Automation upgrade boosts traditional craft productivity

Installing a Mitsubishi Electric automation upgrade has halved Denby Pottery’s clay manufacturing times and cut lost production.

The automation upgrda has empowered the artisans with greater control over skilled manufacturing processes to improve product quality. This is what happened when Denby Pottery refurbishing its process control systems. Mitsubishi Electric distributor BPX provided a reliable and well-connected solution to improve control and monitoring of their clay production line. Now fully commissioned, the solution has reduced downtime and improved the quality of the clay processing.

Denby has been designing and crafting tableware, cookware and serveware for over 200 years using clay as its starting substance. As a raw material, clay can vary greatly from one batch to another. With their comprehensive understanding of the clay’s properties plant operators accurately control the process parameters and obtain a high-quality output.

Automation upgrade

Steven Sands, Denby Pottery’s Technical Engineering Project Manager commented. “One of the key considerations is the dry weight of the material and its application in recipe calculations. Also, high accuracy and precision in controlling the concentration of solids in liquids are essential requirements in this process. We have used some form of automation for a long time now.”

To remain competitive and maintain clay consistency, Denby Pottery decided to update its obsolete clay processing control system. As Sands explained: “The control system was prone to regular failure. It was running on an outdated platform that had no compatibility with current control elements. In addition, several replacement parts for this solution needed to be custom made, as they were no longer available. Therefore, the system was proving increasingly costly and time-consuming to maintain.”

These factors affected Denby Pottery’s plant productivity, jeopardising the manufacturing processes that lie beyond the clay production lines. Steve Hazell, Engineering Manager at Denby Pottery, continued. “Some time ago we experienced a major breakdown of the control system. Before solving the issues, the plant experienced an outage of four days.”

Additionally, Denby Pottery wanted to embrace modern Smart Manufacturing to gain greater control over its production materials, processes and machines. Moreover, they wanted to measure clay quality attributes “on the fly”. The automation upgrade would enable them to fine-tune the manufacturing process in real-time and improve the quality consistency of the clay.

Better connectivity leads to greater control

The solution to address all these challenges came from Mitsubishi Electric and their technical distribution partner, BPX. The initial installation of a fibre optic network opened a wide range of opportunities. This allowed for Denby Pottery to monitor and control their manufacturing materials, processes, machines and full production lines. Improved machine communications enhanced control over the clay manufacturing processes. It also improved interaction between the processes and identification of any equipment malfunction.

The machines on the production lines used Mitsubishi Remote I/O Nodes connected to a Qn Series dual redundant PLC system. These linked to three Mitsubishi Electric GOT2000 Series Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs). The HMIs monitor from different factory areas to a central Mitsubishi  Manufacturing Execution System Interface within the engineering department.

Simplifying maintenance

Operators can access MES Interface Module and the Virtual Network Computing (VNC) using the viewer functionalities of the GOT2000 HMIs. In this way they can remotely control and monitor the production line and acquire data on the Overall Equipment Effectiveness. The VNC server also allows the operators to control ate the HMI screens remotely and securely from any connected device.

The resulting decentralised control system simplifies maintenance and operation of the plant. Furthermore, engineer can securely programme from remote locations by the HMIs interfaced to the Qn Series controllers.

While the replacement of the legacy control system addressed the reliability issues of the plant, installing a dual redundant PLC system increased system robustness and reliability. The standby system with its own CPU, fully synchronised to the controlling CPU during operation. It mirrors the controlling CPU and instigate a seamless bypass in the unlikely event of failure of the main CPU. This minimises the risk of plant downtime in the unlikely event of the plc failing.

Tyler Hatton, Denby’s Automation Manager added. “The system’s versatility has allowed us to expand into OEE machine monitoring for various pieces of equipment and machinery. This is helping us highlight problems and improve efficiency throughout the factory.

The benefits of adopting a cutting-edge solution

The new system has overcome the previous maintenance issues and increased system reliability.  In the case of a machine failure, the HMIs alert the plant operators and enable them to quickly detect the cause and solve it. The solutions from Mitsubishi Electric have provided Denby Pottery with “Smart Factory” monitoring capabilities and corresponding increased flexibility of the production line.

Steven Sands listed some of the additional benefits that the new control system provided. “The improved accuracy of clay property calculations also increasing the quality of the clay and its consistency.

Markedly, automation upgrade meant clay manufacturing time halved, increasing time-efficiency and productivity.” Between Mitsubishi Electric, BPX Electro Mechanical and Denby Pottery the project  was completed six months early and under budget.

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