I laid out editorial direction for a magazine I helped to start with two basic ideas: contribute to thought leadership in industrial automation; and, tell stories of intelligent application of automation where the “heroes” of the story were the people doing the work not the products they used.

Seventeen years ago if you asked a company for a success story (you never get the “tried it and failed stories”) the formula was “Joe had a problem; Joe bought this list of products from his supplier; problem was solved and Joe was happy.”

Rockwell Automation has a Digital Transformation group headed by Vice President Keith Higgins. The PR folks sent me a “teaser” for an article about real-world application and benefits of digital transformation attributed to Higgins. I haven’t done many application stories at The Manufacturing Connection, so I jumped at the chance to get a real example for what companies are describing as digital transformation. I sent a bunch of questions. I received the formula company (all companies, not only Rockwell) app story.

However, reading into the story which I’m about to share were some lessons about successes from applying digital technologies and also to temper your enthusiasm lest you picture digital transformation like Clark Kent entering a telephone booth (remember those?) and emerging as Superman. While not so dramatic, nonetheless applying digital technologies can enhance productivity and therefore profitability.

This is a story about Agropur, a North American dairy processing company. Not a small one. It consists of over 3,367 dairy farmers who rely on 37 facilities across North America, processing over 1.5 billion gallons of milk into numerous dairy products, resulting in $5.9 billion in sales each year.

The company’s largest facility in Ontario had legacy industrial technologies which faced operational issues and downtime inhibiting its ability to produce the necessary data to continuously improve operations.

So, problem = downtime + inadequate data collection. Proposed solution = implement a standardized, plant-wide IT platform to collect, analyze, and understandably present data.

Agropur had already invested heavily in industrial technology at its Don Mills, Ontario facility, but none of those solutions have been able to provide it with the seamless data insights it needed to continually improve its operations. Data was not efficiently collected costing more than 2,500 hours per year and what data was collected could not be presented to management in such a way to enable continuous improvement teams.

On top of the data collection issue, the Don Mills facility’s equipment and systems were prone to failure. When the facility went down, it was forced to restore from the latest backup. That was no small feat considering there was no way to determine which of their seven maintenance laptops had the latest backup.

These inefficiencies and challenges drove Agropur to begin a search for a standardized, plant-wide

Rockwell Automation together with Grantek Systems Integration, a Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork Solution Partner, deployed the new system with Agropur.

The result was an entirely new automation system built from the ground up. The system wasn’t only focused on creating a new way to collect data, it was also focused on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), performance, capacity and more. From my point of view, the emphasis on OEE was unfortunate, but I guess it worked for the customer.

The technology involved included the Allen-Bradley family of ControlLogix controllers, PowerFlex drives, and PanelVew human machine interface (HMI) hardware from Rockwell Automation. Running FactoryTalk View Site Edition software on a virtualized server, each HMI could establish the standard for all additional software. This system collected data from production and provided information to operators to help them improve operations.

Supervisors decided to use OEE for benchmarking using FactoryTalk Metrics software, which collected performance data to power informed decisions.

With the information solution in place, employees from across the facility could see what was occurring on the plant floor and use that data to make continuous improvements.

Benefits: The Agropur team could eliminate 2,500 hours of manual data collection each year. Additionally, significant hours were saved annually thanks to the ease of managing assets through FactoryTalk software.

As soon as information was available, teams at Agropur deployed a data-driven approach to benchmark whether new hardware would curb the usage of lubricants for the lines. Creating benchmark reports and data-driven estimates of new hardware effectiveness, they were able to reduce lubricant consumption by 30%.

Here’s a benefit that I’m shocked to learn it took all this data collection and visualization investment to figure out. Supervisors seeking to identify opportunities for increasing capacity.discovered that lunches, breaks, and meetings caused more than 33 hours of downtime. Changing schedules turned lost processing time into productivity.

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