What is traceability, and how is it working in your company today? If you needed a product lot record to win a contract, correct a production issue or recall an order – how long would your staff need to find the information? How many opportunities for human error crept into your process between a tiny indicator display and critical data on a record written in pencil three years ago? Eric Pittman (SG Systems Technical Specialist) writes a report on the more technical nature of the SG Systems V5 Batch Control & Traceability Solution.
For many manufacturers, traceability begins and ends with hand-written pen-and-paper records. Lot consumption, quality control, proven product consistency over time and even critical recall data all depend upon often-shaky penmanship, changing hard copy file systems and whatever mercy time in storage affords. ERP systems can help, but often they can’t reflect critical information beyond inventory transactions. Who made a batch, what effect did a new lot number dye have upon a final product or how productive was a given shift after a formula revision?
Techmer PM in Clinton, TN operates in a world of exacting standards, half-ton production batches, railcars full of raw materials and a client list of household names that demand the very best. The team at Techmer PM depends on accurate batch control to deliver the product quality their clients have come to expect. Although a Microsoft Dynamics ERP system was already in place, management personnel wanted better batching control, easier access to batch traceability data and and improved workflow dispatch process. Any installed system would need to work with their existing batch production hardware while still providing the data needed on the back end.
Working with Jerry Nanson and Stuart Hunt from SG Systems, I travelled to Clinton, Tennessee to begin evaluating Techmer PM’s needs. During the evaluation, our team decided to team up with Rinstrum Pty LTD to help support equipment integration. SG Systems has extensive experience working with Rinstrum and we knew their expertise would be help us ensure a successful project for Techmer PM. For this installation, the Rinstrum R400 series summing indicators would provide an ideal solution for bridging the gap between our operator interface and Techmer’s existing manufacturing hardware.
Production control and traceability are difficult to achieve without an installed system that operators can work with and easily understand. At Techmer PM, the SG Systems V5 system integrates with a hopper feed system (I/O + scale), high capacity floor scale, two bench scales and a proportional (4-20mA) vacuum wand system. Operators are directed by the V5 System software at each production step with clear instructions. At each stage the user interface instructs workers on the correct weight targets and automatically selects the appropriate equipment for a given task. The system does this while still providing a measure of flexibility for operators in the event a change is required during a specific batch. To further assist with traceability and elimination of human error, an industrial barcode scanner is utilized for lot number entry. Once entered, a validity check is automatically performed against lot numbers stored in inventory.
To help facilitate integration of the new V5 System from SG Systems, we conducted a follow-on site visit for management and operator training. Following classroom sessions with Techmer PM personnel we moved out to the production floor for on-the-job training. It was during this work session that further opportunities for training and system improvement presented themselves.
A key improvement was enhancing the V5 System software with a customizable user dictionary. This feature allowed management to change terminology in use on the V5 System to more closely match wording already in common usage on the production floor. Techmer PM management also wanted to further reduce the possibility of human error by automatically making decisions on the production line based on known formula, inventory and workstation information.
To fill orders, Techmer PM personnel initially work with their ERP system to generate production requirements. These production requirements are ‘pushed’ from the ERP system to SG Systems’ database to be scheduled for batching. Up-to-date formula and batch size information is automatically added to the schedule from the SG Systems database.
Production floor supervisors utilize the SG Control Center user interface to manage this schedule and make any changes to allow for available labor hours, alternative material selection or even scheduled maintenance. Supervisors can also utilize remote monitoring and assistance on-site for training and personnel management. Batch time-to-completion, inventory consumption, weighing accuracy and more are all monitored to ensure the best performance from both the finished product and system operators. Our on-site training with Techmer PM management focused on how to make the most of these features to help ensure smooth workflow.
Integrating multiple, dissimilar workstations and improving the operator experience was key with the Techmer PM installation. A fractured environment of discrete analog and partially digital systems has been replaced with a common interface that ties workstation together. Instructions are clearly conveyed to workers, and progress is monitored throughout the batching process. If a worker must stop for any reason, the system knows where they left off and provides clear information on how to proceed. Shift changes, break periods and inventory replenishment happen every day. These events can cause workers to become distracted and result in deviations from formula requirements. The V5 system helps avoid confusion and keep formulation on track reducing lost time and wasted material while still providing for these often-necessary events.
Like many aspects of manufacturing, traceability is a system with many components. The workforce, production processes, hardware, software and culture all play a role. Together with the first-rate team at Techmer PM, SG Systems is helping bridge the gaps between these pieces of the larger picture. Accurate production data, a system integrated with existing production hardware and a standardized user interface are hallmarks of a solid traceability solution. At SG Systems, we’re proud to see the benefits we can provide help Techmer PM maintain their excellent standards of production.