Packaging Integrator of the Year

Stone Technologies Inc. is recognized for its work with packagers and industry standards.

By Jack Mans for Control Engineering December 1, 2009
More information:
Stone Technolgies Inc.
Rockwell Automation
Wonderware , a business unit of Invensys Systems Inc.
Stone Technologies Inc.

New and advanced automation technologies, including vision systems, robots, motion control, high-tech PLCs and HMIs, and sophisticated distributed-control systems, are having a dramatic impact on packaging equipment and operations. Combined with moves toward completely integrated packaging lines and reduced engineering staffs, this is a demanding time for packaging companies. To meet these challenges, the industry has turned increasingly to system integrators for help with major packaging projects.

To formally recognize this development and help packagers locate and identify high-quality integrators, Packaging Digest , in conjunction with sister media property Control Engineering , instituted its Packaging Integrator of the Year award. Stone Technologies Inc., Chesterfield, MO, has been selected as PD’s Packaging Integrator of the Year for 2009. The award was presented to Stone Technologies President Don Ulrich.

Stone Technologies, which was founded in 1996, is a national systems integrator with resources in the Midwest and Southeast. It provides industrial automation and information services from conceptual design through commissioning for control and manufacturing operations management systems including electrical design and system development.

Stone Technolgies is focused on the consumer products, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. Its integrators have worked extensively in these industries and understand their respective challenges. Stone is a founding member of the Automation Alliance Group, a gold-tier certified member of the Control Systems Integrator Association (CSIA) and has qualified for the highest levels in Rockwell Automation and Wonderware system integrator programs.

Stone Technologies is a leading contributor to the promotion and adoption of packaging and supporting-systems standards. As a company, it drives consensus, paves the road for quicker capital investment return, and reduces the total cost of ownership. Thus, Kirk Weiss, senior project manager at Stone, is directing the OMAC (The Organization for Machine Automation and Control) manufacturing execution system (MES) definitions team, whose charter is to drive global solution commonality and reduce the costs associated with delivering actionable equipment and packaging-line performance information within an organization.

Selection criteria

The winner was chosen from a field of system integrators who had submitted examples of their work, with judging headed by consulting editor Vance VanDoren, who writes for both Packaging Digest and Control Engineering. PD’s panel of judges chose the winner based on essays submitted by each entrant. Judge Walt Kozikowski notes, “Stone Technologies seems to cover all the bases with CSIA certification, written policies, and customer satisfaction. They even try to improve the industry through work on ISA standards panels.” Judge Tom Bullock agrees that Stone Technologies “exemplifies the CSIA-certified organization with its complete set of policies, procedures, and peer group audits.”

Bullock adds, “Stone’s technical competence is enhanced by encouraging engineers to obtain project-management certification and to author technical-conference papers. This also encourages each engineer to become a technical expert on some subject critical to the success of the business.”

Judge Mark T. Hoske is impressed by Stone’s quest for “raving fans,” not just satisfied clients. He notes that Stone still does business with all 20 of the highest revenue clients it has worked for since 1996, averaging nine years of service and 50 projects for each. As a result, Stone has been profitable every year and averages a 20% annual growth rate.

Stone on OEE

In recent years, manufacturing has focused on improving efficiencies and producing more with existing capital equipment and human resources. Stone has been in the forefront of developing OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) systems, ranging from custom solutions using SQL databases and Web reporting to specialized software with custom features for database management and reporting.

Stone has also formed an implementation team with a concentration on plant-floor efficiency, and it has implemented more than 30 successful OEE projects over the last five years in the consumer products, discrete manufacturing, and food/beverage industries.

The challenge with any OEE project is the data and the equipment modeling, as well as the reporting hierarchy. Stone has developed an approach to identify the owners and users of the system and then to fully define the system requirements with their involvement. CHEP USA is an example of Stone’s approach to these projects.

CHEP USA asks for help

CHEP USA is a global provider of pallet and container-pooling services to customers located in 42 countries. It manages the daily movement of 265 million pallets. In order to reduce operating costs due to transportation logistics, CHEP shifted the damage inspection of pallets from regional service centers to smaller, isolated sortation operations within its clients’ warehouses, sending only those pallets requiring repair back to the service centers and keeping the serviceable pallets onsite for reuse.

CHEP also sought to outsource the operation of the sortation equipment to third-party vendors, who would be paid by the number of pallets they processed. This new strategy identified several challenges: how to remotely monitor and diagnose equipment problems; how to create an accurate and fair accounting of each vendor’s productivity; and how to compare the performance of multiple vendors in multiple geographic locations.

CHEP had previously attempted to develop a system to meet its needs with an Australian system integrator, whose system was not scalable to the large number of locations covering the multitude of time zones and localities, so the project was not extended. Stone Technologies was selected as the system integrator for the second attempt at the project due to its expertise with advanced remote data collection and reporting systems.

Reporting capabilities

CHEP wanted a flexible reporting solution that would easily allow operations, management, and maintenance personnel to review the performance of the sortation facilities from any standard desktop/laptop within its enterprise without the cost or complexity of installing custom client-application software to each PC.

The proposed solution would also have to allow third-party operations vendors to access their own performance data; restrict their access to data from other vendors; and still allow CHEP personnel to quickly compare the performance of multiple vendors and sites. Stone developed a semicustom solution based on technologies from Microsoft and Wonderware that would satisfy all of the project requirements, yet be easy to scale to new facilities and be supported by CHEP’s in-house resources. Production data is accessed via one of two mechanisms: dynamic Microsoft Ajax Webpage dashboards for realtime data or static user selectable time/date range Microsoft SRS (SQL reporting services) reports.

Stone Technologies Inc.

President Don Ulrich accepted the Packaging Integrator of the year award from Packaging Digest . Stone was also named an Integrator of the Year in Control Engineering ‘s competition.