Wireless apps, cloud services transform decision making, data management for packaging lines

Dairy products producer balances quality and consistency during facility expansion, incorporating and monitoring new product filling and packaging lines and associated equipment.


Control Engineering December 2011 cover story and related online extras cover cloud-based automation.Manufacturers are constantly under pressure to increase efficiency, streamline operations, contain costs, and increase productivity, particularly when the competitive landscape is strong and consumer demand for creative new products is constant. They need to accomplish these goals—and expand too. It is a tall order.

Efficiency starts right on the plant floor—and that is where mobile applications let companies transcend distance and connectivity issues, creating a virtual, personalized space for collaboration. In the food processing and packaging business, mobile applications are helping workers make better, faster, smarter analyses and actions, based on real-time visualization of their processes.

One dairy products producer that makes and distributes a wide range of foods and beverages had to maintain a stream of traditional products and introduce new products to suit changing consumer tastes and trends. These requirements demanded a delicate balance between quality and consistency, and an expansion of facilities, and involved incorporating and monitoring new product filling and packaging lines and their associated equipment.

Key to this producer’s growth strategy is capital efficiency—getting the most out of its facilities and equipment. To help accomplish this, the company checks its lines for OEE (overall equipment efficiency) and production rates in real time with the help of the Invensys SmartGlance mobile reporting system, which makes information available to users in real time, 24/7.

Using mobile devices, management reviews production reports. In some cases, it will discover that one of the plant locations did not meet a target. With the “drill down” capability in the SmartGlance application, a manager can go to the next information level for that plant location and view line performance. There, a manager might discover that a particular line was down. Drilling down still further, he can view all the equipment in that line where he can pinpoint the packaging machine in question and check its OEE. All this can be done in-house or remotely. Other aspects of the SmartGlance application allow data to be compared with ideal batches, providing support for determining corrective actions.

“Having accurate, real-time data is absolutely key for us to assign resources and resolve issues quickly,” says one manager. “Being able to access this information right from the production floor or first thing in the morning helps us to make better decisions. It also helps me prioritize my day and attack the most important issues first.”

Information from the plant processes is collected via local monitoring and control systems and resides on a secure cloud server. Using a combination of SmartGlance and Microsoft technologies, data is then available on demand to a smart mobile device, which for this producer is the iPhone. When the data travels to and from the cloud server, the service is fully secured, providing authentication, authorization, and encryption.

Plant personnel say that using the SmartGlance application also makes for faster, more accurate information access. There is no waiting for timed reports containing information that may no longer be current. “We need to know the trouble spots and keep the lines and their supporting equipment running at their best,” says the producer. “The data cannot come fast enough for us. Now we have information at our fingertips; it’s even faster than a phone call. Mobile apps have transformed the way we make decisions on the plant floor.”

Information for this article was provided by Invensys Operations Management. For more on wireless devices that use the power of the cloud, visit the IOM website at http://iom.invensys.com. For more on SmartGlance, go to http://iom.invensys.com/en/pages/smartglance.aspx 

Look for other cloud-based automation articles related to the December 2011 Control Engineering cover story.

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