Rockwell Automation / Singleton Birch

InControl helped compose a team of expert technology providers, including Rockwell Automation, PTC and sister company InVMA, to create a central control room for managing this complex supply chain is its control operations.

The £300,000 investment signified the company’s drive to be at the forefront of their industry. The facility will highlight inefficiencies, bottlenecks and opportunities for improvement and contribute to their competitive edge in the marketplace.

The Company

Singleton Birch is the UK’s leading independent lime supplier, producing up to 400,000 tonnes of lime and over one million tonnes of chalk annually at their site in North Lincolnshire. These products are then supplied to many industries such as steel, building, chemical and environmental.

The Problem

Singleton Birch’s operations were siloed, and there was little coordination between activities in separate parts of the operations.

A central component for managing this complex supply chain is its control operations. This function is responsible for monitoring everything from the extraction of calcium hydroxide (lime) through to delivery and removal of products at remote sites. Historically, command operations were managed via eight separate control rooms, situated in proximity to production sites, each with its own operational and engineering staff. These sites incorporated around 40 legacy PLCs and 25 SCADA applications, each supported by separate servers at the remote locations.

The Solution

Acknowledged as an area for improvement, the company began the process in 2015 of consolidating and integrating its control operations. The initiative aimed to replace the multi-site approach with a single control room with complete visibility across the company’s entire operations. Working with its longstanding systems integrator InControl Systems, the board saw the project as an opportunity for cost saving and competitive advantage. Following a discovery workshop in 2017, they approved the development of an integrated control centre, supported by a new, on-premise data centre.

The vision for the project also aligned with a broader organisational push to adapt the company culture and integrate its production chain. This meant moving away from fragmented, generalist staff managing different part of company operations, towards fully integrated operations via specialist operators. The new control centre would become a state-of-the-art facility with duties ranging from resource allocation and optimisation, through to safety and logistics, with the twin goals of cost reduction and value addition.

Transforming from the centre

Beginning the installation phase in May 2019, it took eight weeks to build the control room. The process involved installing more than 40 large screens, redundant servers and support applications, connected to PLCs using control logic gateways on an Ethernet network. These screens would give operators the flexibility to monitor across operations using single log on, with minimal maintenance.

To support the new control centre capabilities, Singleton Birch created an adjacent data centre with the objectives of creating greater redundancy and improved data quality. In this data centre they installed two Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk View SE unlimited redundant client server architectures, one for quarry operations and one for process operations, which helped them to significantly minimise downtime and improve traceability of software modifications.

The data centre also included PTC ThingWorx and Kepware solutions, which allowed operators to stitch together data from multiple sources, including the control systems, energy monitoring, CRM and planning systems. This provided operators with important insight into stock and production data in order to enable more accurate forecasting of manufacturing and delivery requirements.

By August 2019 the new system was completely functional; the quick project turnaround aided by the flexibility and scalability of the ThingWorx platform. With their new-found capabilities, operators gained clear visibility over equipment effectiveness, maintenance management systems and financial information. The integrated system brought operators and engineers closer together, meaning that maintenance tasks could be operationalised. The setup also functionally separated operators from on-the-ground supervisors. The operators would act as the supervisors’ ‘eyes and ears’, analysing data and providing recommendations to the remote locations.

Mark Sacker, Head of Operations for Singleton Birch said:

“The very latest data analytics software will be used. Part of the digitalisation that is happening across manufacturing industry known as Industry 4.0 (the 4th Industrial Revolution). Different working practises are having to be embraced by both those in Central Control and those in the plant. It is often said that there is nothing more certain than change. Change is difficult. The efforts of all in adapting to this change are very much appreciated. I thank all those involved in these changes for their positive contributions.”

Integrated working

In the time since the control centre became operational, the new capabilities have become an important part of Singleton Birch’s plant operations. At a technical level, the centre’s impact has aligned well with the board’s strategic intent. Key benefits have included:

Improved availability:

Availability has improved by more than 20% due to system efficiencies, massively decreasing instances and impact of system faults.

Reduction in energy consumption:

The system includes submetering so that operators have granular insight and greater control over manufacturing and energy consumption across plant.

Improved cost and flexibility:

The cost of operation has been reduced by around 13%, taking into account the price competitiveness of the solution and the reduction in personnel required to maintain operations.

Improved safety:

Supervisors are now remote from physical operations, meaning they are able to identify issues earlier and benefit from having engineers in closer proximity for proactive maintenance.

Better management and integration:

The centralised nature of the control centre has supported the project’s overarching objective of establishing better levels of visibility and joined-up decision-making across site operations.

Sales and revenue generation:

The new system allows Singleton Birch to gain better control over the various aspects of its supply chain, supported by enhanced logistics. This approach has helped to differentiate the company’s business model and boost its competitiveness.

Cultural improvement:

The operator staff have been engaged in the process from day one. They now work in a more comfortable environment with better equipment. They have also benefitted from an improved flow of decision-making and efficiency, meaning they can act in real-time to emerging issues.