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Brewer scales smart manufacturing platforms for next decade

Smart manufacturing upgrades have been occurring at a rapid pace for the past decade, and enterprises must now find their way through mountains of data to act on real-time information. This move to a digital platform puts increasing pressure on plant managers to make the right purchasing decisions, as their choices will have a great impact on the success of their enterprise in the next decade.

Plant managers and executives need to get it right, especially in industries like food and beverage, where margins are tight and "micro stops" caused by SKU changeovers require real-time monitoring systems.

One beverage producer in this category is Namibia Breweries Ltd. (NBL), which recently embarked on an automation upgrade to improve access to real-time production data via an OPC and historian client system at one of its facilities.

The challenge with this automation application focused on the need for more visibility into the facility’s utilities and their interaction among different production departments—the utility reports needed to track consumption of water, electricity, chemicals, thermal energy and solar generation, to name a few.

“In our case, we have brewing, packaging and distribution departments,” says André Engelbrecht, manager of industrial control systems at NBL. “Each department focuses on doing their job to the best of their ability, but without necessarily much concern for the common denominator that makes it all possible—utilities.”

The beverage producer chose to scale plant-wide monitoring and remove data “silos” via a SCADA system, OPC-based Software Toolbox servers and Schneider Electric’s Wonderware Historian solution. The historian product handles time-series data, as well as alarm and event data.

NBL had been using the historian product for five years before it began its modernization project, and operators had manually gathered and entered key performance indicators (KPIs) into Excel spreadsheets.

The historian links collected time-series data to the facility’s production reporting system to add context to the different steps of the plant’s manufacturing process.

“We installed the OPC server to retrieve data from our utility plants and systems, and used the DCS to build a SCADA system,” Engelbrecht says. “Then we developed a web reporting system for production personnel and a dashboard system for management.”

Most of the physical servers are now hosted in a virtual environment, Engelbrecht adds, eliminating the challenge of time synchronization between the old historian and the OPC server.

Before the modernization upgrade, the plant had separate physical servers for each application, and different operating systems. Not all of these were linked to the Internet. A huge challenge was data time synchronization for the historian, and NBL had to write scheduled tasks to ensure this happened correctly.

During this modernization initiative, the brewery also installed a Stratus Virtual ftServer that links to an external time server via the Internet.

According to the brewer, the OPC Top Server for Wonderware and the Cogent DataHub gather their timestamp information from their server and then synchronize based on the Stratus ftServer and its connection to an external time server.

With secure dashboards in place, the brewery’s management can now view daily and monthly sales and operational KPIs. Weekly, real-time stock volumes are sent to NBL’s advanced planning system using the historian’s client queries.

Most importantly, the brewer has platforms in place to scale monitoring and find more opportunities to reduce costs via power management. NBL has more than 50 power meters throughout the plant, and they have started monitoring kilowatt-hours per user and linking this to a process variable to determine user KPIs.

The energy and utility component is interesting because the company has a 1 MW roof-mounted solar plant with more than 4,000 panels, 66 inverters and four cluster controllers. When it was installed in 2013, it was the largest hybrid system in the world and it also made NBL completely self-sufficient regarding electrical power.

Using data from the historian that connects to the plant’s SCADA system, the brewer has created new web interfaces for the solar plant to see the performance ratio of each of its 66 inverters. Because of this timely data reporting, the brewer can efficiently schedule when to clean its solar panels and avoid failures with cables, panels or inverters.

“In my opinion, some of the most outstanding features of the system include its open standards, the wide range of drivers available and its scalability (as big as we want to go), as well as its ease of use, customization and integration facilities with other initiatives,” Engelbrecht says.

With these platforms in place, the brewer is getting smarter for today’s demands and future-proofing for the years to come.