A Modular Approach
MCPP evaluated two vendors and ultimately chose Indiana-based Apex Engineering and its subsidiary Apex Controls Specialists, a Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator, to develop the extrusion system for its new Brazilian production facility.
Apex Engineering proposed a solution based on its Apex Modular Extrusion™ system. The system has a material-handling system at its top level that receives raw materials, including various rubbers, oils, heat stabilizers, impact modifiers and pigments. Those materials are distributed via a feeder deck down to the extrusion system, where they are heated and blended, and finally sent to an underwater pelletizing system that produces the final bead-like product. That product is then packaged into large bags and boxes, which are shipped to the airbag manufacturers.
A compounding control center houses the extrusion system’s electrical and control infrastructure, including an Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix™ programmable logic controller (PLC), Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® 755 AC drives, and solid-state relays from Rockwell Automation. A separate utility control center houses the system’s utilities and information server.
The information-enabled system gives workers and outside experts visibility into critical manufacturing intelligence, including temperatures, feed-rate pressures and feeder motor speeds. FactoryTalk® Historian software from Rockwell Automation collects thousands of these data points throughout the production process, while FactoryTalk View HMI software and FactoryTalk VantagePoint® enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) software allow workers to manage recipes, monitor processes, and identify and resolve production issues.
Communications over EtherNet/IP™ allow the manufacturing intelligence to be shared plant-wide and with outside experts via remote access, while also reducing wiring in the MCPP facility.
The extrusion system’s modular design proved crucial in helping MCPP speed up the launch of its new facility.
While construction of the plant was underway in Brazil, Apex was simultaneously designing and building the system in Evansville, Indiana. Wilson and his team at MCPP kept in close touch with Apex engineers during this process through weekly calls. Once the extrusion system was complete and operational, they were on-site with Apex personnel for a week of testing.
“We crawled all over the equipment,” Wilson said. “It was great being able to see the equipment running and test it firsthand. We only made small changes, but it was nice being able to make them before shipping the equipment to Brazil. It helped us avoid production delays and saved us some long flights to Brazil.”
Once the equipment arrived in Brazil, an on-site contractor quickly and easily assembled the system in a paint-by-numbers approach. The system’s power and electricals, for example, were all set up on connectors. Workers only needed to pull cables from cable trays and plug them in. Similarly, the system’s mechanicals had an accompanying drawing with easy-to-follow instructions for bolting the system together.
In total, the system took only about one month to install at the Brazilian facility. This saved MCPP as much as four months in deployment time. It also allowed the company to finish the extrusion system right around the time that it finished construction of the facility it was housed in.
The facility’s integrated control and information has been vital to helping workers optimize quality management and identify production issues.
“Operators can see trending information on the screen to make sure all the equipment and feeders are running right where they should be,” Wilson said. “Any processes that run outside their minimum or maximum setpoints will generate alarms on the operator screen so they can quickly address the issue.”
Both Wilson and Apex team members can access the system to remotely monitor systems and help workers without traveling on-site. This was especially valuable early on as workers were getting the system up and running, and had limited access to local technical support.
“I can look at any of the data points from right here in my office,” Wilson said. “We’ve looked at alarms and helped them diagnose issues, such as when they had trouble getting the proper feed rate or were encountering some initial mechanical issues with the feeder. It’s safe to say remote support helped us reduce some of those early downtime incidents from days into hours.”
Additionally, by using add-on instructions (AOI) in the development of the extrusion system, Apex Control Specialists created plug-and-play functionality for any future changes or additions at the facility. For example, MCPP can add a new feeder to the system in as little as 10 minutes.
Wilson said MCPP may seek to replicate some of the benefits of the modular extrusion system at other facilities.
“The next project we do, we’re going to consider replicating some of the benefits we’ve seen with the modular system,” he said. “It made the project a lot more manageable than a conventional build. I could even foresee using the approach closer to home here in the U.S.”
The results mentioned above are specific to Mitsubishi Chemical Performance Polymers’ use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.
Allen-Bradley, CompactLogix, FactoryTalk, PowerFlex and VantagePoint are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.
EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA Inc. Apex Modular Extrusion™ is a trade mark of Apex Engineering, PLLC