Industrial Automation Best Practices for Plant Managers

Manufacturing processes are evolving at a lightning speed. The processes that were effective only 5 years ago may no longer be applicable in today’s environment. It is therefore essential for plant managers to keep up with new and emergent automation processes, as well as evolving customer demands. By identifying the needs of customers in today’s marketplace, the plant can implement an industrial automation strategy that is targeted towards satisfying those needs.

Following best practices for automation results in plant wide control, improved scalability and more efficient operations. Let’s look at some of these industrial automation best practices.

Utilize Modern Distributed Control Systems

A Distribution Control System (DCS) is designed to connect multiple controllers and points of access throughout the plant. By integrating points of access, plant-wide control can be improved from a centralized location, and automation becomes more efficient.

Modern Distribution Control Systems are designed to replace outmoded or traditional versions which are difficult to integrate with because of disparate technology, lack scalability due to their rigid design, and are only compatible with vendor-specific equipment.

Modern DCS’s also maintain all the functionality of these traditional systems in addition to providing contemporary technology that integrates seamlessly across multiple systems within the plant. In addition, they provide scalability because they are designed to be flexible and responsive to the workload of the plant.

Implement Just-in-Time Practices

Another best practice suited for industrial automation is implementing Just in Time (JIT) practices as a management system. As manufacturing processes are automated, it is important to keep track of the components that are being used as well as the space available to store finished products. Having the right quantity of inputs at the right time is essential towards fulfilling customer orders in an efficient manner.

In addition, automation should help mitigate related factors such as those associated with high inventory costs. While the manufacturing process is now, more efficient, JIT practices should relay on the automation process to provide predictable outputs and forecasting in order to reduce the need for stocking unnecessary product inventory.

Converge IT and Operations Technology

A growing number of plant managers are realizing the benefits of integrating their IT systems and Operations Technology systems under one unified network. Combining IT and operations allows for greater visibility in the organization’s processes, as well as improved information sharing across departments. The IT team, for example, can now become directly involved in evaluating how their automation programming is performing on the ground during actual operations. This provides an avenue for the seamless flow of information and for continuous improvement.

Integrating IT and Operations Systems also enables IT professionals to implement industrial security as part of the larger enterprise security framework, as opposed to using separate systems for industrial security and for the rest of the enterprise.

Develop a Plan for Preventative Equipment Maintenance

Equipment malfunction and the resulting downtime is one of the biggest challenges of industrial automation. Downtime of equipment can lead to shortfalls in production and the inability to fulfill customer orders in a timely manner. A best practice is to implement a framework for preventative equipment maintenance that emphasizes a proactive approach into each employee’s job functions.

This allows for each employee to be capable of identifying the warning signs of equipment failure in advance of it actually happening. Preventative maintenance steps can, therefore, be implemented to make sure equipment is always up and running, and that automated processes are not interrupted.

Adopting best practices for industrial automation is a necessary change that companies would do well to formalize in a time of continual technological advances. While no one strategy will work for every plant, implementing some form of formal best practices is essential in keeping up with customer demands and improved measurements in productivity, efficiency, and quality.