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Packaging machines speak up (sidebar)

Network facilitates data acquisition
FILED IN:  Controls  > Strategy

As part of Amway's controls strategy the company is beginning to eliminate clipboards and paperwork on its packaging lines by automating data acquisition functions. Such data collection is made possible by a data logging computer adjacent to each packaging line in Amway's personal care plant tied into the packaging area's PLC network. "There's a lot of paperwork that goes on along the line during a production run" says Jay Mol electrical engineer at the personal care plant. "The data logger has for the most part eliminated all that paperwork." It also permits the data to be easily shared by other departments on the company's local area network (LAN) to which the data logger is attached. Finally it reduces the exposure to human error that existed when log sheets were filled out by hand and key-punched into a computer. The data logging computers are off-the-shelf PCs (not industrial-hardened) in washdown-grade stainless-steel cabinets. The PCs are running software Amway wrote itself in Microsoft's Visual Basic language. By polling the various PLCs on the packaging line the computer automatically collects data such as filled bottle count case count production speed and product temperature. Based on the data it collects the software also computes such statistics as uptime downtime (although not the specific causes) average production rate peak rate scrap rate and a variety of efficiency measurements. All this data is logged by product run as well as by shift. For some data acquisition however the process is still semi-automatic. "A scale and torquer is attached to the data logger" says Mol. "When an operator takes occasional weighments the data goes right into the system rather than onto a clipboard" he says. Next up: more automation Amway's data logging computer in use for only the past year is a step toward a larger goal: a more seamless integration of the company's computing infrastructure (including mainframe and local area network for office computers) with the plants' production lines right down to the network of PLCs on the packaging lines. Towards that end Amway's Global Engineering Group is working to automatically direct the complex flow of information from the mainframe where production planning information is stored down to the packaging line. Says Mol: "That includes purchasing and tracking of components all the special instructions that need to take place all the machine set-up parameters line speeds torque requirements QA requirements and the lot and date codes. "Some of these instructions are now accessible in separate computers along the end of the line" adds Mol. What's still missing is a direct link from the LAN to the PLC network. When that link is in place it will allow many machine settings to be transmitted from the mainframe all the way to the PLCs on the packaging line.

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