Creating automation interoperability, sustainability at a resin plant, flour mill

It is crucial to understand business goals and requirements up front and to have ways to test requirements and measure automation project success. Control system integration projects reduced waste to zero in the first year; the other reduced delays and backlogs.

By John Lee May 13, 2022
John Lee is the strategic manager of manufacturing intelligence at Matrix Technologies. Courtesy: Matrix Technologies


Learning Objectives

  • Understand control system integration scope and objectives.
  • Look at challenges and resolutions for automation system integration.
  • Learn benefits of the project implementations.

Industrial controls advances are contributing to sustainability and resilience. With COVID-19, the supply chain lost many just-in-time (JIT) connections and industrial controls and automation technologies promoting resiliency become more important. As more companies measure energy savings and carbon footprint, industrial controls are helping.

Control Engineering asked Matrix Technologies about these topics. Responses cover two projects; one involving adhesive film resin and another at a flour mill.

Adhesive film manufacturer system integration project

Describe the resin project and how interoperability helped supply chain resiliency.

Lee: An adhesive film manufacturer needed to enhance its internal supply chain from different areas of the facility. The mixing area produces a resin which needed to be temperature controlled. It was kept in ovens until the coating process area was ready. This meant the resins had to be monitored for temperature and time inside and outside of the warming ovens, and the schedule needed to ensure the resin raw material was delivered to the downstream processing area in a timely manner. Providing a connected internal supply chain would allow the different areas to monitor the timing and activities for each other, ensuring there would be no waste of product from sitting too long or being out of specification.

What was the project scope?

The project was part of a larger manufacturing execution system (MES) but this had unique goals to monitor the time and temperature of the resin mix inside and outside of the warming ovens. It was also time sensitive to be delivered to the downstream processing area for extrusion. A system was needed that could monitor these metrics and provide wide visibility, and exception and out-of-specification notifications.

What automation was involved?

The movement of materials was tracked with a warehouse management system and the data was provided to a Microsoft structured query language (SQL) Server. The system allowed the information to be viewed in human-machine interface (HMI) screens and SQL Server Reporting Services reports. Temperature probes were used in each warming oven to provide the control system with temperature information, and time was measured whenever the resin totes were moved in or out of the ovens.

What were some project challenges?

The resin needed time and temperature controls and to be processed within a certain number of hours from the original mix time, or it would not extrude properly. It also had to be maintained at appropriate temperatures. The challenge was monitoring and ensuring delivery to the downstream process in a timely fashion. Adhering to the schedule was critical for both areas. Having the interoperability and visibility into both was key in ensuring no material would go out of specification and become waste.

How were project issues resolved?

The system provided exception-based reporting to highlight when the resin was close to being out of specification. Alerts were provided on the HMI screen in both areas when the time reached critical points so the separate processing areas could be engaged in remediation planning and getting the schedule back on track.

What were some positive metrics from the project?

No material has been lost in the first year of the project delivery, which was a major success.

What were the resulting lessons learned or advice you’d like to share?

With any project, it is crucial to understand the business goals and requirements up front and to have ways to test requirements and measure success on the project.

Flour mill system integration project

Describe the flour mill project and how interoperability helped supply chain resiliency.

A flour mill operation experienced unique challenges with truck unloading and scheduling. Having external supply chain issues created challenges every day, but this one was causing more issues than normal. The truck unloading area was small and lacked a large staging area. It was preferable to manage the backlog of trucks arriving at the facility, as well as ensuring arrival and unloading times were maintained. Previously, the trucks and brokerages would have to call to indicate any changes on the weekly schedule, and sometimes the calls did not happen or were not communicated properly. This led to inefficiencies in the supply chain for incoming products to be milled.

What was the project scope?

The scope was to provide a more real-time view of the truck unloading schedule and engage the suppliers with interoperability where they could submit changes to the schedule directly through a web-based application. This would allow the trucks to assist in maintaining the schedule with arrivals and delays and get the information to the right people at the facility in a timely manner. It also allowed gaps to be filled where severe delays or cancellations might occur by allowing other suppliers to fill those gaps. Thus, the goal was to provide a connected supply chain with the external vendors.

What automation was involved?

The project was to create a web-based application with security and logins for the vendors involved. The data was to be stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database available for internally viewing at various locations including the unloading area HMIs, the guard shack for check-ins and to the plant offices for schedule managements.

What were some project challenges?

Challenges included a weekly managed schedule instead of a more real-time daily schedule, with limited means to react to changes, or proactively manage the schedule to keep deliveries running smoothly. Also, having limited internal access to the schedule meant it was difficult to keep up to date and lacked opportunities for vendors to play a role in managing the schedule and filling gaps which previously took a lot of coordination and effort. 

How were project issues resolved?

Allowing vendors to have a login to view the schedule and to submit changes meant the schedule was updated closer to real time. The application also provided internal notifications on schedule changes so the staff would know and be able to respond when needed.

What were the resulting lessons learned or advice you’d like to share?

In this project, reduction of delays and backlogs at the site could easily be measured over time and prove the solution was a success.

John Lee, is strategic manager of manufacturing intelligence, Matrix Technologies Inc., a CSIA member. Matrix Technologies and CSIA are CFE Media and Technology content partners. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: System integration projects, manufacturing resiliency



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Author Bio: John Lee is the strategic manager of manufacturing intelligence at Matrix Technologies. He is responsible for the successful implementation of manufacturing intelligence and manufacturing operations management projects. Lee has in-depth experience in manufacturing and information system design. He joined Matrix in 2007.