ECS Solutions Inc., Evansville, Ind.

ECS Solutions developed its S88 Builder Tool to write a program that can control a single process cell. Since its inception, the company has seen a 40% increase in labor revenue without increasing employment. See video discussion below.

By CFE Media December 10, 2015

ECS Solutions developed its S88 Builder Tool to write a program that can control a single process cell. Since its inception, the company has seen a 40% increase in labor revenue without increasing employment. This development was one of the reasons CFE Media judges selected ECS Solutions as a 2016 System Integrator of the Year. Tim Matheny, president of ECS Solutions, discussed the opportunities for plant managers to work with system integrators to deliver projects on time, on budget, and to specifications in an interview with CFE Media.

CFE Media: What is the one thing plant management can do to help ensure a successful integration process?

Matheny: The most important thing for plant or corporate management to do is assign a single individual with the authority to make project decisions. This person may or may not be a project manager; a competent integrator can provide capable project management. This person does not have to be technical; it’s better that he or she understand the business, since the integrator is technical.

The next most important thing for customer management to do is to make certain that the project team understands why, from a business perspective, the project is being done. What is the financial justification? If not in dollars, at least as goals. How will success be measured? It is particularly important to focus the project team on EXCEEDING measurements. To measure success requires establishing some form of baseline of the existing system performance to measure against as business results are achieved.

CFE Media: What are you customers looking for in automation projects? In turn, what should they be looking for in terms of automation in their plants?

Matheny: Often customers are looking at automation upgrades as replacements. These customers specify a new platform to be configured to work like the old, familiar platform they have been using. Such upgrades may reduce risk of system failure but produce little, if any, new business value. Sometimes these customers start reaping business value by choosing the right integrator who bids the lowest price!

Automation upgrades should be focused on creating business value—reducing costs, creating capacity, improving quality consistency, etc. Customers should be saying things to their chosen integrators like, "If we could … we would be able to …" The best integrators, not necessarily the lowest-cost ones, will come up with a way to solve such a proposition. The solution may or may not be justifiable, but occasionally it will be worth a lot of money. Peter G. Martin, PhD, a Schneider Electric VP, is leading this discussion in the public square.

CFE Media: Describe the project that provided your team with the most satisfaction in the past year. What was the big challenge, and how did your team overcome that challenge?

Matheny: The Pinnacle Wish-Bone Salad Dressing project gave ECS both the most satisfaction and our biggest challenge. The satisfaction, for me, is in the fact that we delivered total process automation, from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to the end of the packaging line. The challenge came not from any part, but from the sum of the parts.

The project included:

  • 50-plus flavors using 250-plus ingredients including nine classes of allergens
  • Receiving materials from the ERP warehouse management system (WMS), tracking them throughout the process, and returning remainders to the WMS if desired
  • Breakdown of vendor packages into measured amounts, barcode-labeling containers, and inventorying remainder partial-vendor packages
  • Building kits of hand-add ingredients to inventory, then consuming them in a "wet" or final batch of salad dressing
  • Receiving shop orders from the ERP system, breaking them down into campaigns of batches, queuing runs for the packaging equipment, and returning WIP and final goods with accurate material use to the ERP system
  • Process cell performance reporting and management dashboard to assist with optimization
  • Full ISA-88 Batch and recipe (procedure) management
  • Recipe-based (ISA-88 Procedure) clean-in-place with performance reporting to assist with optimization.

The biggest challenge was the material management and kit-building to inventory. This was a midproject change request that ECS scrambled to honor. We accomplished all of the customer’s goals. ECS was awarded a Silver Ignition Firebrand award from Inductive Automation for this portion of the Wish-Bone project.

A second project that gave us great satisfaction is one that we did with Southwest Baking, near Phoenix. This project was done in two phases, two years apart. ECS delivered only software, no hardware, yet made a 20% improvement in system performance in each phase. The first improvement came from better utilization of the equipment. The second came from improving the accuracy of their material deliveries using our statistical algorithms while eliminating the practice of slowing the rate of the delivery near the end of the delivery. In addition to the improvement in batch times, the customer estimated a $500,000 annual material cost savings.

CFE Media: What are the key areas of opportunity for manufacturers to improve their operational efficiency?

Matheny: Material cost, labor cost, and quality are all affected by inaccurate material delivery. Accurate delivery requires measurement as close to the final destination as possible, and requires great software. Our statistical model algorithm for determining drip, when coupled with vessel load cells, give phenomenally consistent material delivery.

Clean-in-place (CIP) is another opportunity. We had one customer create an additional four hours of production capacity per week on his process cell by optimizing his ISA-88-procedure-driven CIP. Too many customers have rigid programmed or pinning-chart-based CIP control that is inflexible. Customers with manual CIP may have flexibility, but do not have consistent cleaning or a cleaning "batch record" to document that cleaning was done properly.

Most batch operations include manual actions such as minor ingredient additions. Assets wait on operators to take actions. Some only record and report delays. ECS has developed an alert function that lets operators know when the process is waiting on them, proactively encouraging operational effectiveness. Letting operators know that delays are being measured encourages them to learn to anticipate manual actions and plan their work to be available to take action.

CFE Media: What are the best attributes of a great manufacturer? What common thread runs through the best clients you have that makes them successful?

Matheny: Great customers recognize the value of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement starts with an agile control system. Model-based control is the most agile. Configured control is next, with programmed control being the least agile. Secondly, continuous improvement requires effort and cost. It is critical that improvement not be limited by budget, but be allowed to continue as long as the actions are justified-returning more business value than the cost. Finally, an attitude of continuous improvement must be pervasive. As Lean teaches, great ideas can come from anyone.

CFE Media: What is your overall outlook for 2016?

Matheny: Our overall outlook for 2016 is excellent. We hope to benefit from marketing investments made in 2015. We are humbled and honored to receive the System Integrator of the Year Award with the market credibility it brings. It also must be recognized that there is often a tendency for businesses to hold back investments during an election year.

ONLINE extra

– Learn more about the other 2016 System Integrators of the Year below as well as a roundtable video discussion with all of the winners.

Author Bio: Since its founding in 2010, CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings, and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency. CFE delivers the right information at the right time around the world through a variety of platforms.