Automation Insider: Automation Technologies Are Real

garymintchell“Are all those technologies real?” he asked (“he” being a maintenance pro listening to me speak about digital technologies during a MARTS 2013 session. I didn’t mind the interruption—in fact, I enjoy that type of interaction. My presentation, though, was intended to be a straightforward discussion on the benefits of reading diagnostic information from existing HART devices. I was also broaching the idea of using information from an MES application to learn more about problems that technicians identified through their CMMS systems before leaving for the field. This guy’s question, however, stopped me in my tracks. 

Time for a reality check
One person in the room that day seemed to be up-to-date on the benefits of Foundation Fieldbus or Profibus PA. Another attendee voiced some outdated information that continues to survive. (In his case, engineering—or someone at his site-—had told him that it was impossible to extract diagnostic data from all the HART devices they had in the field, and that they couldn’t feed an MES system with data so his maintenance crew could get anything more than alarm data before going out to check on a problem.)

This discussion could not have been timelier. There are few better places to gather information about technologies that work than an event focused on operations management. A week before MARTS, I attended the MESA International North American 2013 Conference in Greenville, SC. Several individuals who had implemented a manufacturing enterprise solution/manufacturing operations management (MES/MOM) solution spoke about lessons learned and benefits gained from the technology. I was able to attend two of these sessions. 

In the first session, the speaker had used the Workflow application from Savigent (www.savigent.com) as part of a continuous improvement program specifically targeted at improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) numbers. The second speaker implemented a solution from Rockwell Software (www.rockwellautomation.com), also as part of a continuous improvement effort. 

The first speaker noted that rather than saying “what gets measured can get managed,” we should say, “what gets managed gets improved.” He had been looking for a platform to automate data collection. Wishing to overcome the need for additional capital while reducing costs and improving OEE, the company wanted to track metrics and manage accountability. Ultimately, by gaining increased visibility into manufacturing processes, gap analysis could be employed to improve manufacturing metrics. Manual data entry gave false OEE reads. Better data gave insight that led to scrap reduction of 6%.

The second speaker, from a major automotive operation, used a holistic approach in pursuing previously hidden knowledge and value. Much of his project involved plant visualization. When the project began, the site had virtually no visualization system—or only a legacy one—which meant it lacked data for problem identification. The Rockwell Software program unlocked machine data which, in turn, provided the desired visualization. One of the most important things this plant learned is the value of having a unified data model.

Both of these cases involved IT projects run in cooperation with process engineering—showing that it is possible for these two groups to collaborate. They also prove that automation technologies are “real.” 

My message to you is that maintenance and reliability professionals must become part of the solution. Demand (or ask nicely) to be provided with the information you need to do your jobs better. Failure to utilize all the tools that technology offers is a recipe for a failing plant. MT

Gary Mintchell, of This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , was  co-founder and long-time Editor-in-Chief of Automation World magazine. He writes at www.garymintchellsfeedforward.com.

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