ESM Australia helps businesses keep costs down with modular software systems

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In the modern Australian manufacturing environment, it is important to manage costs.

With stiff and cheap, competition from overseas markets, having a competitive edge is important if you want to run a successful processing business.

The old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” remains as true today as it’s ever been. But measuring some processes in food accurately can be difficult.

Some use manual paper-based logging or performance metrics, some use a hybrid system of paper-based and digital and a growing number are using new technologies to capture data automatically, directly from process machinery and smart sensors.

Connecting these systems and managing their data is not without challenges.

Almost all manufacturing enterprises have different plant from different vendors and there are generally and various control system vendors, makes, models and communications protocols to deal with.

And once you have the data, then what?

The rewards can be immense.

Once production data is available to management, operations and maintenance, productivity can be measured and fine-tuned.

This is where the new monitoring and control platform, Ignition, comes into its own. With the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 making their footprints felt on the Australian manufacturing landscape, the Ignition platform is designed to help connect, collect, and harness process data to implement positive changes within the food processing industry.

“Ignition is a great connector of things,” said Glen Fry, managing director of ESM, an Australian distributor and gold-certified integrator of Ignition.

“It makes an ideal platform for the Internet of Things because of the interconnectability and scalability it offers. Ignition is a very open design, yet incredibly secure,” he said.

“Ignition connects to nearly any field device such as PLCs from all major automation vendors, variable speed drives, or an obscure IoT enabled sensor. It doesn’t really matter what it is. We are able to get that data easily and cost-effectively then store, analyse, and visualise.”

Once the data is in the standard SQL database, Ignition provides powerful tools to format and display data either in real time, or historical trends.

The best insights can sometimes come from areas you don’t expect.

Modules that provide machine-learning and AI-based data analytics to carry out some predictive analysis are available, and those tools can give users insights into data they were not going to see just by looking at it due to the large volume of data available.

Ignition is a modular system, so it can be catered to a company’s individual needs. Fry said his company will help a customer decide what parts of the system is best for them. Best of all, the system is hugely scalable, with the typical installation providing unlimited device and data connections, and unlimited users, for one cost.

“We work with the client to scope their requirements concisely up front,” he said.

“It means that we need to get a good insight into what their business is doing so that we can help pick the right metrics to measure. Results only come from the client taking those actions. It’s the visibility of that production process that allows people to make changes that drive those yield improvements.”

One local customer told Fry implementing changes based on the data the Ignition system highlighted offered up a net saving of “around seven percent” on running the plant.

That sounds like a lot, but tightening productivity, and quality is much easier when you have a tool like Ignition to help identify problem areas.

When the business is turns over more than $100 million, those savings get put into perspective pretty quickly, said Fry.

“For that particular project, we implemented a full visualisation and manufacturing execution system for [its product] and that has been a large-scale process,” said Fry.

“Apart from the obvious costs savings, it’s given the clients a much greater insight into their business.”

And that is the key to the whole Ignition platform.

It is designed to cut out the hassle of dealing with the different variety of vendors’ plant and machinery used in the manufacturing process. It allows for the monitoring and reporting of how the plant and machinery is working without having to go to each individual piece of equipment and find how it is running.

“Ignition helps to paint a picture of where your problems are,” said Fry.

“The important part about that is that we can measure in real time the productivity, quality or availability and the downtime of machinery in a production environment,” he said.

“By looking at those variables we are able to devise OEE [Overall Equipment Effectiveness]. What that does is give us not only real-time data but also provides us with historical data.

That data has huge potential, too, because we can look at the productivity of a line – month-on-month or product-on-product and understand whether the plant’s performance is getting better or worse.”

Fry is also at pains to point out the one other differentiation between Ignition and most of its competitors, which is the pricing structure.

“With many other systems you’ll need to buy more client licenses, more tags, more development licences. With Ignition’s standard unlimited licencing model, if you want to connect another section of plant or add 20 users, it costs no more than the engineering to design the pages.

“That can be an enormous saving and with some companies those extra fees legacy SCADA system impose can be a huge pain point,” said Fry.