In the past 20 years, several specialty chemicals, pharmaceutical, F&B, CPG companies have grown from having dedicated manufacturing facilities towards diverse multi-product facilities across the supply chain. Many of them also have 3rd party manufacturing sites. The point will be clearer if I give some examples – paints, toothpaste, chocolates, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, lube oils, packaged food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, flavours & fragrances, soaps & detergents, agrochemicals, specialty chemicals. How do they ensure that a product being produced at several facilities is meeting the same quality standards? In older times there was a belief that batch processes cannot be automated as the quality of the product depended on the skills and experience of the operator. Ageing and higher turnover of skilled manpower are posing challenges to this belief. Many products of these industries are for direct human consumption and therefore, subject to strict regulatory compliances and need end-to-end traceability. More companies are turning to digital batch management techniques to meet these challenges. Digital batch management is a great solution for knowledge retention as it allows transfer of the operator skills to the system and enables the organization to protect the Intellectual Property. It also ensures data integrity in the operation by providing tamperproof batch records. These could be used to meet regulatory compliances and analyze the batch performance with reference to the benchmark and allow improvements. The new generation batch management systems can be integrated with ERP systems. It significantly increases organizational agility by reducing time and cost to bring new products to the market.
Batch process involves executing steps one by one from a predefined sequence of operations called a “recipe”. Automated batch processes often involve some operations e.g. prechecks, small quantity additions, quality checks etc. that are easier and economical to perform manually. A Digital Batch Management System allows you to integrate the automatic operation with manual process steps. The level of automation is always a techno-commercial decision and depends on factors such as the size of the plant (number of processing equipment), nature of process, whether having multilocational facilities along the supply chain, integration with ERP and budget etc.
Supertech offers cost effective solutions for digital batch management for all types of batch processes. The solutions are built around “EcoStruxure Process Expert” the new generation DCS from Schneider Electric. For simple batch processes with dedicated plants, Sequencer template available in the customized Process Expert Library can be effectively used. This solution does not require any extra hardware or software. The Sequencer template is customized for each batch process by our experts to meet specific needs.
For complex batch operations, multilocational manufacturing facilities, multiple recipes, flexible batch management based on ISA S88 batch standard with or without ERP integration, we have two options – one with “SUPERBatch”, by Supertech and second with “InBatch” – By Aveva (Schneider Electric). Details about SUPERBatch and free trial are available on Schneider Electric Exchange on the following link: https://shop.exchange.se.com/en-US/apps/60517/superbatch—isa-s88-based-batch-management-software. Description about our solutions based on ISA S88 Based Batch Management systems will be covered in our subsequent blogs.
Process Expert DCS based Batch Management with Sequencer Template
A simple, cost effective recipe-based batch operation within the DCS is achieved with the Sequencer Template. The sequence of operations is carried out in either auto, semi-auto or manual mode. The template is designed for processes sequence up to 64 steps and 5 parameters control. The Individual steps transitions from one step to the other consecutive step depending upon the predefined logic conditions. The template provides informative and operator friendly sequence control with operator guide message feature. For more information on the Sequencer Template, 30 days free trial or purchase, please visit Schneider Electric Exchange on the following link:
Following live example of a specialty chemicals plant in India will illustrate various features of the Sequencer Template based batch management. The process involves a batch reactor with following operations:
- Manual pre-checks
- Charging of two raw materials automatically
- Charging of two catalysts manually
- Temperature maintenance
The recipe is as follows:
The recipe shows the batch steps with step description, quantities of raw materials to be charged, time and temperature set points for heating and cooling.
Following screenshot of the DCS display shows the Reactor R-101. It is part of a multistage batch process involving three batch reactors. One reactor is shown in the example. Other two reactors are also having similar recipes. Each reactor is having a separate batch sequencer.
On the top left corner, you can see the batch control panel, an expanded view of which is shown below for better understanding:
It shows the Batch number, time elapsed since the batch started, time elapsed since the step started, step number, batch status whether running or stopped, Auto/ Manual status. It has control buttons for AUTO/ MANUAL, PAUSE/RESUME, ABORT, NEXT STEP, PREVIOUS STEP.
On pressing the ↓ button, 5 steps of the running recipe are shown on top left corner. Current step is indicated by green background, completed steps are shown in gray background and further steps are shown in white background. At any point of time during the execution, you can pause the batch sequence, change from AUTO to MANUAL, advance or go back to the previous step. Recipe editor allows the operator to add, edit or delete steps in the sequence, modify the step transition criteria, the time, material quantity and temperature set points. These changes can also be done during batch execution for the remaining steps. You can also create multiple recipes and save in the DCS.
The system is very user friendly as it continuously shows the live status of the batch, allows changes in the recipe even during the execution, has an easy to operate control panel and shows customized operator guide messages for each step. The template does not have any provision for creating batch reports. However, Batch logs are automatically created in the DCS event logger. For detailed Batch Reports, separate reporting module with standard as well as customized reports are available. In this plant, we have given a reporting module based on “Dream Reports” from Ocean Data Systems. A weekly KPI report is automatically generated every Monday at 7.00 am and e-mailed to the Director.
With the DCS Sequencer based Batch Management system, customer has achieved 100% consistency in the quality of the product. The dependence on the skills of the operator has reduced. New operators could be easily trained as the operation now depends more on the system than the skills of the operator. This was particularly useful during and post COVID lockdown when the availability of skilled people was low. There was a 15% reduction in the batch cycle time and 10% saving in the energy consumption.
In conclusion, Batch Management with Process Expert Sequencer Template is a solution for knowledge retention and Intellectual Property Management. It allows meeting regulatory requirements by maintaining highly accurate and granular batch data and provides traceability. Depending on the size and budget of the plant, it allows integration of manual process steps in the recipe without compromising the data integrity. In current times this is an absolute necessity to survive in a fiercely competitive global market. Only those industries who recognize the changing needs and adopt such manufacturing automation technologies will survive and thrive.