Rockwell Automation: Effectively, efficiently apply controls

By Control Engineering Staff November 18, 2005

Efficient applications of automation can make manufacturing more profitable (and desirable as a career choice). Effective use and integration of information throughout manufacturing can make the enterprise safer, more reliable, and profitable. Quantifying automation benefits assists in “selling” current and future controls projects internally. These were among messages at the Rockwell Automation Manufacturing Perspectives media event, on Nov. 15, in St. Louis, precursor to the company’s two-day Automation Fair . Comments and insights follow.

Keith Nosbusch , chairman and chief executive officer, Rockwell Automation , says an integrated architecture with plant-wide information system will provide the next quantum leap for manufacturing productivity. Investments have to be measurable; acceptable time for return on investment is less than half of what it was five years ago. To create a better future, industry needs to work to dispel the unfortunate perception that manufacturing careers are full of backbreaking, menial, thankless, and repetitive tasks. The power of automation has removed majority of those kinds of activities from manufacturing. The latest and greatest technologies can be found on the plant floor. Manufacturing is one of the only areas that creates wealth in an economy, increases the standard of living, and offers life-long, competitive global environment for people to learn, live, and grow. More than 60% of Rockwell Automation charitable giving goes toward education, to get young people excited about engineering, science, and math… the components of manufacturing.

John Engler , president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers (and former Michigan governor), noting the value of industry, says something like two-thirds of all patents relate to manufacturing. NAM is looking at how to get people interested in manufacturing at a younger age. It’s very clear that the focus needs to shift to look at manufacturing and related skills more favorably. No one should leave school without having a skill, but we don’t test or measure that very well. At NAM, I worry about currency issues, financing excess capacity, and global competition for capital. I also worry that internationally, the ground rules for manufacturers aren’t the same.

Bill Taylor , president and chief executive officer, Mercedes Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), says training and education have been a challenge as Mercedes-Benz launched and expanded its first U.S. plant. As Alabama’s largest exporter, MBUSI and its people produce something that’s measurable. Where else but in manufacturing can you find technologies, people, and processes? It’s holistic, touching so many parts of the business. Company efforts include an 11th and 12th grade apprentice program that’s half class work and half hands-on training in a manufacturing setting. Those completing the program have the opportunity to apply for a position, which includes 57 hours of testing, covering teamwork, ability to learn, and communication. A $600-million MBUSI plant expansion doubled employment on site to more than 4,000 team members.

Rob Crow , controls engineering manager, Tri-Way Manufacturing (OEM for machining power-train components) talks about ways of saving customers money, including reducing project delivery time from 52 to 32 weeks; upgrading operator and maintenance interfaces to reduce start-up time and ease troubleshooting, with remote monitoring; and integration of I/O devices, HMI, and machine safeguarding. One automotive customer saved an estimated $1.5 million with 50% reduction in engineering and installation time, 50% savings in machine costs, and 40% less floor space. HMIs can switch languages on the fly and offer diagnostics and prompts for maintenance.

Simon Hurricks , machine dynamics engineer, Genesis Energy , New Zealand, tells of efforts to install and use condition monitoring at Huntly Power Station, with four 250-MW, coal- and natural gas-fired generating units. Pictures and statistics emphasize costs of catastrophic failure, in damage, downtime, repairs, and lost generating opportunity. For instance, one main turbo-alternator, 250 MW at 16.5 kV, produces 2,300 psi at 1,004 degrees F (540 degrees C), with 100 tons of rotating weight at 3,000 rpm. It gets a statutory inspection 5 days a year and a major overhaul every 4 years for 13 weeks. Online vibration monitoring offers protection and diagnostics. Oil condition is analyzed, valves exercised, and stress monitored. A catastrophic failure of a similar unit at another utility showed a pile of rubble that cost $100 million, not including lost generation in 18 months of downtime. Investments in predictive maintenance technologies are worth quantifying.

Carlos Patterson , project manager, Panama Canal Authority (now a for-profit enterprise), discussed upgrades from original 1914 mechanical controls to state-of-the-art Rockwell Automation, with more than 80,000 I/O points and more than 800 PLCs in the nine-lock complex. He shows how human-machine interfaces provide exact information of what’s going on, reality on screen. All operations were manual and now can run full automatic, semi-automatic or manual, with less downtime and more throughput (perhaps a few more ships a year), and a 0.5-1% reduction in incidents. It used to run to fail with replacements required with many custom mechanical parts. Now repairs use commercial hydraulic and electrical items available from multiple vendors, with the work done during operation while about 13,000 ships a year pass through.

Sujeet Chand , senior vice president, Advanced Technology and chief technology officer, Rockwell Automation , looks at technology trends, citing major customer concerns. First is integration of information technology and factory controls, compounded by mandates to comply with federal regulations and Wal-Mart requirements. Next is a second wave of productivity pressure, with a need to save about $750 million a year with greater efficiencies and more waste reductions. Finally, third is need for greater flexibility: more product differentiation, smaller batches, and unique packaging.

Mark T. Hoske , Control Engineering