Case study: Information-enabled architecture spreads critical data across the company

An upgraded control system in its Primary processing department is helping a major tobacco manufacturer keep its massive manufacturing operations informed and make decisions faster.


Highly automated process relies heavily on graphical interfaces. User desktops are transmitted to thin clients for display using terminal emulation software, which lets operators interact with multiple monitors from a single keyboard/mouse combination.

An upgraded control system in its Primary processing department is helping a major tobacco manufacturer keep its massive manufacturing operations informed and make decisions faster. The system puts the latest plant information solutions at the fingertips of workers, lets managers access corporate and plant networks from around the globe, and gives management access to real-time manufacturing information.

The Brown & Williamson facility in Macon, GA, occupies 1.4 million sq ft. The upgrade is based on an earlier successful plant-wide modification of field-mounted machine control displays, a project that used thin-client architecture with remote access and HMI servers. The Primary area had been using old processing technology and engineering managers knew the company needed to upgrade system controllers and HMI systems. They also decided to use the opportunity to create an integrated plant IT infrastructure and streamline technology responsibilities among electrical engineering and IT staffs.

Although the company had some information-sharing in place, they wanted a plant IT infrastructure that would allow manufacturing to share data with business systems and give plant operations personnel access to the latest technologies, including wireless networking, thin clients, and remote connectivity. There was some concern about the process because IT and engineering had never worked so closely on a project of this scope before. "But we had a vision for the end result," said Fred Ampolini, director of factory electrical engineering, "and learned quickly that we could accomplish more by working together than apart."

Engineering evaluated several vendors for the control system and decided that Rockwell Automation control and HMI technology would serve the manufacturing process well. Past experience with Rockwell systems had been positive and many employees were already familiar with the equipment. IT reviewed the best way to balance engineering’s need for fewer IT-type responsibilities and faster, easier access to systems with the rest of the company’s need for more information.

As a result, Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controllers now handle both discrete and analog devices associated with the manufacturing process. Recipe handling, sequential operations, data interface, and diagnostic programming all reside within controllers. The controllers are networked together with a hybrid of ControlNet and Ethernet, and send data via Ethernet to an RSView Supervisory Edition HMI server.

A distributed plant floor architecture was set up based on Rockwell’s FactoryTalk platform, which connects the enterprise with the production facility and lets information objects be tied to the systems that need them. This "federated data model" concept maintains information integrity because data are shared, not duplicated, and has no single point of failure.

Information is exchanged with both plant-level and business-level systems via Ethernet. Reports are generated to help managers make decisions to minimize future downtime and improve production. Rockwell’s RSSql transaction manager monitors events and sends data to an Oracle database, which is the virtual line between engineering and IT and is used to track quality, plant machine performance parameters, and critical events.

Employees do not have to be on site to access information. Secure access lets managers and engineers use VPN and Web-based applications to access the company network and all plant floor software programs remotely.

In addition, the company is moving toward using the Windows-based RSView Supervisory Edition for all its HMI systems. It gives operators a running view of the entire process, allows them to start and stop equipment, change operating parameters, monitor alarms, monitor the process for quality control, and retrieve/download batches from the corporate spec systems.

The highly automated process relies heavily on graphical interfaces for control. Many types of data are passed between the controllers and the HMI stations. To maximize the efficiency of information across the network, the company uses Microsoft Terminal Services, transparent software that runs applications and performs data processing and storage functions on the server.

While multiple sessions run on a single server, each plant terminal displays only its individual session; user desktops are transmitted to thin clients for display using terminal emulation software, which allows the use of multiple monitors with single keyboard/mouse combinations. Operators can interact with up to six display screens. Wireless secured access networks on notebook computers also have been installed to give engineering technicians access to control systems from the plant floor.

The new control system and HMI software used in conjunction with industry standard operating systems, vendor support, and IT systems support have allowed Brown & Williamson to migrate to the latest automation control system technologies. The information flow and delivery have created a plant IT infrastructure that supports every level of the company.

—Jeanine Katzel, senior editor, Control Engineering,

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