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Striking brownfield gold

Data is the currency of the future. To unearth the wealth of information hidden just below the surface of today's brownfield plants and machinery, B&R developed the Orange Box. Among the first to use this remarkably simple and convenient solution was the Vehicle Dynamics unit within Continental's Chassis & Safety division – retrofitting an existing plant with state-of-the-art data acquisition and analysis. Implementation was completed in minutes, and management was immediately rewarded with its first real-time overview of key performance indicators like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

"Our primary focus used to be on collecting and analyzing product-related order and material data, regardless of the level of automation in a production line," says Manuel Krebs who leads the Central Control & Production IT Systems department within the Vehicle Dynamics unit. "With the growing range of options for integrating data into modern control systems, it becomes possible to broaden that focus significantly and to react much faster and in a more targeted way to stoppages and other availability issues."

The automotive supplier benefits from an optimal setup here. "In the Vehicle Dynamics unit, we plan and design all the production equipment for all of our production sites," notes Krebs. "Responsibility for control technology, MES systems and shop-floor IT infrastructure is all centralized in one place. This provides us with optimal conditions for a standardized and very structured approach to evaluating a wide range of production data."

Older plants generally do not meet the technical requirements for collecting and evaluating sufficient amounts of data without intervening in the plant software. For companies who hope to get years of productive life out of their existing plants, to continue without closing this gap in connectivity is not acceptable. The Orange Box is an easy way for plant operators to clear the final hurdle in integrating existing plants – uninvasively and with minimal investment. This can be seen in the example of an existing Continental Teves plant at the company's headquarters in Hanover, which has been producing automotive air suspension systems for many years.

"B&R had our attention from the moment they introduced the Orange Box," recalls Krebs. "It promised an effective, direct way to get the answers we need to make targeted improvements in the efficiency of our brownfield sites. But, part of it was also just pure curiosity and enthusiasm for the technology," he admits.

The smartphone-inspired design and functionality of the user interface are make it intuitive to use without requiring any specialist knowledge. (Source: B&R)

Plant software remains untouched

The implementation requirements were clear and quite strict: first, the existing plant technology had to remain untouched to avoid compromising any existing guarantees or certifications. Second, production had to continue uninterrupted throughout installation and commissioning of the Orange Box. Third, the training overhead for Continental employees who would be using the system had to be kept to an absolute minimum. Having been designed for just such a situation, the Orange Box met all three conditions easily.

The implementation requirements were clear and quite strict: first, the existing plant technology had to remain untouched to avoid compromising any existing guarantees or certifications. Second, production had to continue uninterrupted throughout installation and commissioning of the Orange Box. Third, the training overhead for Continental employees who would be using the system had to be kept to an absolute minimum. Having been designed for just such a situation, the Orange Box met all three conditions easily.

B&R offers three ways to establish communication between existing equipment and the Orange Box. If the existing controller has a fieldbus interface, the first option would be to use that. B&R has equipped the Orange Box with data interfaces for the most commonly used controls manufacturers, so all that remains is to select the one that applies.

If the controller is not supported directly – or if the plant has already been electrified but has no suitable fieldbus interface – the Orange Box can also use any I/O hardware that is in place. If this is also not an option, then the data can be extracted from the equipment using parallel wiring and additional sensors. Since the Continental plant in question already used a relatively modern line control system that was supported by the Orange Box, the project managers chose the easiest integration option using the existing fieldbus interface.

The Orange Box data acquisition and analysis system from B&R allows users to easily link data points via a visual editor. This gives them quick access to a structured overview of the causes of unplanned stoppages. (Source: B&R)

First data available in minutes

Once the Orange Box was installed in the control cabinet, using the same hardware platform as the standard B&R controllers, the system went live on an operational production system in July 2017. The first batch of data was available just a few minutes later.

"The only preparation involved on our end was to select the specific data points we were interested in," says Krebs. "All the aggregation and analytics is handled by the B&R software."

The modern user interface of the Orange Box makes it very easy to configure, analyze and visualize the collected data. Without writing a single line of code, the individual data points can be linked in a visual editor using Boolean operators to create graphics that visualize OEE and other KPIs. "Configuring instead of programming – that's what sets the Orange Box apart," says Krebs.

With mapp Technology, simple configuration replaces tedious programming. The user interface for the Orange Box was created using B&R's mapp View. This mapp component relies solely on web standards and enables both optimal browser-based display on all output devices as well as the direct implementation of operating concepts that will be familiar to any smartphone user: a home screen provides a range of symbols offering fast access to the main system functions. Below them, a dashboard displays key efficiency metrics. Users can choose the functionality they need from B&R's constantly growing range of mapp components and expand the tool one module at a time with minimal new engineering work. For example, plant operators can use mapp Tweet to send alarms or other important notifications to their smartphone, or use mapp Data to backup data in higher-level databases via OPC UA.

The Orange Box dashboard provides a fast, informative overview of a plant's most important efficiency metrics – in real time and from any location – allowing well-informed operators to implement corrective measures quickly and precisely where they are needed. (Source: B&R)

For the implementation of the Orange Box, the supervisors at Continental were primarily focused on the factors that most significantly influenced the availability of the existing plant. In particular, these included unplanned stoppages.

"The Orange Box provides this and other OEE metrics quickly and easily," reports Krebs. "Production supervisors can quickly gain an overview of asset efficiency, ask the right questions at the right times, and effectively drive measures to improve efficiency. It's exactly what we were looking for."

What is mapp Technology?

B&R mapp Technology streamlines implementation of frequently recurring programming tasks for basic machine functionality by providing thoroughly tested ready-made software components. Programmers can then concentrate on their main task: implementing machine processes in the application software. The mapp components are seamlessly integrated into the B&R Automation Studio development environment. Easily configurable mapp components save programmers the tedious task of coding each and every detail.

Manuel Krebs

Head of Central Control & Production IT Systems, Continental Teves AG

"The Orange Box gives us an ideal tool for integrating our brownfield plants into our IT and data structures seamlessly and with minimal effort. It gives us real-time insight into OEE data that was previously only available with a delay or simply not utilized, and in a clearly organized and reliable way that allows transparent analysis."

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