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Kevin Parker, editorial director of Processing magazine, has been writing about process industry, automation and information-technology markets for more than 20 years.
"Intelligence" system that’s right for the plant floor, while delivering enterprise solutions
The Dow Chemical Co. was an early adopter of a “manufacturing intelligence” solution just introduced for general availability by Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Analytics. The system, called “NWA Focus EMI” and already used in 14 Dow Chemical plants, makes it easier to do data-source integration and real-time process analytics and visibility.
“We were looking for a better way to retrieve, join and analyze data and turn that information into real knowledge throughout the organization,” says Lloyd Colegrove, director of fundamental problem solving, The Dow Chemical Co. “NWA Focus EMI, with its ability to directly access data from multiple databases and apply analytics in real time, is giving us immediate access to critical process information.”
Readers may best know Northwest Analytics as one of a handful of vendors that some years ago successfully introduced statistical-process control software to the engineering desktop, as well as for quality management. As with many other types of software, Northwest Analytics has grown and evolved its products over the years to encompass supporting functionality and additional uses for its solutions.
As far as what “kind” of software NWA Focus EMI is, enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) is a term used by market research analysts such as ARC Advisory Group and industrial software vendors to denote systems that join the ability to access needed data with the ability to analyze it.
Northwest Analytics and other industrial software vendors, including Infinity QS and Invensys, see EMI software as a growing, viable category of software solutions and are taking steps to make it easier to deploy and use, both for those on plant floors and for the corporate enterprise.
“We aren’t competing with SCADA, DCS or data historian systems,” says Louis Halvorsen, CTO, Northwest Analytics. “And we don’t create yet another database. A very typical application might bring key process parameters and lab analysis of batch data onto a single dashboard. Operators see the lab results together with real-time insights, making response quicker. Data historians and LIMS systems, or whatever is holding the lab data, are the two biggest sources of data for us.”
These are complex, multi-system vendor environments, Halvorsen says, with proprietary data silos. Data isn’t replicated in NWA Focus EMI. Instead, “direct data source connections” are used.
“We’ve developed simple data models for plants, granular groups of tags having context,” says Halvorsen. “That makes it easy to build a dashboard. You bring in some data, add unit operations and make it work well for the engineers. Visualizations aren’t conceived until after data has been brought to a higher level. Because it’s a read-only system, security and validation aren’t issues when bringing in this type solution.”
Peter Guilfoyle, VP of marketing with Northwest Analytics, stresses the role of NWA Focus EMI as a means of collaboration for the multi-plant enterprise. A typical problem-solving scenario tackled by those working
with the solution encompasses many forms of communication, including process analytics, voice, video & photos, word documents, spreadsheets and emails, he points out.
How it’s used
Managing the core data using an “intelligent solution” involves making use of analytics charts, as well as NWA’s cloud-based tool for communication and collaboration and knowledge-base of best practices and enterprise knowledge.
“Say a plant in the United Kingdom is dealing with an issue brought to it by a customer,” says Guilfoyle. “They’re looking at some of the analytics locally, but still searching for the underlying issue and related causes. A request is made to corporate headquarters to elevate the issue. The solution’s snapshot module is used to illustrate and communicate very complex related concepts and ideas.”
At corporate headquarters, Guilfoyle continues, the product quality team dives into the analytics and other related materials available through the collaboration tool. Use of the knowledge base reveals that a team in China experienced a similar issue and their expertise is brought into play solving the current problem.
“The same type scenario can be used in working with suppliers and customers,” Guilfoyle emphasizes, adding, “What differentiates Northwest Analytics is its knowledge base and analytics. We have multi-variant and other types of complex analytics, but the emphasis is on general-purpose analytics.”
Implementations, such as the ones at the 14 Dow Chemical plants, Northwest Analytics says, “average only one to three weeks and output is often returned in just a few hours after the start of the implementation.”
Based on customer feedback, Guilfoyle says, “NWA Focus EMI delivers a full system payback in two to six months. That is a direct result of the solution leveraging existing database investments and eliminating data duplication and its movement to a separate system for analysis.”
In other news
Other vendors of manufacturing intelligence solutions have also been working to get their solutions into the hands of users. InfinityQS International recently announced a strategic partnership that will enable ATS International to offer ProFicient, InfinityQS’ enterprise quality hub, to a global customer base.
Headquartered in Fairfax, Va., and founded in 1989, InfinityQS says it services more than 40,000 active licenses with over 2,500 of the world’s top manufacturers, including Kraft Foods, Ball Corp., Boston Scientific, Graham Packaging and Medtronic.
InfinityQS describes ProFicient as an “enterprise quality hub” powered by a centralized statistical process control (SPC) analysis engine, with cloud-based or on-premise deployment options.
Finally, another vendor of EMI systems, Invensys, not too long ago made changes to the way it sells enterprise manufacturing intelligence. For a vendor seeking success, business decisions of how best to distribute and sell a software solution are just as important as having the latest technology.
Invensys enhanced its Wonderware Intelligence software with new concurrent licensing, enabling multiple-user access to plant dashboards and interactive reports. Invensys says doing so reduces the administration usually required for multi-plant, multi-instance Intelligence software deployments and for groups of concurrent users who share the same information in rotating shifts or during 24/7 operations.