Automation IIoT

IIoT Suite Drives Efficiency

EP Editorial Staff | January 21, 2020

EcoStruxure IIoT architecture provides a collaborative workspace connecting applications and analytics to machines on the shop floor, allowing teams to view combined intelligent dashboards in real time. Photo courtesy Schneider Electric

EcoStruxure IIoT architecture breaks down data silos, allowing personnel at all levels to make informed decisions.

Schneider Electric’s Lexington, KY, manufacturing plant is a leader in the production of high-quality load centers and safety switches that serve as a basis for commercial and industrial power systems. Having attained ISO14001, ISO 9001, OHSAS 18001, ISO 50001, and SEP Silver Status certifications, plant management prides itself on its record of worker safety, process efficiency, and responsiveness to customer requirements.

The 500,000-sq.-ft. facility relies on 400 employees and state-of-the-art technology to produce more than 16,500 finished goods every day. That includes nearly 9,000 load centers and more than 6,000 safety switches. The plant is vertically integrated. Work performed on site includes taking raw rolls of steel and stamping them into properly sized sections, painting the shaped-metal enclosures, melting plastic pellets to make the interiors, stamping in the metal bus bars, electroplating bus bars, and assembling the final product.

“Our processes are complex and, as with any aged facility, there are multiple applications that have evolved from necessity. Often, these legacy applications made data sharing and analysis difficult as proprietary systems tend to silo valuable information,” said Mike Labhart, the company’s Innovation Leader for North American Smart Factories. “In order to drive higher levels of efficiency, we recognized that those data silos needed to be unlocked,” he said.

For Labhart, deployment of Schneider Electric’s open EcoStruxure architecture serves as a lynch pin for breaking down data-sharing barriers, visualizing information more quickly, and enabling predictive analytics for operational-efficiency improvement.

Connectivity and integration have become a key focus and plant modernization has directly opened the door to higher profitability for Schneider Electric’s Lexington, KY, facility. Photo courtesy Schneider Electric

IIoT architecture

EcoStruxure is a vendor-neutral, IIoT-enabled architecture that includes an open but tailored stack of connected products, edge-control level solutions and software, and cloud-based apps, analytics, and services. Cybersecurity for supporting applications and data analytics is embedded across the architecture. This approach accommodates information technology (IT) and the company’s and third-party operations technology (OT) equipment and software. Operators are able to view cloud-connected critical data anytime, anywhere, from any device. Resiliency and visibility are improved through live sensor data, predictive analytics, and smart alarming. Operators also have access to experts monitoring connected assets 24/7.

EcoStruxure improves the agility of manufacturing organizations by enabling key process owners to respond more quickly to market dynamics. By providing a collaborative workspace that connects applications and analytics to machines on the shop floor, the architecture allows teams to view combined intelligent dashboards in real time.

“By making our existing infrastructure smarter, we are able to extract data that was never available… and now use that data to make the right decisions quickly,” said Steve Lyczkowski, Plant Manager. “We are now quite developed at the connected-products level. The push buttons, lights, backlights, terminal strips, limit switches, photo eyes, RFID switches, and Magellis HMIs are all connected. If a technician or operator on the shop floor has a problem, I get an alert. This makes the lines more efficient and I now have the ability to control core processes remotely,” he said.

Labhart and his team have deployed several apps that have had a positive impact on efficiency across the plant floor. One recent addition, the EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor, digitizes machine information in an augmented-reality format. The data is viewable from a standard portable tablet. For example, a maintenance technician can walk up to a piece of equipment and determine whether a cylinder has retracted inside the machine without ever having to open the machine.

“Utilizing augmented reality reduces our mean time to repair by 20% on critical equipment,” said Jeremy Elias, Manufacturing Engineering Manager. “This allows technicians more time to perform more-productive active machine maintenance.”

The Lexington plant has also invested in digitized energy-management tools. The paint room, for example, has incorporated a series of connected meters that monitor the energy consumption of all critical processes. Meters gather the energy data and visualizations are run on the data that reveal how to most efficiently use kilowatt hours based on the type of metal that’s running through the line. The facility engineer uses the energy- management tools to help achieve 3.5% energy savings yearly across the facility.

“These tools provide us with monitoring and reporting of local energy usage. We can see the history of spending trends and receive a breakdown and description of how we are consuming the energy we purchase. We can even make accurate predictions of future energy costs and usage trends. We estimate that this increased visibility has produced more than $6 million in energy savings over the past several years,” said Labhart.

The entire Lexington factory floor is populated with monitoring technologies that issue alarms whenever a production anomaly occurs. “If we experience a problem where a sensor fails to track, or a certain temperature is exceeded, an alarm condition exists there at the edge,” Lyczkowski explained. “We are now phasing in the ability to inform appropriate personnel on their mobile devices (where they can be at home or anywhere in the world) to alarm conditions.”

The addition of the new suite of EcoStruxure tools has reduced paperwork through digitization and dashboarding, and has enabled predictive analytics through data sharing. According to performance statistics, rapid-alarm communication reduced time spent doing paperwork by 90% and system downtime by 5%.

Modernizing this working facility, in operation for more than 60 years, needed to be done over time, requiring the Lexington team to strategically balance the need to embrace new connected technologies with the needs of the business and a set operating budget. The successful digitization evolution required a step-by-step approach, taht involved adding new EcoStruxure technologies individually where they would provide the greatest value and connecting them with existing equipment. EP

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