How to transform valleys of downtime into peak efficiencies

Several manufacturers recently shared ways to help manufacturers move from downtime to peak efficiency, as they feel increased pressure to optimize, to stay competitive in global markets.

By Control Engineering Staff July 28, 2005

Several manufacturers recently shared ways to help manufacturers move from downtime to peak efficiency, as they feel increased pressure to optimize, to stay competitive in global markets.

Plants have too few reliable measurements, say the members of Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute , according to Ben Miyares, PMMI vice president industry relations. That organization’s 509 manufacturers sell $6 billion, 134,000 pieces of equipment, annually. Among other members’ laments: cost of downtime is not commonly known and skilled maintenance staff are too few, making it difficult to further reduce downtime, speed throughput, and prompt faster changeovers, he noted. Miyares says manufacturers seek to:

1. Eliminate waste. Get lean and do upgrades. Machinery that’s 12-40 years old is difficult to keep operating at peak efficiency. Sustainable improvements rely on financial, machinery, and human components. Improved automation permits using people in more productive roles and improving use of materials and energy.

2. Improve safety. Programs can focus on risk abatement and better worker ergonomics to improve efficiencies and decrease downtime due to injuries.

3. Augment efficiency , in part, by simplifying processes then applying automation.

4. Increase reliability. There are more 24/7 operations, but many machines now in place were built for 8 hours of operation a day. Efforts to upgrade and improve mechatronics are increasing reliability by moving more toward electronics and away from mechanical components, adding automation and remote monitoring/maintenance.

5. Reduce costs. Do more with less and decrease downtime with fewer people. Contract packagers use 12% of packaging equipment. Whether in-house or outsource, just-in-time deliveries are often demanded, and customers ask, “What have you done for us lately?” Software helps analyze data collected to replicate best batches and cut waste, Miyares suggests.

6. Optimize. Get flexible. What’s the ideal? Perhaps the still-fictional, fully automated machine that can change out a line on the fly from 1-ounce to 5-quart packages, small enough to fit in a one-car garage, and is capable of operation by unskilled labor. Root-cause analysis and standards development will help industry optimization efforts. Customers often press packaging machinery manufacturers for help with intellectual property, on how to design new packages and other challenges, research, and development.

Areas of focus

Kraft Foods ’ Dragan Filipovic, systems of the future, strategic innovative research, studies global technology and quality, looking particularly at advanced manufacturing systems to develop tool-sets to address many of the issues mentioned. These include advanced diagnostic and servicing tools to maximize line performance and reduce equipment downtime. Filipovic sees a need to:

  • Understand the problem. More reliability is needed without redesigning and reprogramming existing machines.

  • Understand management strategy. Know the buzzwords. Simplify, optimize, and give them the numbers they want.

  • Understand factory-floor reliability. Traditional factory-floor personnel often cannot effectively maintain complex high-technology machinery. Equipment replacement is often done with manual labor. Complexity can be a silent killer.

  • Augment labor effectiveness; 50-75% manufacturing effectiveness in many plants has to get up to 85% or more.

  • Understand disconnects. Poor comprehension of maintenance problems by line managers is a growing problem, particularly across larger organizations. Equipment availability has impact along the entire supply chain. True costs of downtime are often swept under the carpet.

Kraft is interested in the biggest opportunities by verifying applicability (develop and test prototypes); filing for a patent (protect intellectual property globally); and licensing and deploying (choose dependable partners). Outsourcing maintenance may also help some efforts, Filipovic suggested. Advanced manufacturing systems offer opportunities, Filipovic says, in three main areas:

  • Machine diagnostics. Manufacturers operating at peak performance need predictive maintenance and condition monitoring to gauge subtle degradation in performance, predict failure, and warn appropriately or take appropriate actions. A machine-vision system combined with PLC can examine at inputs and outputs at same time, like a flight recorder, for example, looking at the last 10 seconds of a dying process. It can silently operate next to machine to reconstruct, help fix, and avoid failures.

  • Service and training become larger problems as organizations get leaner, and U.S. education and interest in engineering decreases. The U.S. will import expertise from China and elsewhere, Filipovic suggests, but risks losing the momentum of generations of skilled labor. Systems need to appeal to and make experts of younger workers with less experience. For example, augmented-reality goggles that show people how to do things may help.

  • Changeover verification. First-hour efficiency after restart is very low, 35-45%. Sayings like “Full power within the first hour,” and “Clock is ticking, and you’re still tweaking,” show that there’s room plenty of room to move toward flawless operation from the first second of startup, without scrap, Filipovic suggests.

Performance measurement, optimization

Those seeking to optimize plant performance face challenges, says Paul J. Zepf, director of engineering and cofounder of Zarpac Inc. , packaging engineers. Small challenges, he laughs, like: “You have five minutes to tell me what’s wrong, and, by the way, there’s no money to fix it.” His company acquired specialized Procter & Gamble technology for analyzing production systems. In working with manufacturers, he found lack of standards for measurements frustrating, such as one plant that consistently ran at 119% efficiency, according to managers there (which makes no sense). In general, industry talks, but doesn’t walk the walk; is losing knowledge and experience; and doesn’t understand that quality and performance are two sides of the same coin. Past analytical tools were costly, Zepf says, and not easy to use.

Still, “without knowledge-based data, you are just another opinion. Gigabytes of data are often not helpful; 10-50% of data is spurious.” Advice? Zepf says, learn statistics; develop value-added training; use advanced sensors, PCs/PLCs and servo (closed-loop) systems; and buy on lifecycle value not initial price. Some China-built goods can be up to 500% cheaper, but deliver only 30% less value because of design differences that influence lifecycle costs, he suggest. Zepf also advises that any plant document its knowledge base to avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Vision, safety, smarts

Automation technologies can help, says Guerrino Suffi, manager, sensor marketing group, Omron Electronics LLC , including machine vision for intelligence, RFID for traceability, network-capable operator safety controls, and smarter logic/human-machine interfaces. Functional customer-centric platforms and advanced automation solutions offer means for continuous improvement, higher productivity, greater throughput, reduced waste, and lower total cost of ownership.

Comments were made at a June 30 editors’ event, at Omron Electronics in Schaumburg, IL.

For related reading from Control Engineering , see: “ Omron Electronics fuels growth with partners, products. ”

—Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief, Control Engineering,