Real-time Performance Management from the Ground Up

Real-time performance management promises to deliver greater information to high-level executives, but one chemicals manufacturer is building its performance management platform by starting on the plant floor


Stoffel looked at PI, among other solutions, and decided that OSIsoft best met the Calvert City plant's needs. He says he particularly liked PI's method of data compression and the fidelity of archived data, as well as the set of client tools that the solution offered for accessing data from the system. Meanwhile, at about the same time, ATOFINA as a company made the decision to move toward a corporate-wide standard for performance management as a way of facilitating collaboration between different plants and research and development sites around the world. Representatives from the company's European and North American plant operations met with ATOFINA's information technology group and, after reviewing the options, settled on OSIsoft's PI as the standard for the corporation.

Overcoming the Collaboration Challenge

Before ATOFINA could deploy the PI System in Calvert City, the chemicals company first had to put in a certain amount of hardware infrastructure to support the software. They had a half-dozen production units at the plant, and each had its own DCS, all from the same vendor, but the company had not tied the control systems together. ATOFINA acquired a server, a workstation that serves as the interface between the DCSes and the plant's local area network (LAN), and some additional DCS equipment (including a computer interface unit that hooked up to the interface server and the DCS LAN) to get the systems tied into the plants computing network, a process that took about six months. Once the necessary infrastructure was in place, though, Stoffel says it took the company all of about three days to get the PI software installed and running. Altogether Stoffel estimates that the company has spent about $200,000 on the project since its inception.

Training staff to use the system was not a big challenge, according to Stoffel. "It's a complex system, but when it comes down to actually using it and maintaining it, it's not difficult at all," he says. He adds that the plant extended the PI System to end users in virtually every department at the facility, including personnel in maintenance, logistics, engineering, lab, accounting, process technology and operations. "They all have access to it, and they all use it one way or another to do their jobs better," Stoffel says.

In fact, the biggest challenge in the project, Stoffel says, perhaps was cultural in nature. "You'll notice it says 'engineer' in my title," he quips, noting that he has been in process control at the plant for 25 years and that, for much of that time, a certain distance has prevailed between the engineering staff and the company's IT organization. Ensuring the success of the PI project meant overcoming that distance and collaborating more closely with IT. "We don't always agree with the way they do things," Stoffel admits. "But once I got involved in this project, it became apparent that we were going to have to work together to make it a success. So just learning to work with them and learning about their world and local area networks and how things communicate was my particular challenge."

The One-week Payback

Once the system was up and running, the immediate impact was to give the plant's staff and management direct access to data on the performance of the facilities production equipment. That resulted in immediate time savings. "Without the PI System, if you wanted to see what was going on with the DCS, you had to go over to a control room, shove an operator out of the way, take over a console and start looking at things," Stoffel explains, tongue only slight in cheek. "But PI has provided a way for everyone to have that information on their desktop."

Moreover, the plant's personnel gained a greater ability to manipulate the data to glean whatever information they might require. Previously, if they wanted to acquire information not already provided by the control system, they would have to put in a request with the DCS specialist and then wait while their request worked its way up the specialist's task list. With the new solution in place, essentially anyone at the plant could configure the software to pull in the required data and make the necessary calculations to get the information they needed. As important, the system archived all the data it collected from the very first day, providing plant staff with access to the kind of historical data that the DCSes alone could not provide.

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