Editor's Choice


Innovating in the process industry with PLM

December 2017 Editor's Choice IT in Manufacturing

There is no doubt that with Industrie 4.0 there is a lot of innovation taking place in manufacturing IT. But ‘innovation’ is not only the creation of a new idea out of nothing, but more often the combination of two existing ideas in a new way to create something entirely new. For example, by combining a telephone, a music player, a camera and a GPS into a single smart device we create a range of new experiences and possibilities for communication, entertainment and travel. The value of the sum of the parts is more than that of the individual components.

Technology sharing across industries

The same thinking can be applied to IT solutions used in manufacturing. In one particular vertical industry a technology might have developed to maturity, and yet still be relatively invisible to another. This means that innovation is possible by simply applying the solutions from one industry in the other. In my consulting role, I have found that owing to industry specialisation surprisingly little experience is shared between vertical industries, and people tend to stick with the established techniques they know. There might be an opportunity for you to adopt a proven technique from another industry in a new way and thereby gain a competitive edge for your business in its own niche.

As industrial manufacturers face new challenges and opportunities arising from increased digitisation, many are looking to improve their existing MES architecture to support future strategic initiatives. Superficially they might refer to Industrie 4.0 as the driving force behind this change. But Industrie 4.0 is not a platform, it originated as an initiative in Germany to maintain and protect the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector. It cannot be purchased, nor implemented in the way an ERP solution might be, but rather describes a future of interconnected businesses involving cyber-physical systems, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and cognitive computing. This will manifest in many practical ways in your own business.

In the traditional vertical process industries such as oil and gas, chemicals, pulp and paper, and so on, the emphasis is on maximising the return on assets in capital intensive plants and minimising the cost of production of bulk commodity products. New product development, personalised products for customers and responsive supply chains are important, but in practice, these specific requirements are nowhere near as well developed as they are in fast moving discrete industries such as consumer goods, aerospace, etc.

The reality is that Industrie 4.0 will introduce increased volatility and change, and even the large commodity process companies will need to adapt. Is there then a technique we can learn, or a concept that we can take from the world of discrete manufacturing to apply in a process manufacturing plant that might provide a good foundation (or platform)? This will then create a more resilient business capable of responding to increasing volatility and change. In other words could we innovate in the world of process manufacturing by simply taking an existing IT solution from the world of discrete?

Product lifecycle management

In this regard, it might be worth taking a closer look at PLM (product lifecycle management). PLM originated to allow component manufacturers in the automotive supply chain to supply new products rapidly in response to the fast moving requirements of the motor manufacturers. PLM has since matured into a well established business process widely used in discrete manufacturing, but it is far less common in process manufacturing companies.

PLM tracks the lifecycle of each product from concept to design and engineering, manufacturing, quality and service management. A typical PLM environment is a formal system of collaboration to enable rapid product development and engineering, portfolio management, technical data management, service management and continuous improvement. These processes are supported by a governance and compliance layer that ensures that changes are controlled, approved and in line with the requirements of legislation and the companies own standards.

The adoption of PLM in process manufacturing has been slower than in discrete manufacturing owing to the intrinsic nature of their asset intensive operations.

A chemicals plant might have a few dozen products at most, and sell these in high volumes to relatively few customers. Historically there was little need for customisation in such a scenario, and a dedicated plant will typically make a single product to specification. The product is generally produced to stock.

In contrast, discrete industries have high numbers of personalised products which are generally made to order. The complexity of managing a large portfolio of these unique products requires significant collaboration across multiple disciplines including development, engineering, sales and service. This collaboration platform is potentially of interest to a process company facing a much more complex and dynamic challenge as Industrie 4.0 takes hold across the industry.

A PLM solution is far more than a simple document management system with workflows. PLM systems support the process of inception, design and engineering, right through to real-world monitoring. The whole value chain is modelled through the product lifecycle allowing for optimisation across multiple disciplines and organisational function/departments.

The future manufacturing environment described by Industrie 4.0 is a dynamic one, where information flows alongside physical product. The pace of change will be significant, not only in the actual product requirements, but also in raw materials, pricing, regulatory requirements, territories and so on. Furthermore, service levels will become more complex to maintain as customers demand more unique and personalised supply contracts. The impact of these dynamic and fast moving changes on the core manufacturing value chain should really be managed by a platform that is much better than the existing disconnected ‘electronic scraps of paper’ found in most companies.

Gavin Halse

Gavin Halse is a chemical process engineer who has been involved in the manufacturing sector since mid-1980. He founded a software business in 1999 which grew to develop specialised applications for mining, energy and process manufacturing in several countries. Gavin is most interested in the effective use of IT in industrial environments and now consults part time to manufacturing and software companies around the effective use of IT to achieve business results.

For more information contact Gavin Halse, Absolute Perspectives, +27 (0)83 274 7180, gavin@gavinhalse.com, www.absoluteperspectives.com





Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

PC-based control for waterjets
Beckhoff Automation Editor's Choice
Control systems are subject to very specific demands from every form of production technology, including waterjet cutting. IGEMS from Sweden set itself the goal of taking this process to a new level in terms of precision and speed, and achieved it with the help of PC-based control.

Read more...
Case History 193: The big dipper.
Michael Brown Control Engineering Editor's Choice
This article gives an example of an important flow control system for flare gas in a petrochemical refinery. The control was suffering from serious problems, often cycling severely, and at other times the flow process variable (PV) would suddenly move quite a lot away from the setpoint (SP).

Read more...
Edge computing: Introducing AI into the factory
Editor's Choice IT in Manufacturing
As AI evolves, it is evident that the most powerful models will be cloud-based, and hosted in data centres that are beyond the control of the average business. The practical application of AI in manufacturing control and automation will only be possible if some of the computing workloads can be brought onto the plant, inside the firewall and inside the plant network.

Read more...
36 years of innovation and success
SAM Systems Automation & Management Editor's Choice System Integration & Control Systems Design
Systems Automation & Management was established in 1988 at a time when there were no other systems integrators (SIs) in the process business. SA Instrumentation & Control’s editor caught up with managing director, Claudio Agostinetto to find out more about how this thriving company has prospered over the last 36 years.

Read more...
The world’s greatest model railway
Horne Technologies Editor's Choice Motion Control & Drives
Located in Hamburg’s traditional warehouse district, Speicherstadt features the largest model railway in the world, and is one of the most exciting tourist attractions in Germany.

Read more...
Loop signature 23: Tuning part 1.
Michael Brown Control Engineering Editor's Choice
This is the first of several articles dealing with the subject of tuning. I have found that many people think that optimisation consists solely of tuning. I would stress once again that tuning is the last thing one should do when optimising regulatory controls.

Read more...
Plastics meets packaging for consistent and efficient process control
Beckhoff Automation Editor's Choice
PC- based and EtherCAT-based control and drive technology from Beckhoff represent a universal solution that transcends industry and application boundaries. This standardised and scalable automation platform offers numerous advantages. Industry experts delve into how machine builders and end users in the plastics and packaging industry can capitalise on these advantages.

Read more...
Continuous corrosion resistance
ifm - South Africa Editor's Choice Sensors & Transducers
The polypropylene version of ifm’s LDL400 conductivity sensor is based on the proven LDL200 inductive conductivity sensor. Its material properties make it the ideal choice for applications in which metallic sensors tend to corrode.

Read more...
Control architecture leads to faster, easier product development for refrigeration
Opto Africa Automation Editor's Choice IT in Manufacturing
What’s the secret to providing superior service and staying competitive in a changing market? You might learn something from ALTA Refrigeration’s experience. Over ten years, it transformed itself from a custom engineering services company into a scalable industrial equipment manufacturer, using an edge-oriented control architecture to manage a growing installed base.

Read more...
Step into the visual factory
Turck Banner Southern Africa Editor's Choice Electrical Power & Protection
At Banner, the visual factory comprises three key applications for lighting and indication in industrial settings. These applications include the ability to help machines and workstations quickly communicate their status to people nearby, to use light to guide workers to perform certain tasks such as part picking, and to provide illumination for work areas and tasks.

Read more...