Process Visualization Improves Performance

By Janice Abel

Industry Trends

Ascend Performance Materials, a leading global supplier of nylon 6,6, uses its data for better process visualization and operational intelligence, and saved approximately $5 million in energy and utilities, including costs from steam traps, vertical pump issues, operating efficiency and more. Ascend chose Wonderware IntelaTrac mobility solutions and Wonderware plant intelligence software technologies for improving operational efficiency. The company improved yields and avoided unplanned plant shutdowns due to inoperable equipment.

The Challenge: Gaining More Value from Data

Terry Unruh, Production & Maintenance Process Leader at Ascend Performance Materials explained the company’s operations after implementing its internal “Mobility” and “Visual Factory” projects, to ARC.

Ascend leadership determined that the company needed to start thinking “out of the box” and use its data to become more efficient, identify trends, fix problems faster, and continuously improve processes. “We needed to be able to get the data into the hands of the supervisors, engineers, and operators right away,” stated Mr. Unruh. The company began numerous continuous improvement initiatives. One of these was to implement mobile devices to obtain operational and maintenance field data. Success here led to further integration of data using plant intelligence software. This allowed employees get to the data they needed faster and more conveniently.

While the company previously employed operational KPIs, much of the data feeding these KPIs were in disparate systems and formats (paper-based operator and maintenance log sheets, spreadsheets, etc.) were difficult and the KPIs themselves were not easy for people to find, view, and use. the control system kept the plant processes within operating limits, there was often poor communications between control rooms and accountability from shift to shift, resulting in lost opportunities for continuous improvement.

Timely and Accessible Operational Intelligence Helps Avoid Problems

Using the new technology, the company can now solve problems faster and supervisors, engineers, operators, and maintenance technicians can take actions based on a better understanding of the process from the new mobility and visibility software.

Process Visualization InteleTrac Field Solution

For example, an operator in the company’s Decatur, Alabama, plant received an alert that the lube oil pressure on an air compressor in the utilities area was out-of-range and ultimately saved them $30,000 along with the substantial costs associated with unplanned downtime.

Ascend achieved significant value with new reports that even improve workforce engagement, and answer questions such as, “What were the exceptions last night?” and “What’s happening now?”

Process Visualization for Operators and Engineers

The solution’s graphic displays help enhance operator knowledge to enable them to take appropriate corrective action. Using models, the company created a dashboard to determine when the process is getting off course. It graphically enhances the worker’s knowledge with better intelligence.

Process Visualization and the Digital Dashboard

Since operators rotate positions in a plant and operations change, the operator dashboards include daily instructions that help align goals. This replaces paper instructions and ad hoc updates of target and limits to make it easier to find the needed documents and bridge gaps in understanding. Operators have the data to better understand what to do to improve the process and reduce variability.


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