Yves Bourgeois on
In a previous article, Process Historian for Small Businesses
, we have talked about the disruption that is occurring in industry, where the use of open technologies and open source, is extending the tool belt of every production manager and plant engineer. Using new technologies, we can provide a Process Historian that was previously only affordable for large companies in captital-intensive sectors - such as Oil and Gas, and the Pharmaceutical industry.
However, a Process Historian is still an investment, of both time and money, that requires a clear and thorough evaluation of its value, to answer the important question:
*“What will we gain using a historian?”*
To evaluate its value, one needs to be aware that the implementation of a historian happens in two distinct phases. First, the historian is introduced as a solution. In this phase, data acquisition, instrumentation, and trending are the focus. Second, the Process Historian will become a technology, a platform if you will, in which the acquired data itself becomes a source for advanced Data Analytics and Data Science purposes. Both phases bring merit to any company in industry and both have their distinct added values.
In this article, we focus on the virtues of a Process Historian by introducing it as a solution - data acquisition, instrumentation, and trending. But first, let us take a step back, and have a look at what you already have: SCADA and DCS systems.
Most companies in process and discrete manufacturing have already invested in either SCADA or DCS systems, according to their specific needs. These level 0 - 2 systems provide adequate real-time monitoring of the production process, and guide the operator in making the correct decisions in case of alarms or fault-states during the production process. Both SCADA and DCS systems even provide an, albeit limited, ability for trending of historical data.
However, both control systems also come with severe limitations in regard to data analysis. They only provide a limited amount of historical data, if any, and they are limited to their particular data silo: it is only possible to examine the data for which these systems are responsible, say a single production line, without providing an aggregated overview of the entire plant. Furthermore, these systems are inescapably locked in their proprietary software model, which makes it very hard, if not impossible, to perform data analysis on the restricted data, in both scope and accessibility, that is contained within them.
The Process Historian, on the other hand, operates on level 3 of the Industry Automation pyramid. It aggregates the data of the entire plant - over all production lines - and it keeps this data available for as long as needed, if not forever. Factry Historian in particular makes the collected data free as in speech, by putting no limitations in making this data available for other software to consume. It creates a perfect link between Operation Technology and Information Technology, in which production savvy people will be able to use the technological infrastructure to analyze the actual production process.
Now, let’s have a look at five of the most important benefits a Process Historian can bring you, when introduced as a solution.
Acquired data from sensors (such as temperatures, pressures, etc.) can be linked to contextual data, e.g. the start and end time of an order or a specific batch produced. This will allow you, with the click of a button, to visualize the specific circumstances of the production process.
This not only saves time for operations and quality managers to find the data they are looking for, which is already a direct cost reduction. It will also keep the focus of said users on the problem at hand, as it gives them the confidence that all the necessary data is precise - for it is automatically acquired -, and no data is overlooked. This allows them to make informed decisions based on facts, and not on presumptions.
The Process Historian, as already hinted at, is also a tool that is of importance for quality managers within each plant. When quality issues occur, the Process Historian will allow for a thorough examination of the exact conditions in which a certain batch - or order - was produced. As such, it will be possible to either indicate or exclude whether the production process was the reason for any quality issues. The first will then allow for a better training and education of the operators, and to prevent such quality issues in the future, which will have a direct impact on the yield of production.
Being able to quantify exact problems in the production process provides a basis for the Continuous Improvement of said production process, as different parameters of the production process can be measured and fine-tuned to maximize the quality of the product. This has a direct impact on the overall productivity of the plant and reduces costs directly by avoiding production blunders in the future.
Having all sensory data available will also enable you to detect anomalies during the production process, anomalies which would otherwise go undetected. Anomaly detection could be used to discover e.g. leaks or unexpected temperatures, as quickly as possible. This will limit the cost of both damage and repair to a bare minimum. Anomaly detection can occur either manually, by having the trends show the user what exactly is happening - and alarms defined for automatic alerting, or it can occur automatically, through the historian software.
At Factry, we already saw the benefits of anomaly detection at one of our clients: they pinpointed a previously undiscovered leak, which ultimately saved them tens of thousands of euros in unplanned downtime and damages. And this already in the second week our Process Historian was active!
The Process Historian will not only capture the amount of product that has run through your flow-meter, but it will also show exactly how long your pump has been pumping product, or how long a generator has been running. This gives you precise information which can in turn be used to schedule predictive maintenance, and send preemptive warning messages to the responsible people when certain thresholds are bound to be exceeded.
The importance of predictive maintenance has been examined by the World Economic Forum and Accenture , and the results are staggering: using predictive maintenance, the cost of scheduled maintenance is, on average, reduced by 12%, while the total cost of maintenance is reduced by 30%. But most importantly, predictive maintenance eliminated 70% of unplanned downtime. As plant downtime is immensely costly, it is clear that predictive maintenance is a must.
The Process Historian should not be limited to production data - i.e. sensory data, such as temperatures, pressures, etc.-, but can also capture data that is indirectly related to the production process, such as energy consumption. As energy consumption has become one of the primary costs in the production industry - next to the cost of labour and of raw materials-, having exact data about energy consumption for each part of the production line has become a need by itself, be it in kWh or volume of fuel spent.
The Process Historian provides you with just that: awareness of where the big consumers of energy are, by exact monitoring. It offers the possibility to use these figures to set up energy-saving projects and influence the bottom line of the business directly.
In this article, we outlined five benefits that the Process Historian can offer you on day one when it is introduced as a solution. It provides you with the necessary toolkit to instrumentalize all data that is available in the plant. By doing so, you will be able to use this data to make informed, empirical decisions on a variety of problem cases, and even use it in Continuous Improvement projects, be it quality or energy related. This will ultimately reflect in an improvement of different facets of the production process, such as cost reduction, yield improvement and minimizing unplanned downtime.