Double-Digit Productivity Improvements through Belden's Digitization Solutions Capabilities
As a leading global manufacturer that supports data ingestion and digitization initiatives around the world, this company works closely with customers in a variety of markets and employs more than 8,000 workers—from engineers and solution architects to operational experts and machine operators.
As part of its mission, the manufacturer also prioritizes sustainable operations and follows Lean manufacturing processes to eliminate waste without compromising on product performance or quality.
To improve operational efficiency and plant capacity at one of its oldest plants—and take the first step toward Industry 4.0—this manufacturer wanted to be able to visualize workflows in near-real-time and collect overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) data to analyze and improve machine performance.
A disparate mix of control technology had been deployed throughout the manufacturing process over the years, creating unique digitalization challenges. Some machines had PLCs while others didn’t. Some PLCs were connected to the network; others were not. Seventy-year-old machines worked alongside brand-new equipment, and much of the plant’s legacy equipment lacked network connectivity capabilities altogether. There was also no way to track the health of aging yet critical components, such as motors. Gaining these insights was crucial to minimize equipment downtime—especially because this plant produces some of the manufacturer’s most profitable product lines. Blind spots were everywhere—but so were opportunities.
“This 95-year-old plant was like a museum of legacy machines and technology,” explains Sylvia Feng, global director of the Digital Automation Consulting group, part of Belden’s Customer Innovation Center.
“Various PLC brands and industrial protocols were used, along with various vintages of machinery and generations of control technology. This made talking to all PLCs and machines a challenge.”
It also created backlogs and islands of automation throughout the plant floor. Operators were running machines based on tribal knowledge and diagnosing problems using trial and error because no data existed to help them make informed decisions. As long-time employees move closer to retirement, running the equipment would become even more difficult.
Supervisors were constantly walking back and forth from the plant floor to the office to pull reports based on information from the previous day. Because they lacked real-time insights on operator and machine performance, it was difficult to understand true production line performance or know which machines to focus on.
The maintenance team was also juggling a time-based maintenance schedule while being understaffed. As a result, employees were spending precious time maintaining seldomly used equipment instead of prioritizing maintenance tasks based on machine utilization.
Because of the different protocols and data inputs used across the plant floor, a vendor-neutral solution would be key to harvest and contextualize critical operational data, bring it all together in a single unified data plane, and create flexibility for advanced analytics (on-premises or in the cloud).
Collaboration and Discovery
Although their performance and capacity goals were clear, the plant’s team lacked the in-house digitalization experience and expertise needed to bring their vision to life in a cost-effective way. “We knew we needed help to find a more automated approach to understanding our equipment and our factory operations,” explains the plant’s director of operations.
In the past, the plant had attempted to upgrade automation and digitization capabilities with fixed solutions. These solutions did not meet IT requirements, and the team could not justify the investments.
“The solutions we had tried in the past weren’t as flexible as we wanted, and they were very expensive. We’ve also been down the ‘homegrown solution’ track where we had someone internally do it. While it was cost-effective, it wasn’t as robust or sophisticated and didn’t deliver all the things we needed,” explains the plant’s director of operations. “You end up trying to fit a solution into your problem as opposed to having a custom solution for your problems.”
This time, they knew they needed a complete solution that was designed by a team of experts to address their unique challenges—and give them insights on the best way to run the plant.
The manufacturer didn’t want to spend valuable time building out a bill of materials or picking out products, software and services to piece together a resolution. Instead, they wanted support from a team of experts and advisors who could work alongside them to:
- Identify their biggest challenges
- Design and present a tailored solution
- Meet specific operational goals
- Maintain cost-efficiency
After learning about the data engineering services provided by Belden’s Customer Innovation Center, the team knew this was the collaboration solution they were looking for: a tailored digitalization strategy to meet their specific operational goals and KPIs, designed by people who have real-world experience in transforming outdated plants into modern production environments.
Experts from Belden’s Customer Innovation Center began with a three-step data engineering process that started with identifying the plant’s operational goals and mapping out the plant’s current state of operations. Digital Automation Consultants walked the floor with the plant manager to pinpoint challenges and observe operators, supervisors, collaborative work and processes in action to gain a comprehensive view.
“Everyone in operations thinks they know their operation very well—but getting an outside perspective from someone who has digitized operations and seen automated solutions in different environments can bring a whole new perspective and show you things you didn’t even know you needed. Having those digitalization experts walk with you on the floor was an eye-opening experience,” the plant’s director of operations explains. “You see things differently than you did prior to the walk.”
From there, Belden’s Digital Automation Consultants collected data on the potential benefits of improving visibility and maintenance that the director of operations could use to build an internal business case. They also helped the plant calculate an anticipated return on investment in terms of cost and value. Once the C-suite saw the overwhelming benefits of this transformation, the project was approved to move forward quickly.
Based on the information they gathered during the workflow assessment, Belden’s team designed a digitalization solution to address plant’s biggest challenges.
“We transformed this black box into a glass box,” explains Feng. “This way, their operators and supervisors can see what’s going on at the plant and prioritize and troubleshoot based on near-real-time data.”
The solution gives the team the insights they need to run the plant more efficiently and effectively. It creates visibility into all critical OEE metrics, including availability, performance and quality, and it democratizes that information to make it available all in one place. It also provides the data necessary to detect operational anomalies and defects in equipment so they can be addressed before failure occurs.
Belden’s vendor-agnostic solution does not require rip-and-replacement. Various sources of existing OT data were gathered from PLCs, ERPs, historians, Excel sheets, HMIs and CSV files and converted into a common format, transformed, normalized and contextualized. Sensors were deployed throughout the plant to gather missing critical operational data and monitor machine performance, availability and health status, including vibration, temperature, current, power and other indicators.
Belden’s team helped the customer create a common data plane through its data engineering services to enable data visualization and analytics. Belden’s team worked with various user groups to design the user interface to support personas within the plant and empower various customer functions with insights that will help them optimize their daily operations.
The solution includes:
- OEE dashboard with near-real-time data from all equipment types
- Capability to drill down into operational data for root cause analysis
- Multi-layer maintenance analytics tool to prioritize daily activities, monitor critical assets and alert staff in case of anomaly.
Because the plant’s machines were critical to operations and couldn’t be updated or replaced, Belden made sure they remained functional throughout the digitalization process.
Instead of managing several vendors throughout the project, the plant works with one trusted partner— Belden and its Customer Innovation Center—that’s accountable for helping team members improve OEE visibility and streamline maintenance.
Impact & Results
Instead of making educated guesses, operators and supervisors now have metrics in front of them that continuously report on availability, performance and quality. This information can be understood even by those who have no tribal knowledge or history with the equipment and trigger the right actions to increase OEE.
Rather than documenting equipment outages and downtime with pen and paper on an hour-by-hour sheet, operators can now focus on value-added activities and make more products. Data are directly captured from the source in an easily digestible way and displayed in one place so everyone can see what’s happening with their machines and processes. Live OEE data reveals which lines are running well, which lines need attention and which ones are down—as well as the reasons for downtime. The accuracy of data has improved thanks to machine digitization.
“This solution provides visualization for me and my supervisors on the maintenance side,” explains the maintenance manager. “We can carry a tablet and see a summary of the facility. Based on colors, we know if we’re running, or if we’re down. We can monitor the temperatures, vibrations and current draw of motors, for example. We have a lot of old equipment, and Belden didn’t come and say, ‘You need to upgrade all of this.’ They figured out a different way to get to the data.”
Predictive maintenance is now a reality for the plant as well. Instead of following a calendar schedule, critical personnel can take care of the most impactful action items based on what near-real-time data say about the health of critical assets, such as motors. Operators know immediately whether a specific parameter (vibration, temperature, current, voltage, etc.) is behaving differently. If so, the alert will be sent to the maintenance team via text and email so the issue can be addressed right away before failure occurs. This helps the team prioritize resource allocation and maintenance activities so that the plant experiences less unplanned downtime.
Thanks to Belden’s data engineering work, the plant is ready for the future as well. Its newly deployed OT network and data ingestion infrastructure will be able to support future Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing initiatives, including digital twins, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and 5G deployment.
As a result of Belden’s work, the plant has experienced double-digit productivity improvements along with extremely conservative estimates of at least half a million dollars in savings per year.