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Pepsi co-op is first to employ 'Radar'

Southeast Canners improves efficiency on a can line with a newly developed computer hardware/software system that allows 24-hr/day access to production data via a secured Web site.
FILED IN:  Controls  > Strategy
Late last summer Pepsi cooperative Southeast Canners began using a computer hardware/software system to monitor the performance of a machine that erects paperboard cartons fills them with 12 or 24 12-oz aluminum cans and then seals the cartons closed. Called Radar IISM the system has helped SC improve efficiency on its can line by 8% by pinpointing where and when problems occur so that they can be corrected.

The Columbus GA-based co-op is the first company to use Radar II which was developed by Riverwood Intl. (Atlanta GA). The Radar (Remote Automatic Data Acquisition and Reporting) system includes hardware and software that was installed by Riverwood last year on an older Riverwood Twin-Stack® can packaging system. The machine functions on a line that fills 1 cans/min with annual volume exceeding eight million 202-end-sized cans.

The Radar system is equipped with an Uptimer™ production monitoring system from Uptime Technology (Newberg OR). Installed in the Twin-Stack’s electrical cabinet the Uptimer monitors numerous machine functions second by second determining when the machine is running and when it’s down. The Twin-Stack is equipped with an Allen-Bradley programmable logic controller from Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee WI).

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The Uptimer “uses a software system that’s hooked into some of the photoeyes of the machine. Every time the machine stops it’s recorded on a timer and all that information is downloaded” explains SC general manager Don Hambrick.

The system is connected to a modem and so once a day it dials up a local Internet Service Provider and sends an encrypted e-mail reporting the Twin-Stack’s activities to a designated e-mail address at Riverwood.

Riverwood uses a database software system from Oracle (Redwood Shores CA) that imports the information from the e-mail into a Web-accessible database. Southeast Canners gains access to the information by logging on to a secured Web site provided by Riverwood.

How it’s used

At SC’s 230 sq’ facility three employees have online access to the information: Hambrick a plant manager and a production manager. With the correct password each person can view the data from separate personal computers in the plant. The information is also printed out as hard copy.

“We run the machine about 21 hours a day on two shifts” says Hambrick adding that the plant operates nearly around the clock during its busy season April through September. “The system compiles all the machine data and we usually access it after 9 a.m. the next day” he notes.

Radar II “is a good tool for us to look at the Riverwood machine and to identify some of the reasons we have downtime both upstream and downstream of the Twin-Stack machine” Hambrick says.

“Other than a system tied into our filler we have nothing to tell us how our machines are running besides anecdotal reports from operators” he continues. “And they can estimate how many minutes we’re down but this system tracks every second. Better yet” he says “it includes analysis capabilities where we track faults through the program and find probable causes for the downtime.”

Hambrick says “One of the things I really like about Radar II is a thing called ‘fault time over limit.’ What that’s saying is that for a particular machine fault it should have taken 30 seconds for an operator to clear the problem based on Riverwood’s studies of its machine. So if we see that we had two of these faults and the time to clear them was more than five minutes it tells us that apparently our operator does not understand how to clear this fault.

“For us as managers it gives us a basis to go back and work with that employee to fix the problem. That’s critical because every second is precious on this line” he states.

Training tool

Besides pinpointing trouble spots Radar II helps SC management train employees. “As we’ve continued to grow over the last few years we’ve added new people and operators so we don’t have anybody who’s been around since the Riverwood machine was added about seven years ago. We have some fairly young operators in terms of tenure on the machine. Even my production manager is fairly new” Hambrick points out. “So we do have a lot of training needs and this is a good training tool.”

One especially important bit of information that management has gleaned from Radar II concerns cans that are downed before they are conveyed to the Twin-Stack machine. “Each can has to be standing upright or we can’t put them in a carton and that shuts the line down” Hambrick reports. “It’s been a substantial problem.”

He says “We could have operators constantly chase downed cans throughout the day but the real answer is finding the root cause. In some cases it’s related to line speed or back pressure or possibly a lane divider that’s come loose. With Radar II our operators and maintenance people can look at the information and find out what was a problem yesterday so that it can be fixed for today.”

The program has also helped alleviate downstream difficulties. “We had a problem on our overhead conveyor between the Twin-Stack and our palletizer” recalls Hambrick. “It’s a roller conveyor that’s part of our original system and more than 20 years old. The conveyor uses bands that hook from rollers to shafts. Sometimes the bands became too stretched were missing or broke. They kept causing backups and downtime. The Radar II system helped us learn the extent of the problem and solve it.”

As with many difficulties “you don’t realize how much time you’re losing on something until you can quantify the downtime by looking at it on paper” he explains. “So this Radar II system makes us aware of problems and leads us to do some work to improve them. We did that with the overhead conveyor and helped ourselves.”

As the accompanying “screen capture” images show the Radar II system provides Southeast Canners with considerable information. “We can print out downtime rankings in terms of number of occurrences total downtime and downtime categories and we can print out graphs to illustrate the problems” Hambrick points out.

Southeast Canners can find out how long the machine ran how many cans it ran how long it was down and why. And it can do so by the second and can chart the data by incidents during the last year month week or day.

So what does it cost? “We lease the system from Riverwood” Hambrick notes. “The cost to us is about $10 per year.” It’s a system that Southeast Canners has found to be worth the investment.

“Like everyone else we’re trying to run the line as efficiently as possible. It’s helped us improve by about 220 cases an hour” Hambrick quantifies. “That means we’re producing more in the same amount of time. We haven’t cut labor but the system allows the machine operator to become more familiar with the equipment and troubleshoot things before they happen. We have less downtime on the machine because we’ve learned from the Radar II system. It’s been a great teaching and learning tool for our people” he concludes.

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