Hitting the asset management sweet spot

Exploring the role played by asset management systems as part of British Sugars drive to create four factories of the future.

By Control Engineering Europe January 12, 2022
Courtesy: Cincinnati Incorporated/Steve Rourke, CFE Media and Technology

With factories that were first built more than 100 years ago, British Sugar is able to process around eight million tonnes of sugar beet each year, producing around 1.2 million tonnes of sugar. However, with better asset management, their efficiency and production could go up.

The company has invested £250 million over the last five years into transforming its four sugar factories into digitally enabled manufacturing plants. These ‘Factories of the Future’ are able to deliver over 50% of the UK’s demand for sugar and are able to manufacture more sugar than the 18 factories operated by the company in the 1970s.

Sugar processing is complex, energy-intensive and takes place across a 42 week campaign each year that starts in September to coincide with the sugar beet harvest from across East Anglia and the East Midlands. Once harvested, crops travel to one of four sites in Bury St Edmunds, Cantley, Newark or Wissington, before being washed and processed.

After washing, the sugar beet is sliced into thin strips called cossettes and mixed with hot water to extract the sugar, while lime solution removes any impurities, creating a syrup. The syrup is then filtered, heated, concentrated and seeded with tiny sugar crystals, which are grown into the required size prior to being washed, dried and cooled.

The scale and specialist capabilities of equipment involved in this process means that effective maintenance is crucial to optimize availability throughout each campaign’s processing window.

To support its maintenance operations British Sugar has. For many years, relied on the Infor EAM asset management system. More recently it has embraced the benefits of multi-tenant cloud to enhance safety, reliability, productivity, efficiency and engineering productivity across the entire business.

The shift is helping British Sugar to move from a planned maintenance model to a predictive maintenance one, whereby monitoring takes place to identify where equipment is falling short of performing optimally, so that remedial action can be taken before it breaks. In turn this reduces downtime, maximizes quality and minimizes risk.

Connected asset maintenance

In order to realize the potential of a predictive maintenance model, optimize benefits, and deliver against Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) principles, including sensor-derived insights, connectivity across the company’s core systems is paramount.

Because British Sugar’s sites are all in rural areas, network reliability represented a barrier to achieving a truly connected enterprise as the digital solutions were deployed. To address this challenge, the company is installing private mobile networks in order to ensure secure, high performance, robust connectivity.

These networks are crucial as British Sugar deploys EAM to be used by those on the shop floor, irrespective of site or location. Having access to the depth and breadth of maintenance-focused insights within the asset maintenance solution at the source, means that British Sugar plant employees can observe, record, input and retrieve insights in a timely manner. Previously, they had to make notes manually, risking time lags and errors pending a return to a desktop in an office.

“As a large site, the time taken to walk around a plant, make notes and return to an office is not insignificant,” explained Nick Smalley, program manager at British Sugar.

“We can also use mobile applications to contact remote specialist support at the site of respective equipment, which helps to demonstrate the specifics of the issue and expedites fault resolution. Being able to access high quality information – such as a full equipment record, comprising work orders, plant history and supporting information – we can quickly complete details and take action immediately.”

Not only does the software improve accuracy, efficiency and reduce risk, it also helps British Sugar to attract new talent. “It stands to reason that young talent is unlikely to be motivated by the prospect of working with older, manual systems, so while it’s hard to identify a bottom line benefit, the ability to compete for the best talent is hugely important for us strategically,” continued Smalley.

Sustainability and EAM

Sustainability is at the forefront of British Sugar’s strategy. Sugar beet travels on average just 28 miles from farm to factory. As part of its Factory of the Future investment its operations are incredibly efficient, as illustrated by less than 200g of waste for every tonne of sugar produced. This is because process outputs are used to make products including aggregate, topsoil and animal feed, thus making the best use of all available resources to minimize cost and operate efficiently and responsibly.

Looking to the future, British Sugar hopes to use its Factory of the Future to explore more ways in which to drive performance improvement and enhance sustainability activities.

“Infor EAM is one of our core pillars moving forward, helping us to take our maintenance practices to the next level, consolidate our predictive maintenance model, and use EAM as a springboard from which to capitalize on new technologies. There are a million different ways to use the insights the solution provides us with. Specific initiatives we have earmarked as having a great deal of potential include using AI to analyze sensor information and raise work orders automatically; supporting resource planning to refine skills utilization and uphold stringent safety parameters; and integration with British Sugar’s ERP system to automatically order spare parts, streamline inventory and assume greater control of stock,” concludes Smalley.

“As our Factory of the Future evolves, we look forward to our asset management system evolving with us. Twenty years ago, our maintenance was reactive, and for the last 20 it has been planned. Today, we’re excited to embrace an era where sensors and AI can help us to realize a truly proactive, predictive maintenance model which not only helps us to maximize uptime and quality, but also capitalize on IIOT and Industry 4.0. Infor EAM will help ensure that we make the right capital investments to avoid unnecessary spending.”

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe’s website.

Original content can be found at www.controlengeurope.com.


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