Cleveland-based PolyOne Corp., formed by the merger of The Geon Company and M.A. Hanna Co. three years ago, bills itself as the world's largest polymer services firm. It generates about $2.5 billion in annual sales by offering a broad range of basic and engineered resins, elastomers and additives for application in industries that include automotive, construction, appliance and packaging.
Shortly after the merger, the company launched "projectOne," to help it respond quickly to market needs and minimize inventory. This corporate program aimed to provide standardized, real-time data links between the company's plant floor control systems and its SAP R3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
Many of the company's plants were using shop-floor control systems, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and SAP's R3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems in place before the merger. There were differences among their implementations, however, and management of the new company wanted standard solutions.
"We had developed our own custom MES system for tracking production," says Roger McKinney, senior manufacturing systems analyst in PolyOne's IT department. "In the late 1990's, we had replaced our data historians with PI Historian modules from the Realtime Performance Management (RtPM) suite from OSI Software Inc., in San Leandro, Calif. When we began our search for the best way to implement the missing link between the two levels of our operations, we looked at OSI's RLINK certified interface to R3."
IT management felt that a certified interface would be the solution of choice because only SAP among the enterprise applications would require the data in real-time. Since certified interfaces are "off-the-shelf" solutions that are extensions of the primary application, PolyOne staff would not have to write extensive code or perform substantial testing for SAP version changes. In addition, these interfaces offer very robust capabilities and they have already been tested and approved for use with SAP.
"We felt OSI's off-the-shelf interface would be ideal for our needs because it could plug-and-play at both ends of our system solution," McKinney explains. "That proved to be the case. We had six vinyl plants that we had to change over from custom interfaces within the R3 conversion schedule ... Using the RLINK interface between our PI Historians and R3 we were able to complete all six rollouts within schedule," he adds.
Tested on manual plant
"This was a manually operated plant, with no automation, but we created a Visual Basic application so personnel could enter data into PI and use the interface to both feed recipes down to the shop floor and provide process data back up to the R3 system," McKinney says. "This initial setup didn't have all the functionality of what we wanted to have eventually, but it was a good test situation and didn't require a lot of time to configure."
The initial installation in Farmingdale went well and similar systems then were rolled out during 2001 at the company's six other vinyl plants. These initial systems handled all data transactions for 22 vinyl production lines, generating an average of 182 control recipes each week and an average of 4,120 consumption process message uploads and 555 production message uploads per day.
Evolutionary links to SAP R3
Initially, PolyOne transferred data via PI linked to the MES server on each plant's shop floor control system
This approach would be critical when rolling out the systems to six elastomer plants having a total of 50 production lines. In addition, while the vinyl plants were geared mainly to continuous production, the elastomer plants were batch oriented and generally produced goods to fulfill specific customer orders. Because of the nature of the batch production, the volume of data collected from the batch processes led to much higher traffic with SAP: an average of 450 recipe downloads per 12-hr. day, an average of 5,200 consumption process message uploads and an average of 1,350 production message uploads per day.
"Our projectOne staff theorized that if we could draw process data directly from a SQL database, we could link multiple MES servers at all our different plants to a single RLINK server that fed the data to the R3 system," McKinney says. "We felt this could be a more efficient way of handling data traffic, so we asked if there was a way to draw data directly from a relational database.
"OSISoft devised a tool that let us point to different databases so we could extract data from either the PI Historians or from Microsoft SQL Server," McKinney adds. "This was critical to our being able to handle the much higher data volume from the elastomer plants. It also allowed us to redeploy PI to alternative shop floor applications."
That wasn't the only technical support issue encountered. All six elastomer plants were to be cut over to the new OSI-SAP configurations in late December, but, on New Year's Eve, the company discovered that one of its transactional control recipe downloads couldn't handle a single-quote symbol within a message, which meant it could not download certain recipes." OSISoft rewrote the code within two hours and emailed a patch.
Eight North American elastomer plants were all cut over to the new systems last year. The bidirectional data traffic between the shop floor, the MES layer and SAP R3 has increased consistently ever since. Recent statistics show the following averages for the elastomer and vinyl plants:
Plans for the remainder of 2003 call for addition of three other plants in Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the system.
Multiple system benefits
The new OSISoft system allows PolyOne to connect both up- and downstream, to its suppliers and customersThe system has helped the company create external connections to both its customers and materials suppliers (Fig. 2.). Customers can now place orders and check their order fulfillment progress via PolyOne Web pages, e-mail or business-to-business applications. Suppliers can do the same from their enterprise applications, checking raw material inventories online and preparing replenishment transactions online. All information is gleaned from the SAP R3 4.6c data warehouse and is up-to-date virtually in real time."Our initial use of these new interfaces was configured with a PI linked to the MES server on each vinyl plant's shop floor control systems, which transferred data to and from the RLINK server at each location,"McKinney explains (Fig. 1). "Each plant had its own T1 network line to the central SAP center in Cleveland, so this worked. But we first had to pull production data out of the historian for transfer to the MES server and then send [them] to the interface server and up to SAP. The more we looked at this configuration, the more we thought there must be a more-efficient way to interconnect the systems by networking multiple databases to one RLINK server."The first of the vinyl plants to which the PI Historian and RLINK interface modules were added was in Farmingdale, N.J. The projectOne implementation involved a staff of five people from the IT, engineering and shop floor staffs at PolyOne and three consulting engineers from Accenture.