Consumable manufacturing leads and follows innovation

In the conformity of process manufacturing there is room for change. Many process manufacturers are finding the need to embrace new technologies and ideas. This is happening even as technologies created for the process industry – especially in the areas of food, pharmaceutical and petrochemical manufacturing – are finding a place on to other manufacturing floors.

By Bob Vavra, Editor August 1, 2006

In the conformity of process manufacturing there is room for change. Many process manufacturers are finding the need to embrace new technologies and ideas. This is happening even as technologies created for the process industry — especially in the areas of food, pharmaceutical and petrochemical manufacturing — are finding a place on to other manufacturing floors.

There will always be a gap between the manufacturing of durable goods and consumable goods. There will always be some processes that simply don’t overlap. Yet emerging automation technologies such as wireless, manufacturing execution systems and RFID are renewing manufacturers’ interest in high-speed manufacturing. These technologies are helping manufacturers reduce costs and ensure quality and safety for both workers and consumers.

As a result, suppliers are creating products that meet specific needs for the process manufacturer and are adapting existing technologies from the discrete side of the process.

“The challenge is to improve speed to market by embracing technology everywhere you can. It’s giving workers on the plant floor on-the-spot decision making,” said John Blanchard, principal analyst for the ARC Advisory Group, Boston. “We’re on the verge of a new breakthrough in how manufacturing is done. What’s happening is not just IT technology, but IT technology that makes a difference.”

That change has been slow to fully emerge, Blanchard noted. “You don’t turn the ship on a dime,” he said. “I talked to one vice president of engineering who said, ‘I’ve got to change the mind of everyone in my company.’”

Ed Grooms, an industry consultant in chemicals and life sciences business development for Zurich, Switzerland-based ABB, concurs with that view. “The critical nature of the products and the conservative nature of the industry make deployment slower than in other industries,” Grooms said. “The facilities for pharmaceuticals tend to be much smaller than petrochem or other large, open or outdoor facilities, and that reduces the benefit. However, as the technology becomes more and more stable and reliable, the industry will slowly move to incorporate it.”

Creating solutions

Some solutions for these industries are extensions of existing technology, such as control or wireless. Some are specific solutions that meet specific needs in one industry, then expand to another application.

Woodhead Industries’ Ultra-Lock is one example of the latter. As a stainless steel connector for electrical connections, it eliminates the problems of over-tightening of connectors while making it easy to clean in environments where sanitation of equipment is not just crucial, but regulated.

“You’re talking about equipment being washed down with 1,200-psi cleaners with elevated temperatures and chemicals,” said John Sullivan of Woodhead Industries, Deerfield, IL. “If the connection is made improperly, you start to build up corrosion in the connector, which leads to intermittency. Motors also need maintenance, and many hard-wired motors are cumbersome to change out.”

The Ultra-Lock was a response to many of the changes Sullivan has seen in the process industry in recent years. “The food and beverage market has seen a lot of growth in automation,” Sullivan said. “They have to compete on a global basis and they have to improve their automation constantly. What we see that is interesting is that even while they’re trying to eliminate man-hours, they are trying to improve accuracy.”

As in most aspects of process industries, time is money. A lot of money. “When they do need to do maintenance, it costs them $15,000 to $20,000 a minute when you include lost productivity,” he said. “Accuracy is critical, and the device manufacturers are offering that accuracy. They’re putting more sensing devices in equipment.”

It also makes a difference in an industry where product lines change rapidly. “With quick disconnection, systems can easily be reconfigured,” said Sullivan. “That flexibility works very well for conveyor and systems manufacturers in that industry.”

Another area of significant change has been in petrochemicals, where the energy consumed to make energy products is a constant challenge to be met by manufacturers.

“Any large industrial user is taking a look at their primary service voltage equipment, especially in the 15- to 27-kV class,” said David Temple, product manager for low and medium-voltage assembled products, Square D/Schneider Electric, Palatine, IL. “Petrochemical is a heavy user of medium voltage equipment, and the electrical loads are large and often include co-generation. Cost effective power distribution and protection that provides reliable operation is critical.”

“One difference, when you look at petrochemical when it comes to arc flash, is that there’s often a secondary hazard there,” added Joseph Weigel, product manager, Square D Services Marketing.

“Beyond the hazard of the arc flash itself, the last thing they need is any kind of a flame or fire. I suspect that’s part of the reason they’ve taken the lead in pushing the safety issue.”

Square D is among a number of electrical providers who participate in the continuing IEEE effort to inform manufacturers about the dangers of arc flash. Weigel credits the petrochemical industry for being out front on this crucial issue.

“It all came about in the mid-1980s when DuPont and other petrochemical companies realized that there was a hazard there beyond shock and electrocution, and they pushed for the development of 70E standard,” Weigel said. “In services, I’m involved with retrofitting the installed base to improve safety and reliability. The electrical infrastructure tends to be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The petrochemical industry has definitely been ahead of the curve on this issue.”

As a result, Temple said Square D developed arc-resistant switchgear that meets the stringent safety requirements. While its deployment in petrochemical plants continues to expand, it has a wider application for other industries as well.

“There’s been more technology in electrical distribution in the last 10 years. A lot of that has been driven by the safety standards,” said Weigel. “But when we think about tearing down complete lines to upgrade electrical distribution equipment, there is a cost-benefit issue to be considered. You’re not just talking about the cost of the lines, but also the downtime. In many cases, retrofit is the right solution, especially in petrochemical.”

But there’s a need to provide information to plant managers to help “turn the ship.”

“Because the safety standards have evolved so quickly, we need to educate management about what the costs are financially. I think that’s very useful,” added Weigel. “All of the major electrical manufacturers are working on solutions for this issue.”

Regulations and price

Nowhere are the issues of manufacturing costs as acute as in the pharmaceutical industry. Safety is a paramount concern in pharmaceuticals, of course, but the demand for speed to market is high. An aging population and new wonder drugs combine to put more pressure on manufacturing processes.

“Within the pharmaceutical market, most of the growth is due to development of new treatments and an aging population that uses the treatments. The completion of the human genome map has been key to the explosion in the burgeoning biotech segment of the pharmaceutical market,” said Grooms. “The customer base is becoming concerned about product prices. That has caused both the industry and the government regulatory bodies to consider ways to improve manufacturing throughput and simultaneously reduce manufacturing costs.”

“Due to regulatory and better engineering practices, the use of an integrated control and safety system as typically supplied to the oil and gas industries is now being considered and ordered by customers in these industries,” added Peter Fox, account support manager, chemicals and petrochemical, ABB. “Similarly, these companies are looking more closely at the benefits of fully integrated safety systems.”

More integrated production systems are another issue, even in an industry that makes large quantities of the same thing. “The pharmaceutical manufacturers do a very good job of producing a repeatable product of high quality,” Grooms said. “The group lags in optimization of the manufacturing processes where they typically run at well under 50% efficiency and often around 25%. They also lag behind in acceptance of emerging technology and tend to be very conservative and risk averse.”

“The pharmaceutical industry has perfected and streamlined the ability to document and keep quality records,” said Janice Abel, a pharmaceutical industry consultant at Invensys Process Systems, Foxboro, MA. “Other industries could also learn about quality records and validation. For new projects, the requirements documents are generally better developed than in other industries, and the result is projects that are finished on time and on budget.

“One example is that pharmaceutical manufacturers could make better use of asset management, advanced controls and also expert systems that are widely used in other industries to increase yields and improve product quality,” said Abel. “With just a few new methodologies, tools and expertise, manufacturers could improve their downtime, quality and yields.”

Changes in a global market

And all this takes place, Blanchard notes, as emerging global markets and mature domestic markets seek different products in different ways from the same manufacturers. “There’s that change (in the U.S.) from the mass market to more of a niche market,” he said. “If you go into the growth markets, you face the exact opposite. They are less sophisticated markets and less of a value proposition.

“When you take a look at the bottom line, everyone in manufacturing must contribute to margin expansion,” said Blanchard. “Speed to market is the key. That requires understanding the strategy, optimizing the portfolio and seeking continuous improvement and supply chain optimization. The strategy is an agile, innovative enterprise — innovation before performance. You need as customized a process as possible. Innovation is the key.”

It also means changing the way product is tracked and processed. RFID has been a leading technology in the process industry, especially in the food industry. “Requirements for tracking and tracing are more about business issues than regulatory issues,” Blanchard said. “One recall can kill a company, so instead of recalling 2 million pounds of beef, you only have to recall 100,000 pounds.”

RFID also has profound applications in maintenance, notes Leif Ericksen, director, industry solutions for Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, NY. “Companies are tagging assets to streamline and improve maintenance,” Ericksen said. “They can take the handheld device to the asset, read the tag and know all the information they need to perform the maintenance needed. “Now you’re sure about what you’re doing, and the information you’re likely to collect is better,” Ericksen added. “Some of the early adopters were in the refining industry, which is an asset-intensive industry.”

Ericksen sees RFID as an emerging solution that could succeed bar codes in many areas. “In some cases, people are taking a second look, and some are taking a first look,” he said. “What makes it a compelling technology is that it is now coming of age. It had been used in limited applications, but now there are many more options.”

The trend, said Blanchard, is the connection of business, production and maintenance systems into one management process. Federal quality and safety regulations are a critical issue, and the need for precise tracking is just as critical. “These requirements cannot be met with a paper records system,” Blanchard said.

There also needs to be a new approach to putting technology into manufacturing, Ericksen added. “The primary key to (technology) deployment in these industries is the buy-in of the customers — operators, technicians and line of business managers,” he said. “Many companies deploy technology as technology, not as an enabler to improving the performance of the people running the business.


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Wireless applications drive new efficiencies

ABB and Invensys are among a large group of manufacturers offering wireless solutions in industries where more sensors are needed and wired solutions may be impractical. “Wireless is seen in maintenance but has not been included in manufacturing in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Ed Grooms of ABB. “There are some moves currently to utilize some of the technology in areas, such as utility systems and environmental control and monitoring.”

The same issues apply in the petrochemical areas. “For operators, the use of mobile terminals as HMIs allows the freedom for operators to control and monitor the process from the field, and has been done to a certain level by radio paging alarms and text messages,” Fox said. “Now the availability of full graphics and other packages on a hazardous-area-usable PC make this capability more attractive.

“In this way, an operator who has to manually carry out a task in the field, such as loading additions into a reactor or taking samples, can immediately confirm that the action has taken place without the delay from returning to the control room or going to a hardwired field terminal to input this information.”

But those solutions also have appeal to manufacturers of all types. Remote monitoring and additional sensing offer manufacturers greater information on the plant floor — and greater accuracy in the manufacturing process. “Even in the absence of a wireless communications standard, at the device level, end users are using proprietary solutions to help solve control and monitoring problems,” said Gareth Johnson of ABB. “It is clear that users are installing wireless instrument networks for monitoring or temporary ad-hoc measurements where it is difficult or expensive to run a cabled solution. These temporary installations are often used to increase the view of plant dynamics.”

Janice Abel of Invensys said there are a number of strategies available to successfully deploy wireless on the plant floor:

Survey your entire company to determine where wireless technologies can best support your business strategy

Work with a network consultant that can assess your wireless needs and design a system that is consistent with your wireless strategy, policies and quality system

Design architecture that will achieve these goals effectively

Select and purchase hardware and software that is most cost-effective, proven and scalable

Implement the solution seamlessly

Conduct ongoing maintenance, support and optimization services

Work with a validation consultant with extensive experience with wireless technologies and networks.

“Few companies have the resources to maintain staff necessary for all of these steps, especially because demand for specialists with relevant skills is very high,” Abel added. “As such, outsourcing to one of the emerging specialist firms is currently the most cost effective strategy for companies that want to enjoy the benefits of wireless networking most immediately with the least risk.”

— Bob Vavra