Next-generation batch technologies drive productivity and profitability
BECAUSE of economic and business pressures, manufacturers of specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals and food and beverage products are being asked to produce more – and deliver higher quality – with less. This is driving companies of all sizes to examine the efficiency and costs associated with their batch applications, which have a direct impact on business productivity and profitability. Specifically, operations personnel are being tasked with squeezing more out of plant assets; being more effective at troubleshooting batch processes; identifying new methods of reducing production costs; and finding more efficient waysto maintain the complex sequencing software required for batch production.
In contrast with these needs and desires, we spoke to batch manufacturers, and they told us that many control room operators – because of technology limitations – don’t have enough visibility or control over their batch processes. Some reported that they didn’t know what tasks were coming when, or that they lacked the capability to foresee delays that could lead to bottlenecks. Many also reported that even when they knew about a problem, the troubleshooting methods they used were ineffective.
One call to action was the need for technology that better aligns process control systems with batch operations. This is because the efficiency of process control systems has direct impact on the bottom line of batch operations.
Another finding was that many facilities are running sequential-based processes that require considerable manual intervention and fine-tuning. This increases the risk of error, and scope for inefficiencies. Not surprisingly, we learned that production leaders want fully-automated systems that allow tasks to be conducted concurrently. This, they believe, will increase productivity and lower costs.
Our study also found that production leaders want their teams to be proactive – for example, to anticipate or predict upcoming work activities or to identify potential production problems that could lead to downtime. Instead, most are focussing on reactive activities such as maintaining and patching their batch servers.
Compounding the challenges of operational teams is the reality that an increasing number of senior operations and process engineers are retiring and being replaced by less experienced personnel. This is leaving a skills gap when it comes to the control and maintenance of critical batch assets.
To address these challenges, automation suppliers are using the latest technology, and are combining distributed control, batch automation and advanced visualisation to enhance engineers’ views and understanding of batch production.
For example, our Experion Batch uses a human-machine interface with intuitive visual analytics to help plant operators better anticipate, and respond to, abnormal situations. Visualisation technology allows engineers to examine what happened historically and create look-ahead views. At any point, they can drill into the data for additional context. Overall, visual analytics provide engineers with deeper insight into upcoming events or potential delays; reduce stress; and enable them to take on parallel tasks with confidence – knowing that there is sufficient time before the next action is required.
Overall, visual analytics provide engineers with deeper insight into upcoming events or potential delays; reduce stress; and enable them to take on parallel tasks with confidence – knowing that there is sufficient time before the next action is required
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