Dec 18, 2020

Digital Transformation at Norbord Improves Productivity

6 min
Norbord’s people-first approach is empowering employees with a better understanding of mill operations.
Norbord’s people-first approach is empowering employees with a better understanding of mill operations...

Like many commodity manufacturers, Norbord needs precise control over processes and platforms to simplify equipment monitoring, and make smarter decisions, faster.

Norbord, the world’s largest producer of oriented strand board (OSB), has always been horizontally aligned and operationally focused, and faced challenges familiar to many global manufacturing operations:

  • Fragmented operational data and manual data processing that makes it hard to contextualize and capture value from that data
  • Homegrown and disconnected plant-floor applications
  • Rigid, preventative plant maintenance

Norbord is embracing digitalization to utilize operational data to identify solutions that will drive improved productivity and reduced controllable costs – and enable high-value activities and increased visibility of upstream and downstream workflows. 

Simplifying the Digital Transformation Journey

Norbord teamed with Rockwell Automation to help work with the realities of its business and provide a more holistic perspective throughout their entire journey – a vendor that provides the depth of expertise and breadth of thinking needed to see possibilities and transform them into reality.

For Norbord, the Rockwell Automation services and solutions capabilities are integral to digital transformation. The continuous improvement journey is made possible with active collaboration and support through each phase of transformation, from consulting engagement to analytics implementation, from infrastructure readiness assessment to support services.

That deep domain expertise and leading approach to technology are made available through the Rockwell Automation partner ecosystem, resulting in offerings like FactoryTalk InnovationSuite™, powered by PTC, and other innovations designed to accelerate the integration of OT and IT systems.

Process Starts with Pilot

Norbord’s digital transformation started with a pilot mill, targeting a significant improvement in Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and a downward trend in quality-related issues, and a detailed image of the cost and recipe structure for individual products.

“We needed to gain a better understanding, better insight and get more granular data about how our mills actually operate,” said Teja Schubert, Director, Controls, Automation and Technology, Norbord. “And we needed to be able to process this information faster, preferably in real-time, and take away a lot of the clerical work that people would spend time on like transferring data from one system to another or processing it.”

The team partnered with Rockwell Automation to build out the digital solution set and gathered input from employees to help ensure that the digital solutions would provide value, offer relatable and reliable output that helped people get better insights, and get those insights quickly.

Its primary elements include a digital thread that connects once-siloed sources of data, analytics across the operations that provide holistic insights, and lifecycle services that show what’s needed to make the most of the investment and analytics capabilities.

At the pilot mill, digital transformation is accelerating innovation, maximizing workforce productivity and optimizing operations, creating value through:

  • Manufacturing Execution System (MES), integrated production focused on error-proofing and data integrity
  • OEE with advanced machine learning root cause analysis (RCA), focused on downtime
  • Model Predictive Control (MPC) solutions, focused on run rate and variation, increases throughput, and offers better moisture control in the drying process
  • Personalized dashboards, or a single pane of glass approach combining multiple data sources from multiple systems to create a contextualized and relevant view

With the pilot complete, Schubert and his team can confidently expand the digital transformation to the company’s other OSB mills.

“This digital transformation is a strong example of a people-focused venture, meeting employee needs, building resiliency and adaptability, and creating opportunities for growth,” said Schubert.

Multi-mill, Multi-level Transformation

Among the earliest digital solutions Norbord rolled out in the pilot mill was the FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices industrial information appliance. It takes in device health information and evaluates and alerts user groups about specific events.

The appliance can pick up on subtle shifts in device health state that a worker may not notice but that could be a precursor to a bigger problem. This will help the mill transition from reactive to more predictive or condition-driven maintenance.

The appliance was integrated into the overall system to help leverage the device health information in a way that related to process information, extending notifications and integrated automated work order creation to act.

“Rather than you trying to keep up with your process by looking at 12 screens and waiting for some light to go off, the whole process can tell you if something shifts,” Schubert said. “And the system will know who actually needs to have that information, and it will notify the right user group by messages on mobile devices.”

While the pilot mill is improving efficiency and productivity by simplifying how equipment is monitored and using better data to make smarter decisions, implementation across mills requires upgrading infrastructure, analytics systems, software and remote operations.

“In addition to generating a lot of data, we have custom systems that are harder to support and can’t sustain the growth of our organization in the need for data, and processing of that data,” said Schubert. “We looked for opportunities to improve efficiency and we realized that we needed to look at the entire process, across all of the mills, not just manufacturing.”

Human-centred Approach

Early returns on the pilot mill show significant improvements in every workstream: improved OEE and uptime, fewer quality-related issues, and a better picture of the cost and recipe structure for products.

Digital transformation requires employees to adapt to new and unfamiliar technology – something they are doing with support from Rockwell Automation.

“We are leveraging the capabilities of Rockwell Automation, their partners and their innovative and dedicated team to constantly look for new and better solutions, and technologies that give us a modern, people-focused approach to data, control and reporting,” explained Schubert.

“We found groups within Rockwell Automation with vast experience in designing dashboards with our employees in mind,” he added. “We needed something both an operator and a mill manager could use that makes the information more reliable and relatable, and we appreciate that the approach has always prioritized the needs of our employees.”

FactoryTalk InnovationSuite and a single-pane-of-glass approach bring everything together – the data from OEE, MES, MPC and RCA – in a way operators and mill managers need to see it so they can use it.

Production Order Management

A key piece of the implementation was FactoryTalk® ProductionCentre MES. It governs the orchestration of the manufacturing process and shares production orders down to the plant floor. It also records cost inputs like energy and raw materials to provide a more granular view of how efficiently the process is running and if it is making the amount of margin expected.

Partner Throughout the Process

“We needed a partner to guide us through this journey,” said Schubert. “We appreciate how Rockwell Automation has offered an entire suite, every component of what we needed, even before we realized we needed it. Everything is under one umbrella. We have deeply integrated our infrastructure, software, hardware and services so we can get the support we need at every stage of this journey.”

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May 12, 2021

Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers

2 min
57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support smart manufacturing digitalisation

With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.

While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.

“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.

“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”

Change Management

Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.

“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.

Technology and People

While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.

“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.

Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.

Discover Gartner's Five Best Practices for Post COVID-19 Innovation' in manufacturing.

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