InduSoft Technology Heats Up Production
- Using the drag-and-drop paradigm, American Water Heater designed an application to monitor and control the ventilation system in weeks rather than months.
- Manufacturing engineers successfully coupled the ventilation system to 17 temperature systems throughout the plant.
- Within a few months, more than 100 different control points will also be monitored, enabling the coordinated management of production rates and downtime.
|InduSoft Web Studio is assisting American Water Heater, headquartered in Johnson City, Tennessee, to streamline processes throughout its plant.|
Hot running water. Most of us take it for granted and give no thought whatsoever to what life might be like without it. American Water Heater Company is one of the leaders in the contingent that makes that simple luxury a reality.
Located in Johnson City, Tennessee, American Water Heater employs more than 1,000 people and prides itself in constantly finding new and innovative ways to lower cost and improve efficiency for consumers. And when they decided to upgrade the technology of their manufacturing facility, they looked at a number of high-tech SCADA and HMI vendors and then chose InduSoft.
|A global view displays temperatures at critical points throughout the plant.|
While good ventilation is important, many manufacturers do not make the connection between ventilation and other operational processes. An astute observation, however, caused the management staff to rethink that fact.
John Dreher, Manufacturing Engineering Manager for the company noticed that the ventilation system was having problems because it was controlled by manual switches throughout the plant.“It was common knowledge that anyone working on the plant floor routinely turned on and off the ventilation system at their discretion. That type of unsupervised operation is not only unnecessarily expensive it can induce equipment problems during cold weather.”
Dreher’s comment refers to the fact that the ventilation system works in two modes: heating and cooling. In cooling mode, fans and air make-up units are used to provide airflow and to deliver fresh air to the plant floor. This requirement is extremely important given the type of equipment that is typically running in the plant.
In cold weather, though, the ventilation system must also heat the circulating air for the comfort of employees, and the air make-up units are therefore equipped with burners. This feature can be problematic if users don’t properly operate the system.
According to Dreher “In spring and fall, the weather here can change on a dime. What we found was that a quick temperature drop outside would often motivate someone in the plant to switch the system from cooling to heating without first turning off the air make-up units. To change from cooling to heating, the fans must be off for at least two minutes while the burners heat up, otherwise the burner will fail. This type of failure would occur without any notice to supervisory personnel.”
The predictable result was that the ventilation system would continue to run until someone noticed that the heating system wasn’t working and send someone to investigate the problem. In the meantime, employees were inconvenienced and productivity was affected. Dreher understood that what was needed was an automated system to properly control ventilation and temperature—and to properly operate the system. But Dreher went a step further.
He saw this potential solution as an excellent pilot opportunity for automating dozens of systems throughout the plant on a phased basis. “Obviously the ventilation system is too important to continue managing as we had—but it was also an interesting exercise in how to automate critical processes. If we could successfully monitor, and centralize the management of the ventilation system, why not apply that paradigm to say, our press controls, which happen to be Internet ready?”
With its built-in Web-ready design, InduSoft Web Studio was uniquely positioned for just such a phased approach to automating systems across the plant.
Controls for specific ventilation points are available with the click of a mouse.
Upon acquiring InduSoft Web Studio, the first thing American Water Heater noticed was the speed and ease with which a system could be designed and implemented. Using the drag-and-drop paradigm, Manufacturing Engineer Rebecca Sweeney was able to design an application customized to monitor and control the ventilation system in weeks rather than months.
“I’ve worked with other HMI/SCADA configuration systems, but by comparison, InduSoft is ahead of the curve.” says Sweeney. “I was impressed with how easily I picked it up and how intuitive it was to use. And when I did have questions, InduSoft was very generous with their resources. They understood what we wanted to accomplish and partnered with us to make sure we were successful.”
Using InduSoft Web Studio, Rebecca and her colleague, Nathan Timbs, another of American Water Heater’s Manufacturing Engineers, successfully coupled the ventilation system to 17 temperature systems throughout the plant. Sweeney offered that “I was able to create an application that visualizes the entire plant and monitors temperatures in key areas that were trouble spots before. And in the event of a burner or other air makeup failure, an alarm is set so that the appropriate individual can be notified—a must have for something as critical as a ventilation system.”
She also notes “InduSoft didn’t solve the problem of managing the ventilation system. What their product did was give us a way to make us more productive, by allowing a machine to monitor a very critical system in a holistic way.”
She went on to say “Now instead of wasting time wondering why the system isn’t working—which was almost always because of human error—we can program it using the InduSoft-based application. Supervisors and plant floor operators and engineers can focus on the things that they are hired to do and can be good stewards of the other equipment they need to do their jobs.”
The project has been a success, enabling supervisors throughout the plant to monitor the ventilation system in the entire facility. They can also drill down and view details in specific areas, enabling them to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for employees.
It has also supported the plant’s management model that emphasizes supervisor collaboration. According to Sweeney “The application is now being used as a platform for supervisors to communicate with each other about issues for which they have responsibility—but in a larger context. As more monitoring and automation systems come online, there will be more opportunity to communicate about other more critical issues.” Rebecca went on to say “Within the next few months we’ll be monitoring more than 100 different control points. This capability will enable the coordinated management of production rates, downtime, and a host of other variables that simply weren’t as visible to us before, with any meaningful detail.”
|Alarm codes alert supervisors to ventilation errors and log them for future review.|
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