Customer story: “A spot-on collaboration, thanks to a great blend of knowledge on IT and OT”
Frederik Van Leeckwyck on , updated
Vegetable oil producer Group Vandamme needed a more efficient way to collect, analyse and visualise data from their equipment and processes. Our mission was to replace an Excel-based process monitoring system – spitting out 144 cumbersome spreadsheets a day – with a scalable and easy-to-use data platform for industrial process analysis, dashboarding, and alerting.
Three years after implementation, we spoke to Operations Manager and decision-maker Johan Van de Walle and asked him 10 questions about his experiences with our historian. Read why Johan chose Factry Historian, and why he would do it again in a heartbeat. “Not only has the software strongly improved our data collection process, it has also made it maintainable."
About Group Vandamme
Group Vandamme is a Belgian company active in the production and refining of vegetable oils. The history of the family business goes back as far as 1903. Today, it is the European market leader in the production and refining of corn oil, and a major producer of HO sunflower oil, GMO-free soya oil, and high-protein meal pellets for the feed industry. The company’s activities are divided over two production sites located in Belgium and Hungary.
Hi Johan. Remind us how you previously monitored production.
“Before we had our historian, I used to follow up on production parameters in both our entities by logging PLCs in a spreadsheet through an OPC server. An unwieldy process allowed me to log the machine values every 10 minutes. Through a VB script in Excel, each snapshot was then converted into a PDF and stored on our server. Every morning, an email with a summary of yesterday’s production values was sent automatically to the management.”
What were the downsides to this approach?
“We lacked both real time and historical insights into production. As the number of PDFs grew too big, they were deleted after a week. It was impossible to look back into the past and find out what went wrong or right. Moreover, the spreadsheet system turned slower and slower with each newly added signal. I even had a dedicated PC up to query the data. The system became unmaintainable. That is why we decided to explore new options.”
Which other options were you considering?
“We compared Factry Historian with proprietary software, yet the latter lost the battle. Because of the high licence cost, and the fact that it takes a lot more time to read, display and send the data to a dashboarding tool. Another thing is that each time you want to add a signal, you will need to put a developer at work. We quickly decided that a dedicated solution was not the right fit for us. Instead, we wanted a system that is more open, scalable, and affordable.”
What were other important criteria in your choice?
“The software should have no restrictions in terms of data volume, number of users or processing speed. My biggest fear was buying a software platform that would become slow once lots of signals are added, which was one of the primary issues before. Yet, after three years of using Factry Historian and adding ever more data signals and sensors, the system has not lost a fraction of its processing speed. This specific aspect was really important to us.”
“What also mattered, is that the system has an open architecture and a self-service nature. No matter what data we want to capture, we can add new data points and graphs to our dashboards without any need for vendor support. For example, we have recently implemented moisture registration sensors, enabling us to see how moist levels compare throughout the production process. Adding them to our dashboards was done in minutes.”
If I had to put a score on our satisfaction with the platform itself, I would grade it a 9 out of 10. The software does what it says on the tin.
Johan Van de WalleOperations Manager at Group Vandamme
What drew you over the line to move forward with us?
“I didn’t only notice a strong connection with the IT world, but have met people who have something to say about industrial technology as well. Coming from the automation world myself, I immediately noticed a lot of experience with industrial applications and automation, and the contribution Factry brings. They know how to address machines. Having heard positive feedback from the market, had an important impact as well. I knew what to expect.”
Which parameters do you measure with Factry Historian?
“We use Factry Historian to monitor a variety of quality, machine and process parameters, such as pressures and temperatures, as well as for site-wide energy monitoring. Especially temperature monitoring is essential. When the temperature in the silos gets too warm through a biological process, the raw material could go to waste, which is highly costly.”
“That is also why we need to monitor temperatures very accurately and must be able to react quickly in case this occurs. For that reason, another key feature of historian for us are its automated alarms and alerts. In case of process anomalies, not only when temperature, but e.g. also when the pressure of the extraction machine drops, production managers are instantly notified through email alerts. This allows them to intervene a lot more quickly.”
In which way has our software impacted your organisation?
“To us, the main advantage of the historian is that it has strongly improved our existing data collection process and made it maintainable. Instead of having to dig into a series of cumbersome spreadsheets, when even available, I can now follow up on each of our two production sites through a single interface, whether it is on my laptop or on my smartphone. And instead of wasting time on static spreadsheets, I can now create dynamic dashboards in minutes.”
“The platform allows for shorter communication lines between the company lab, production managers and other departments, so they can collaborate better and control processes in a more profound way. Any of our employees can now consult data and graphs from other departments, often about things they didn’t know about before. Improving communication between departments was even one of the main goals of implementing the software.”
“On some occasions, we also use the software to trace materials or products. Silo levels, for example, are logged every 5 seconds. To find out which materials ended up in which silo, we use ERP software. But in case we need more specific details, e.g. at what exact point in time the raw materials were added to a silo, we use the historian to zoom in further. It enables us to look into the details of a product batch, and to double check the ERP data.”
“Finally, it also proves its worth when setting up new production lines or equipment. For instance, we recently implemented a new extraction machine. By immediately logging the data signals, it became a lot easier to get a grasp on its inner workings, and notice instantly how certain machine parameters correlate to product quality. Having this real time data and graphs from day one, speeds up the implementation process of new equipment dramatically.”
How do you measure the value our software adds?
“As the business value of the software comes in various forms, it is hard to put a single number on it. The greatest value lies in being informed in real time about the production process, whether it is in Belgium or Hungary, being able to control it better, and move quickly in case of anomalies thanks to automated alerts. This way, it allows us to maximise production and be more profitable. It also saves me hours of time on reporting and running around the factory.”
If you had to pick one favorite feature, which one would it be?
“I love how easy it is to query data and draw graphs within the visualisation tool. The more variables you type in, the closer you get to your answer. As I am quite familiar with the nomenclature of those variables, it allows me to run queries in no time. If you would ask me how much power a certain piece of equipment in Hungary is currently using, I would be able to tell within seconds by typing in some basic variables. To me, that is probably the best feature.”
How would you describe your overall experience?
“Factry’s approach before, during and after implementation was spot-on. In case we have a technical request, we can always be sure that it will be fulfilled in a right and timely manner. Whenever an issue occurs, the people are there to help us out before the next day. If I had to put a score on our satisfaction with the platform itself, I would grade it a 9 out of 10. The software does what it says on the tin, and is running for years now without any incidents.”
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