Competition breeds control

Manufacturing activity remains strong well into the first quarter of 2005. Institute for Supply Management's PMI (purchasing manager's index) was at 56.4% for January, indicating that the U.S. manufacturing sector is still growing—for the 20th consecutive month. Growth in manufacturing, however, is a term that now applies worldwide.

03/01/2005


Manufacturing activity remains strong well into the first quarter of 2005. Institute for Supply Management's PMI (purchasing manager's index) was at 56.4% for January, indicating that the U.S. manufacturing sector is still growing—for the 20thconsecutive month.

Growth in manufacturing, however, is a term that now applies worldwide.

We're all well aware of new manufacturing capacity being added in Asia and the Middle East, and how that's directly impacting U.S. competitiveness and our trade deficit. The question is: What can we do about it?

A growing number of manufacturers are looking more closely at advanced process control (APC)—a software technology, often based in a controller, that uses process models to automate the setpoints in a plant's PID loops and closely control product specs at the supervisory control level to provide the most profitable result for the business.

Randy Wagler, Honeywell's product manager for Profit Suite optimization products, says there has been noticeable growth in APC solutions in worldwide. "There's no question," he says, "that APC allows plants to be more flexible and produce products more cheaply. The multivariable nature of APC selects the best set of manipulated variables to meet constraints."

APC has been shown to improve consistency by 50-75%, reduce transition time by 30-50%, and increase throughput anywhere from 2-8%, according to Matt Tormollen, vice president and chief marketing officer at Pavilion Technologies, a supplier of APC software. "APC is a way to drive down costs and remain competitive by reducing waste and variability—a critical factor for manufacturers in complex markets like chemicals and oil and gas, where APC helps manufacturers stay close to quality specs at specific grades by automating control of continuous processes," Tormollen says.

Transitioning from one product grade to another, a common practice in continuous process industries, can lead to off-spec material. This material can be blended into salable product, but it doesn't command the price of purer grades. "When you can shorten transition time and reduce off-spec material to produce more of the material that you get the highest margins on," Tormollen says, "that's where you want to be—producing most of what's in highest demand at the time."

APC's ability to turn engineering processes into profit is leading to the next step in the technology's evolution—linkage with manufacturing business systems. Pavilion Technology, for example, has designed its newest product using J2EE (Java-based software) for secure transfer of data with MES or ERP systems.

There's no silver bullet for U.S. manufacturing's competitive issues, but process industries should seriously consider APC to help level the playing field.

David Greenfield, Editorial Director

dgreenfield@reedbusiness.com





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