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By Brett Smith

The picture of the perfect factory is one that utilizes real-time manufacturing intelligence to achieve optimized performance and minimal unscheduled downtime. As market leaders, these model plants are highly efficient, productive and profitable. By implementing new technology strategies that yield real-time manufacturing intelligence, manufacturers can achieve high levels of optimization and overall equipment effectiveness.

A direct connection to machine controls is used to continuously monitor, track, compare and analyze production parameters. This enables manufacturers to uncover opportunities for improvement and ensure that machines are operating within defined specifications. Being able to view and analyze monitored production parameters from anywhere, at any time, is what provides real-time manufacturing intelligence.

Continuous control-system monitoring can save manufacturers millions of dollars. The ability to monitor dozens of process line parameters, such as temperature and line speed, and alert plant staff to changing conditions can significantly decrease downtime. Continuous monitoring gives remote engineers a direct line of sight into process line activity, enabling them to solve production problems quickly and perform predictive and preventive maintenance. Real-time manufacturing intelligence also enables manufacturers to focus on making process improvements during scheduled downtime.

Understanding overall equipment effectiveness

Although many organizations understand the theory of OEE as a tool to maximize capacity, few have actually put it into practice. Continuous control-system monitoring provides an Internet-enabled OEE tool to monitor the efficiency and manufacturing consistency of each piece of equipment. A continuous control system monitoring service that facilitates constant running of equipment at steady speeds ensures quality and consistency of products.

Continuous control-system monitoring and data analysis improve OEE over time through:
• Proactive 24/7/365 technical support and immediate notification of process deviations
• Reductions in unplanned downtime
• Preventive maintenance
• Continuous process improvement and optimization of machine speeds and material yield Most important, by making accurate OEE numbers readily available, manufacturers can better control machine performance.

Turning data into knowledge

Real-time manufacturing intelligence is aimed at turning raw machine data into valuable information. This information serves to optimize production and, ultimately, create a more strategic business.

Data from the factory floor are vital to making informed business decisions. With a remote monitoring and diagnostics system, off-site support specialists can proactively support plant operations and quickly identify potential problems in the production process. Remote-engineering specialists deliver this information to the manufacturer in the form of detailed reports to facilitate ongoing process improvements. This empowers the manufacturer or specialists with the knowledge and means to gain a competitive advantage.

Once a problem is detected, it can often be corrected remotely before a machine or process fails. This proactive approach can significantly increase plant uptime, help focus internal resources on business growth initiatives and provide a cost-savings advantage over traditional reactive support programs that address problems after they occur.

An "always on" connection over a high-speed data communications network allows plant personnel, business managers and off-site technical support specialists to monitor production data around the clock to gain real-time manufacturing intelligence.

The monitoring system and networks are also designed to meet all of the corporate security requirements to prevent intruders from disrupting operations on the factory floor.

Just as the information age fueled worldwide business growth, real-time manufacturing intelligence is poised to transform the way manufacturers do business.

The key to cost savings

Web-enabling process line functions using continuous monitoring and data analysis services are highly effective in increasing productivity and OEE. These services enable plant personnel, business managers and off-site technical support specialists to view and manage data directly from any Web-enabled PC. This provides them with a comprehensive view of process line activity that is unprecedented in scope, detail and accessibility.

An outsourced approach

Outsourced manufacturing services utilize the expertise and technology of a service provider to deliver a cost-effective productivity solution to manufacturers. Given the right combination of industry expertise, talent and technology, a manufacturing service provider can significantly enhance operational performance—often at a fraction of the cost it would take to accomplish the same goals using in-house technology and resources.

By establishing a direct connection to the manufacturer’s machine controls, the service provider can deliver real-time technical support and data analysis services to predict, prevent and accelerate the resolution of equipment problems from a remote location. In this way, the service provider becomes an extension of the manufacturing organization. Utilizing the expertise and resources of off-site engineering specialists eliminates a significant capital investment in the hardware, software and administrative staff needed to support an internal solution.

Outsourced services ensure the highest levels of security, high-speed networking and fault-tolerant server capacity to store and process data. Internally hosted software applications, which provide fragmented and incomplete functionality—in comparison to outsourced services, are only as reliable as the manufacturer’s networking and computer systems. As such, internal software applications are likely to go down when other systems fail. This is the time when the latest control system settings, current product recipes and process line status are most vital to manufacturers. By storing the manufacturer’s machine settings and control programs at an off-site location, the service provider can ensure software recovery in the event of a disaster, system failure or drive replacement. This enables the manufacturer to resume operations quickly and without any loss of data. The outsourced service model is especially practical in a harsh manufacturing environment, where delicate computer equipment is at greater risk for damage.

Outsourcing control system monitoring and analysis is simply more cost-effective, faster and easier to deploy than in-house investments in technology and personnel.

Decreasing downtime

Because downtime is one of the most costly conditions a manufacturer can experience, a proactive technical support program can generate significant cost savings. In order to effectively diagnose problems and make process improvements, it’s vital that remote engineers have a deep understanding of the manufacturing industries in which their customers specialize.

Integrated technical support

By leveraging real-time manufacturing intelligence acquired through continuous control-system monitoring, remote-engineering specialists have the insight to solve process line problems more quickly, efficiently and effectively than traditional technical support centers. Remote-engineering services are designed to complement a manufacturer’s in-house capabilities, or assist them with 24/7 technical support to help reduce internal labor costs.

Protecting manufacturing investments

Continuous-monitoring services can also generate cost savings by protecting existing investments. The direct high-speed connection used for online monitoring provides a conduit for regular backup of system software and machine settings. This protects manufacturers against information loss due to electrical failure, disaster or system lockup. Regular backup of machine data also provides version control to ensure that equipment is operating with the latest settings.

Leveraging the value of real-time manufacturing intelligence

• Analysis tools. Process line monitoring and data analysis are also used to identify optimum production benchmarks and set thresholds for process variables. When any metric that affects output quality falls outside "best case" standards, plant staff are alerted.

Outsourced technical support staff also leverage monitored parameters by providing insightful reports on how to reduce costs, improve quality and enhance productivity.

• Historical database. By storing monitored machine parameters and reporting support cases to a central database, plant managers and remote engineers can cross-reference current process line data with past activity to more quickly identify and solve problems.

• Automating traditional manual processes. Continuous monitoring and data analysis services can also be used to incorporate traditional manual processes, such as quality assurance testing, into an Internet-enabled centralized data repository. This augments process line problem resolution and maximizes production uptime.

The flexibility of continuous support

Every manufacturing company is different. Some are big. Some are small. Some have process experts on staff. Some don’t. Some need help in a few specific areas of production. Others need help in many areas of production. Fortunately, because outsourced services are cost-effective and flexible, they provide the best solution for any manufacturer.

The bigger picture

Continuous monitoring and data analysis of process line activity, coupled with remote 24/7 engineering support, can help manufacturers realize optimized production. These services bring manufacturing operations in closer alignment with corporate headquarters, to ensure that business plans are in step with the needs and goals of the plant, and vice versa. They also pave the way for the future integration of enterprise applications that synchronize manufacturing operations with customers and suppliers. This holds great potential to accelerate and enhance the entire manufacturing process from raw material to finished product.

About the author

Brett Smith is co-founder ei3 Corp., which specializes in using the Internet as a vehicle to help manufacturers improve productivity. Prior to the launch of ei3, Smith served on the restructuring team for Delta V Technologies, an industrial engineering subsidiary of Presstek Inc. Letters to the editor regarding this article can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com.

Copyright 2002 ISA—The Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ISA. This paper will be presented at the ISA 2002 Emerging Technology Conference, Oct. 21–24, 2002, in Chicago.