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


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

The phase separator at the ATOFINA Chemicals plant in Calvert City, Ky., did not appear to be properly forming a separation layer during the production process, and it looked like the quarter-million-dollar unit would have to be replaced. Elsewhere at the plant, a production unit was chewing through pumps at an alarming rate, generating a half-million-dollar bill for repair parts every year. All too common problems, all too frequent expenses.

In days past, lacking the tools to gain insights into the root causes of such problems, ATOFINA's management might have had to go on signing checks to cover these expenses. But now, with the help of a performance management solution, the company is finding ways to avoid previously inevitable costs and to glean new value from the equipment and machinery that keeps the plant humming. For companies looking to use real-time performance management (RTPM) to better run their supply chains, ATOFINA's experience demonstrates that RTPM often begins on the plant floor.

Squeezing Data from Closed Systems

Philadelphia-based ATOFINA Chemicals, a $1.4 billion subsidiary of ATOFINA (itself the chemicals branch of the oil group Total), has 17 manufacturing locations in North America and 16 worldwide. The Calvert City plant, situated along the banks of the Tennessee River in southwest Kentucky, began operations in 1948, when it was part of the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Co. Today, about 270 people work at the plant producing Kynar polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) plastic resins used in manufacturing and construction, as well as the company's Forane line of CFC replacements used as coolants in air conditioners, refrigeration equipment and insulation foam blowing.

For some time the Calvert City plant has been using distributed control systems (DCSes) to manage its various processes and product lines, but Dwight Stoffel, principle plant electrical instrumentation engineer at the plant, says that those systems were essentially closed, making it difficult and time-consuming to extract data from them. "We did four or five projects where we went through the pain of getting the data from the DCSes," Stoffel says. "Those projects proved that being able to access that data would be very valuable. We just needed a better way to do it."

Data integrity presented another problem with the DCSes, which would store data for a maximum of seven days. "Once the seven days pass, it's gone and you can't get back to it," says Stoffel, explaining that the disappearing data could be an issue if, for instance, an engineer or manager at the plant wanted to study a piece of equipment and needed historical data for comparison. The only way to do that was to start from scratch and move forward, delaying any possible benefits that could be derived from the study.

Setting a Standard

Stoffel says that the various data-extraction projects that he undertook demonstrated the data not only could be useful for troubleshooting problems with equipment, but also held the promise of allowing the plant to lower its costs by improving its processes. With that business case in hand, he was able to get funding for a project to implement a solution that would make it easier to gain access to, and exploit, data from the plant's system.

At the time Stoffel was working on his pilot projects, unbeknownst to him, engineers in other parts of ATOFINA already were attacking their data issues by implementing a solution from a company called OSIsoft. Founded in 1980, San Leandro, Calif.-based OSIsoft got its start developing software for the petroleum industry ("OSI" originally standing for "Oil Systems Inc.") to collect, manage, archive and analyze data related to manufacturing processes, a solution that came to be known as the PI (for "Plant Information") System. Back in those early days, OSIsoft's solution ran on pricey VAX computers, which made it too expensive an option for a facility such as Stoffel's plant. But as PCs became more affordable and powerful, and as Windows became a widely adopted operating system standard, OSIsoft developed a new generation of its flagship software products to run on Windows NT, making it possible for a broader set of companies and facilities to adopt the software.

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