Modern batch control
A recipe for success in process-control operations
By Dan UpDyke
Batch process manufacturers are continuously looking for new ways to improve processes and production techniques and to be more efficient to remain competitive. Although manufacturers see new technologies as a key to improving their operations, there is a mindset shift occurring about the role those technologies should play. Rather than trying to make a batch process fit the available technology, manufacturers want batch systems to have flexibility and options to better fit and adapt to the needs of the process.
Modern batch systems, which incorporate technology advances and new capabilities, can help industrial producers do just that. As batch users in the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries seek to implement or modernize their existing batch systems, the three core capabilities they should look for in their new control and information technology are mobility, enhanced controller integration, and information-enabled decision making.
Traditional batch systems use server-client thick architectures, with user interfaces that are stationed either close to the production line or in a control room. As a result, workers always need to be at those interfaces to make or approve any supervisory changes, or to troubleshoot and resolve production issues.
This can be especially cumbersome in large process-control operations that contain multiple lines or multiple facilities. There is an inherent productivity cost and lost opportunity when the workforce is spread out and forced to walk large distances because of the constraints of legacy platforms.
For instance, production can come to a standstill while a supervisor is sought out and then brought to a station to approve an action, such as starting a new batch or making a recipe parameter change. Likewise, a downtime event or product changeover can last longer than necessary simply because of the time spent waiting for a technician to arrive.
A batch system with mobile capabilities frees workers from these time-draining activities. A mobile platform allows operators, supervisors, and maintenance technicians to perform a range of actions—such as running schedules, viewing logs, and troubleshooting diagnostics—from a mobile device regardless of their location. This reduces steps and improves workflows in batch operations to keep production running and minimize downtime.
Also, mobile solutions must be easy to implement and offer the same control and security as traditional control methods. A mobile solution should not be a simple display of a traditional human-machine interface on a mobile device. The wide array of devices, operating systems, and sizes calls for an adaptable interface with consistent usability in all applications.
Enhanced controller integration
In many cases, there has been a shift to place custom-batch sequences in the controller, but a modern batch system should provide flexibility regardless of the infrastructure. Depending on a facility’s specific architecture and process needs, the correct solution could be controller-based, server-based, or a combination of the two.
Bringing batch operations to the controller—and closer to a process—can be especially useful in critical applications, where close control of equipment or batch processes must be maintained. A bio reactor or tire rubber mix, for example, may have transition speeds between phases that are too fast for a server. And a simple server disconnect could cause a lost batch and cost the company hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Maintaining a server-based solution is also a key component of modern batch solutions. Managing large, complex batch operations is best performed in a supervisory system independent of the controllers. A server-based batch solution provides a layer of security and incorporates visualization capabilities that are required to fully contribute to a connected batch enterprise. As process control solutions continue to become more integrated with manufacturing execution systems, warehousing, and enterprise resource planning systems, it is important to incorporate a batch-management server as a major component within the infrastructure, so there are more options for future integration, connectivity, and scalability across large facilities.
A modern batch system truly differentiates itself by easily allowing server-based and controller-based architectures to work together and create a unified user experience. Consider the example of a clean-in-place skid for a pharmaceutical operation. Traditionally, end users receive the skid from the equipment builder and then have to reprogram it for integration with the batch control system. Not only are the end users paying for unused engineering, but they also have to spend additional time rewriting the skid’s code and redoing the testing and commissioning. Building the batch operation into the controller eliminates the need to rewrite coding, because the skid can be seamlessly integrated into the larger control system. This helps end users reduce startup and commissioning times by as much as two months, while also minimizing or even eliminating redesign and engineering costs.
Information-enabled decision making
Modern batch software allows end users to configure, view, and obtain batch-sequence data stored in the controller. This increases visibility and accessibility to all stages of production. In a connected enterprise, batch and process data can be seamlessly shared via industrial-process and enterprise systems to support better decision making at all levels of an organization.
Campari, the Italy-based spirits giant, saw an opportunity for using its data at a new processing and bottling facility that was recently constructed for its iconic Wild Turkey bourbon. The 144,000-square-foot facility houses approximately 40 tanks, as well as three high-speed automated bottling lines and one manual bottling line.
Campari implemented a modern process batch system for ingredient receipt, batch management, and control across the processing operations. The company coupled this system with a visualization software that allows operators to monitor the flow of spirits down to the gallon. Operators can use this information to track production and make reports for regulatory purposes.
In the 10 months from the opening of the new facility to when it became fully operational, operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) increased from 10 to 20 percent to approximately 70 percent. Despite this significant improvement, the operations team set its sights even higher with the goal of reaching a best-in-class OEE performance level of 85 percent.
“The system has helped us get better and better every day with regard to our processing, bottling, and material-handling operations,” said Wayne Knabel, packaging director for Wild Turkey. “Our KPIs [key performance indicators] are all trending up, and our cost per case is going down.”
Of course, with greater connectivity and information sharing across an enterprise come new security risks. Batch end users must keep this in mind when specifying and selecting a batch control system. New control technologies, for example, are developed using a design-for-security philosophy, in which quality, resiliency, and operational integrity are built into the product.
Improving systems and empowering users
Batch manufacturers today are under pressure to increase production performance, achieve faster product changes and turnovers, and improve yields, while at the same time meeting quality, safety, and compliance goals. As a result, they are looking for more innovative batch systems that go beyond a satisfactory compliance experience.
Modern batch systems can help address these challenges by providing faster, more reliable control and by empowering workers through smarter, more responsive decision making.