual, with less downtime and more throughput (perhaps a few more ships a year), and a 0.5-1% reduction in incidents. It used to run to fail with replacements requiring many custom mechanical parts. Now repairs use commercial hydraulic and electrical items available from multiple vendors, with the work done during operation while about 13,000 ships a year pass through.

Integration of information technology and meeting regulations are among customer concerns, says Sujeet Chand, senior vice president, Advanced Technology and chief technology officer, Rockwell Automation. Other concerns include integration of information technology and factory controls, compounded by mandates to comply with federal regulations and Wal-Mart requirements. Next is a second wave of productivity pressure, with a need to save about $750 million a year with greater efficiencies and more waste reductions. Then there is the is need for greater flexibility: more product differentiation, smaller batches, and unique packaging.

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