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A well-oiled transition from old to new

14 September 2012

A major UK based lubricants manufacturer has migrated from an obsolete and problematic control system with no disruption to production levels, and is now enjoying high plant availability, reduced cycle times, lower levels of waste, total production transparency and flexibility - and significant cost savings.

Fuchs Lubricants UK is the UK subsidiary of Fuchs Petrolub AG. The company’s Stoke-on-Trent facility, responsible for the production of around ten percent of UK lubricant demand, produces in excess of 500 complex lubricant formulations ranging from engine oils to metal working fluids and medicinal products such as petroleum jelly.

With increasing demand driving production, site management set about reviewing its process control architecture and the decision was taken to decommission what was considered to be an increasingly vulnerable and obsolete system, and invest in a modern distributed control system (DCS).

The choice was narrowed down to a Siemens PCS 7 DCS running the Simatic Batch for WinCC application – a decision largely based on confidence gained from an earlier, successful trial undertaken at the site. Before embarking on the entire control system, Fuchs had previously teamed up with Siemens to install PCS 7 on its medicinal-based petroleum jelly production line. The success of this project convinced the production management team to press ahead and extend the role of PCS 7 into other key areas of manufacturing at the Stoke site.

Fuchs demanded that there be no disruption to production at the site when migrating from the old system to the PCS 7. The answer to this was a staged migration that would ensure that as identified elements of the system were switched over, the existing system was kept running in tandem.

With over 5,000 I/Os, 1,000 valves, 90 raw material tanks, a large number of finished product tanks and 38 blending vessels to contend with, it was clear this was not going to be an easy task.

Careful scheduling finally ensured that the switchover from old to new occurred seamlessly without any disruption to production and within the designated time scales. Now up and running, PCS 7 is driving many operational and management benefits as Fuchs’ engineering manager, Steve Hallam, explains:

“Since the expansion of the PCS 7 system we have been able to see real progress in a number of key areas. We are achieving a significant first time pass rate for the finished products which has increased from 85 percent to 97 percent. This means a drop in failure rates to just 3 percent and that adds up to significantly lower levels of waste product having to be thrown away and substantial cost savings in terms of raw material consumption.

“In addition, our knowledge of the process is now far more in-depth, as the data we can extract from the control system gives us the information we need to ensure product consistency and to improve operational efficiencies. It allows us to plan our production scheduling far more accurately.”

The PCS 7 also allows the engineering team to undertake a continuous improvement programme. The open systems platform can co-exist with existing tools in place on the site, and has consequently become the foundation on which all reporting and control intelligence is based. Steve Hallam again:

“I believe we are currently only utilising a part of the full functionality of PCS 7, and the great thing is that it allows us the flexibility to continue to gauge how we are running the production process and to seek ways of improving it. The programme of continuous improvement is set to stay as we realise the full potential of the control system, and the next stage is to look closely at the feasibility of real time production planning.”

Another benefit is the control system’s transparency, which, among other things, provides easy access to process audit trails. Data intelligence follows the product through the entire process, from raw material intake, via the blending stage through to discharge into finished product tanks. This is meeting growing customer demand for product traceability.

Other operational benefits include the elimination of the potential for cross-contamination issues related to storage. Controls are in place to ensure the correct link between raw material intake, storage, blending and finished product destination on site; a positive impact of this has been the elimination of instances of intake stock tank spills.

Higher plant availability has been realised since the system was commissioned, and this is largely responsible for significant efficiency gains at the site. The control system can be remotely accessed via VPN dial-in, giving the engineering team a valuable tool for speedy analysis of impending problems and enabling it to respond in timely fashion to any issue.

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