Circlip manufacturing facility where the SCADA system was being upgraded
Traceability technologies and processes are vital but so too are
the communications solutions you deploy to make them work.
Phil Howard of Instrumentation Systems & Services and Eamonn
Walsh of Brainboxes explain
Traceability has always
been a primary concern to manufacturers but its importance is ever-increasing with
the globalization of supply chains, stricter government regulations, continuous
efforts to streamline costs, and
the need to provide fast, detailed proof of process information. Being able to track and trace all the conditions in the
manufacturing process and tag that information to production batches and
shipments gives customers a greater level of confidence.
This is especially
important with parts such as circlips – the c-shaped fasteners fitted to shafts
to prevent lateral movement of components. They are commonly used to prevent
things sliding off and although the retaining metal rings are obviously very
low cost, their quality is paramount. For example, a circlip located in the
middle of a £2000 gearbox in a £75,000 truck needs to be reliable otherwise its
failure could cause a very costly problem.
One of the key pieces of
data about the circlip which needs to be controlled and recorded is its temperature
profile during manufacturing process. This is usually achieved by discrete temperature
controllers near to the furnace which in the past were checked regularly by
staff on the production line. It is now increasingly important to capture a much
more detailed profile and attach that data to the particular batch of circlips.
Supervisory control and
data acquisition (SCADA) systems can now be used to collate and store all the
temperature profile data that customers are looking for including when the
temperature has strayed outside a pre-defined band and other critical
information such as feed rates, work order numbers and operator comments.
Now the quality systems
require that customers can see that the heat treatment of the product is
tracked all the way through the process with the graphs for the temperatures
and, vitally important, no alarms triggered for the batch.
involves a number of complex processes. From the feeders that ensure consistent
flow rates to multi-zone furnaces, oil or salt quenching, phosphating and
rinsing. This means there can be a double-digit number of controllers on each
furnace line. Typically, there would be multiple production lines and many other
standalone processes. A central SCADA controller would have real time links to
all these controllers in their hostile environments.
In one particular circlip
manufacturing facility where the SCADA system was being upgraded there was also
a need to replace communications hardware that was experiencing failures due to
age. The prevalent technology at the initial time of installation was multiple
RS-232 ports each with an isolating RS-232 to RS-485 converter and involved all
the associated ‘cable spaghetti’.
Using the Brainboxes
ES-571 Ethernet to RS-485 converters allowed the reduction of cabling from 16
RS-232 ports down to a single Ethernet cable. This solution not only simplified
the installation, but increased reliability and allowed far greater flexibility in
positioning the SCADA computer in relation to the communications equipment.
The new improved SCADA system
engineered by ISS and using Prodigy software developed by Tascomp soon proved
its worth to such an extent that the client requested it should be integrated
into the annealing area of the factory. This wasn’t a major obstacle either financially
or logistically because the ES-571 enabled use of the existing Ethernet
infrastructure. This meant there was no need for any additional installation
costs or expensive cabling work to worry about.
Using the fully isolated
RS-485 offered by the ES-571 completely rules out any possibility of interference
having any impact on the validity of the data being collected.
The inclusion of a
Brainboxes SW-005 four-port switch and standby ES-571 means that in the
unlikely event of a failure, communication can be restored with the absolute
minimum of downtime. All Brainboxes Ethernet to Serial devices in its industrial
range are suitable for an operating temperature range of -30ºC to +80ºC. This
was a key reason why Brainboxes equipment was selected because the original
equipment had begun to experience many heat related failures.
Brainboxes’ systems are
designed and built in the UK which is another important benefit when it comes
to service support. If something doesn’t work, it is essential to know why and
get it fixed as quickly as possible. Getting to speak instantly to the people
that designed the equipment – such as the ES-571 module – is priceless. And as
a result, the hardware commissioning took just one day.
The new SCADA system was
able to show that the control of the furnace temperatures could be improved to
a much tighter +/-1º. This has reduced the quantity of alarms generated and
also highlighted other areas of quality improvement such as overfeeding of
The new SCADA system also allows
more people to be aware in real time of operations happening on the factory
floor. The SCADA software emails everybody on a distribution list with a list
of alarms in the last 24 hours and emails supervisors if an unaccepted alarm
has been triggered for more than 30 minutes. A new touchscreen PC on the
factory floor also allows the operators to easily access the data in the SCADA
All of this allows production to run more efficiently. It
provides the end customers with proof of process reports in the greatest
possible detail and management information to further improve efficiencies and
View the ES-571