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Ascend Performance Materials

Ascend Performance materials is the global leader in the production of Nylon 6-6. The company implements IntelaTrac combined with Wonderware Intelligence and Wonderware Workflow to create ‘Visual Factory’ to improve its manufacturing operations.

Goals

  • Eliminate manual input of data
  • Visualize the overall manufacturing process
  • Accurately record all manufacturing data

Challenges

  • The business was not tracking data to ensure production efficiency and product quality
  • There was a lack of process consistency throughout the plants

Results

  • The company achieved a savings of $500,000 in utilities and materials costs
  • More than $1 million in savings was achieved in maintenance costs
  • Avoided potential plant shutdowns which equates to a savings of $2 million

’We’ve managed to meet and beat our expectations and have achieved a number of unintended benefits no one could have expected when we began’

S. Melissa Scheppele, CIO and Vice President of IT / Ascend Performance Materials

Background

Pensacola, Florida – What does carpet, tennis balls and radiators have in common? They are all manufactured using Nylon 6-6, a type of nylon which is used in the production of textiles, carpet and molded plastics, with worldwide production of this material growing every year. With four integrated manufacturing facilities located throughout the southeast region of the U.S., Ascend Performance materials is the global leader in the production of Nylon 6-6.

Visual Factory and Wonderware

While maintaining its leadership position in production, Ascend was behind the times in the implementation and use of modern technology to optimize its operations. “I was brought on board to help Ascend transform from a ‘1950s’ era plant, into a modern manufacturing facility with the implementation of advanced technology to more effectively run the business,” said S. Melissa Scheppele, CIO and vice president of IT at Ascend. “We looked at a number of companies and solution from both hardware and software perspectives, and found the Wonderware solution was the best match for our operation.”  “Visual Factory keeps tabs on the ‘big picture,’” said John Johannemann, Ascend plant manager for the Pensacola facility. “It basically tells us whether or not were straying from the middle of the road and getting close to a ditch. We are able to see the warning signs.”

Turning Operations Data into Actionable Information

Ascend operations must access multiple software systems to manage day-to-day operations in an effective and secure manner. These systems generate large sets of data which contain critical information pertaining to management systems, planning and cost information in business systems and energy consumption. As a result, Ascend management was challenged with creating relevant reports reflecting performance measures in overall context of their operational process. The company’s previous process entailed collecting and analyzing data manually which was not effective, since the information collected was generated after the fact, and was too complex for collaborative use across the organization.

Leverage the hidden insights in industrial data

The software automates the transformation of time series and transactional data across multiple sources and turns large amounts of Industrial “Big Data” into actionable metrics and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) information. Metrics and context data is kept in an open information model, providing a single version of the current data. This is stored in data warehouses and enterprise business intelligence tools enabling Ascend management to make strategic sense out of the production data. “Prior to implementing Wonderware software, the data was collected manually on pieces of paper that stayed on a clipboard until the clipboard was full,” said Bert Penegar, maintenance coordinator at Ascend. “Now that data is recorded and we can see who did the round and track down what they posted in the system.”

Organizational collaboration

“Previously, someone had to constantly monitor the data to make sure we were able to see the trigger points we wanted during the production process,” said H. Walt Woodfin, Maintenance Reliability at Ascend. “Prior to Wonderware, we didn’t have the proper tools to enable our teams to be successful in the overall management of the manufacturing facilities.”

Ascend has achieved this through the use of Wonderware IntelaTrac, a mobile workforce and decision support system that features configurable software and ruggedized mobile hardware solutions. IntelaTrac enables workflow, data collection and general task management for plant operations, maintenance management, production tracking and compliance applications. “We went from having no servers and no technology set up, to having connected operators in the field in just 90 days,” Unruh said. Ascend field workers can now transmit field data collected using IntelaTrac handheld hardware back to the automation system so it can be viewed by operator on their displays in the control room, or by engineers and managers utilizing plant information portals. “We found that the overall Wonderware solution was the best match for our requirement of handheld technology scanners,” Scheppelle said. “IntelaTrac brings our field operators into the automation loop by giving them a powerful tool to successfully complete their job.” The combination of Wonderware IntelaTrac’s workforce management software, mobile handheld computers, monitoring devices, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) equipment tags or bar codes, results in a significantly improved decision support system for Ascend mobile workers to manage plant assets. Not only has Wonderware solutions automated the Ascend overall process, but they have improved the job satisfaction of its employees. The combination of the Wonderware technologies has helped the company both from an employee retention perspective, as well as from a business growth and development perspective. “The business case itself is great,” Scheppelle said. “We’ve successfully met as well as beat expectations. The company has managed to collect a number of unintended benefits that are paying off in ways no one could have calculated when we started the technology implementation process.

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