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How Automated Manufacturing Control Systems Back Up Processes and Provide Full Integration

Gus Carrington

Gus Carrington About The Author

Mar 5, 2020

Advanced manufacturing control systems are able to back up processes and provide full integration. Backing a process up could mean a multitude of different things in different industries. Whether backing up a database for later retrieval of information or determining what portion of the product is out of specification, providing full integration of a process is made possible by a proper control system.  

A quarter of a century ago control rooms were made up of an entire wall of lights and push buttons. Today, one or two computer screens can perform the functions of these devices and provide more information (as well as control) for a maintenance technician or operator. Linking this activity to a database ultimately aids the decision-making process and will minimize downtime in a manufacturing facility.

image1 (1)Operator using advanced manufacturing control systems to back up processes.

With remote diagnostics and other new technologies being introduced with modern control systems, operators are able to quickly address problems (minimizing downtime or bad product). In this post, we’ll focus on how modern control systems achieve this and the ways they provide full integration. 

Manufacturing Control Systems Remove Human Intervention to Achieve a Solid End Result

Control systems that utilize Human Machine Interface (HMI) computer screens offer an interactive means for operators who are running the plant to have full control of the mechanical process. Data is extracted from the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and loaded into databases. In turn, the data is also sent into the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. At this point, operators, accounting and other plant management can view all their inventory, production history and lot-control in real-time. Accuracy and repeatability are increased as a result. 

Essentially, an advanced manufacturing control system compliments a mechanical system to provide a level of consistency unattained with manual operations to make weighments or introduce a product into the production process. Without a fully integrated control system, you simply won’t have the verification you need to ensure those steps were actually and properly executed every time. Consistent product quality is critical in every manufacturing process to avoid deficiencies and bad batches, which lead to scrap and financial losses. 

 Operator demonstrating how advanced manufacturing control systems provide full integration

Advanced Manufacturing Control Systems Increase Traceability and Simplify Product Recalls 

Previously in the world of manufacturing, clipboards were the predominant way to record data on-site, which is inherently flawed compared to automated control. Integrated control systems record data electronically and avoid manual data input off the clipboard (where typos and other input errors are inevitable). 

When you have a fully automated system, you're getting the complete product and batch genealogy — all stored electronically for record-keeping purposes. This becomes particularly critical when it’s time to report to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or other validation groups specific to your industry. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires companies to “shift focus from responding to foodborne illness to preventing it.” Taking the steps to shift away from clipboards and manual human interaction will help to avoid product recalls and meet the verification process for regulatory agencies. When you store your information electronically, it can be backlogged, stored for years and retrieved on a dime. 

In the pharmaceutical world, the 21 CFR part 11 also requires companies to validate electronic systems for quality and compliance. Again, electronic data saved efficiently in a database increases the ease of traceability. Automated control essentially helps find a specific product not only at a batch level but down to pallets, cases and even individual cartons that would be required in an audit or reporting purposes. Variances and other anomalies can be easily spotted and reviewed leading to speedier decision-making (especially important during crises like possible product recalls). By spotting problems sooner, production can be altered or even stopped faster, limiting the production of an out-of-spec product.

image4 (1)Operator leveraging advanced manufacturing control systems to minimize downtime and bad product

Minimizing Downtime and Bad Product with Advanced Manufacturing Control Systems 

Not only does a sturdy control system make it a much simpler task to recall a bad product, but it also decreases the amount of potentially bad product that is manufactured in the first place. 

With a fully automatic control system, the data is calculated in real-time. Plant managers, supervisors and operators are then able to more quickly make parameter or control adjustments. This, in turn, minimizes bad products and increases the overall efficiency of production systems. This will also ultimately achieve and maintain the high quality a company expects out of operators and supervisors. More importantly, it will maintain the quality expected by your customers as well.

Manufacturing control systems also continue to evolve and now often include features like remote diagnostics. Picture this: At 2 a.m. a maintenance engineer receives a call that there’s an issue on Line 2 and processing is shutdown. Let’s say this engineer lives 40 minutes away from the plant. With remote diagnostics, they can now dial into the plant over a virtual private network (VPN) connection to remotely diagnose and fix that problem in 15 minutes. In older closed network control systems, the plant could have been down for hours while the engineer had to drive to the plant before starting to fix the problem. These delays can end up costing a company money (a lot of it) in lost product. 

Essentially, the more automation included in a system, the less downtime you should expect while producing more consistent quality products. Remote access and visual presentation of data and information will greatly aid with diagnostic troubleshooting to fix problems.

Operator demonstrating how manufacturing control systems include features like remote diagnostics.

Bachelor Controls (BCI), a control system partner with AZO, has over 25 years of experience designing, building and installing integrated control systems in AZO automated material conveying systems. To learn more about how you can expect the highest level of quality and reliability for ingredient automation solutions from AZO and BCI, contact our dedicated sales associates today. Read more of our blog to find information on pneumatic conveying, ingredient automation and the reliably accurate equipment that AZO manufactures.