Batch processes are essential in the manufacturing of common everyday products such as chocolates, tomato ketchup, shaving cream, shampoo, toothpaste, fragrances, adhesives, medicines, paints, inks, polymers, lube oils, and pesticides to name a few. Products that use a batch process have a unique recipe and precise operating procedure that is usually controlled and managed through a variety of industrial automation digital solutions (read our blog series to learn more).
The way manufacturers automate and manage their batch processes has a significant impact on plant profitability. In many cases, traditional approaches to batch processing constrain operations in a way that results in plants underperforming. Trends such as increasing complexity and scale of process, multilocational manufacturing, regulatory compliance, shortages of skilled and experienced manpower, and increased competition, all serve as incentives for manufacturers to revisit the way batch processes are run.
The Challenges of Batch Operations
The issue that many organizations face is that the bulk of their batch operations are still heavily dependent on human skill. Due to frequent changes in existing product formulas and the addition of new products, recipes and sequences need to be recalibrated more often. In order to carry out these modifications, the skills of expensive automation system engineers are frequently required. When outside vendors must be called in to perform the work, the manufacturer also risks revealing sensitive product formula information to third parties.
Another major issue is that SCADA and DCS historical data are stored on a time basis and not on a batch basis. This makes it difficult for operators to track the performance and quality of a particular product batch. Operators have no means of recording raw materials consumed, key batch phase parameters, or even their own actions. If a batch is spoiled, stakeholders are not able to determine the reason why.
How the ISA 588 Standard and Digital Solutions Provides Business Value
Our company Supertech, an automation systems integrator and certified Schneider Electric Alliance Partner and EcoXpert, meets on a regular basis with process manufacturing clients who require modernization of their plant automation infrastructure. In our discussions with executives and engineers, we often recommend the International Society of Automation (ISA) S88 standard (adopted in Europe as IEC 61512-1) as an important pillar for driving efficiencies and lowering costs.
Although the ISA S88 standard was launched in 1995, and updated in 2010, it was not originally embraced by the industry. Back then, batch management systems based on the standard were far too expensive to implement. A high degree of customization involving senior-level skilled engineers was required. Automation systems in those days were also not as open and flexible as they are today which made adopting such a batch management system difficult. Now, however, with the advent of technology breakthroughs such as digitization, Industry 4.0, and cloud computing, implementing the standard is much less costly and can serve as an important pillar for driving competitive advantage.
ISA S88 divides batch operation into three parts: a process model that defines process stages, operations and actions, a physical model that defines the manufacturing equipment involved, and a procedural model for defining the recipe procedures.
The physical model and the process model are one-time developments and do not change unless there are changes in the equipment or processing actions. The only aspect that changes on a per-product basis is the recipe. The recipes are easily developed and can be later adapted in the recipe module by a chemist, and the intervention of control systems engineers is not required.
ISA S88 Benefits Include Better Quality and Higher Efficiency
As a batch sequence is executed phase by phase, important batch data such as the raw material quantities added, status of key process parameters, quality parameters, and time stamps are tracked in an SQL database. By querying the batch data, the batch management system can develop various reports such as a batch log sheet (electronic batch record), raw materials consumption reports, energy consumption data, equipment utilization data, variance from pre-established benchmark figures, and more. The data can then be analyzed for performance comparisons of the various batches of the same product.
Adopting the ISA S88 standard framework results in major benefits such as consistency in quality, easier traceability, richer analytics, reduced batch cycle time, better utilization of equipment, improved productivity, less energy consumption, and reduced dependence on human skill and manpower.