Case Study

Rubberlite

How Stratus Edge Computing Enabled Rubberlite to Eliminate Downtime, Lower IT Costs 50%, and Reduce Non-Sellable Material by 80%

Challenges

  • Improve product quality for customer satisfaction, and enable innovation for growth
  • Eliminate downtime for SCADA applications, and centralize recipe management for manufacturing repeatability
  • Modernize compute infrastructure necessary to digitalize critical processes and eliminate downtime for operations and data collection
  • Reduce IT maintenance and labor costs to enable engineers to focus on high value work

Solution

  • Launch Supervisory Control Systems Project to transform processes, modernize infrastructure, and enable plant-wide visibility
  • Installed a single Stratus ftServer running application virtualization and fault tolerance to eliminate downtime, centralize data, and improve reliability
  • Deploy AVEVA™ System Platform on ftServer® for fully integrated DCS and data historian with fault tolerant server backbone

Benefits

  • Experienced no downtime since implementation in 2016
  • Reduced non-sellable material production by 80%, even with 25% increase in sales

Rubberlite, a West Virginia-based materials manufacturer, custom engineers and produces medium-density polyurethane foams in a wide variety of specifications for over 1,600 customers globally for aviation, medical, apparel, furniture applications, and more. The company’s key to growth and success is exceeding customer expectations, and developing innovative products and processes to meet emerging customer requirements.

To achieve their mission of growth through innovation, Rubberlite launched a Supervisory Control Systems Project to transform their infrastructure. The team selected Stratus Edge Computing to provide a solution to simplify and consolidate IT infrastructure, standardize data collection, and ensure continuous availability of applications and reliability of data.

By improving data reliability and automation backed by Stratus Edge Computing, Rubberlite drove significant improvement in efficiency and product quality that translated to business growth and customer satisfaction. The team reduced non-sellable material by 80% while increasing sales and production 25%. Most dramatically, they have experienced zero downtime since implementing Stratus in 2016.

“I was impressed with the scalability that Stratus was able to offer us when considering investment in licenses and configuration, labor, maintenance and other costs.”
Jessica Spurlock
Process Automation Engineer
Rubberlite

Developing Innovative Processes to Become a World Class Organization

Rubberlite wanted to transform their operations to improve reliability and eliminate data loss that was impacting manufacturing and increasing labor resources. Additionally, they faced the high costs of multiple software licenses and maintaining a number of IT systems.

The company identified the need to deploy fault tolerant computing to consolidate existing legacy systems as a critical step in aligning Rubberlite’s people, processes and technology to achieve automated process controls, data integration, and a higher level of sophistication and operating discipline.

Islands of Automation Prevented Visibility on Equipment Performance

Like many manufacturers, Rubberlite lacked integration between standalone systems on the plant floor, creating siloed information islands, which prevented them from understanding the impact of equipment performance on profit or product quality.

On top of this, data was only logged during production runs, not during idle times, creating a large gap in troubleshooting abilities. Data exports were cumbersome, taking nearly an hour to generate one report. With 10-12 reports a week, this additional work accounted for one-quarter of an engineer’s time.

The company also looked to digitalize antiquated paper-based processes. For nearly 20 years, production data was stored in binders of run sheets that required operators to write actual specs and targets while making products. In the polyurethanes department, the average employee tenure was close to 20 years, leading to extensive accumulated knowledge for each individual without standardization across the plant. The products consequently had variable repeatability because tasks were not performed in the same manner, which led to quality control and workforce development challenges.

Rubberlite decided to launch the Supervisory Control Systems Project to directly address these challenges and make strides towards increased growth and innovation.

Edge Computing the Foundation for Digital Transformation of Existing Work Processes

The polyurethanes manufacturing department was chosen as the beta site for implementation of the Supervisory Control System Project with a Stratus Edge Computing platform as the backbone.

Rubberlite selected the Stratus ftServer for its turnkey combination of hardware, software, and continuous monitoring services. The platform’s “lock step,” fault tolerance at the hardware level ensured that, in the event of a malfunction, the system continued operation without downtime or data loss. Additionally, the system provides proactive health monitoring to identify potential issues before they occur, and hot swappable components for servicing while in operation without incurring any planned downtime.

Stratus ftServer further allowed the Rubberlite team to use virtualization to run multiple software applications concurrently, eliminating the need to purchase multiple hardware, software, and licenses which reduced system admin costs.

Working with Stratus distributor, InSource Solutions, Rubberlite configured ftServer to consolidate software workloads backed by fault tolerance. The result was a quickly modernized infrastructure optimized for their new control architecture at a fraction of the cost and complexity of prior or alternative computing solutions. Stratus’ simple way of enabling fault tolerance with one physical system reduced the total investment (labor and capital) by 50% as compared to more complex methods.

Reliability of Stratus ftServer and AVEVA System Platform

For its SCADA system, Rubberlite employed AVEVA System Platform and associated manufacturing software for control, data collection, and sharing. As a long-standing Stratus technology partner, AVEVA solutions are well characterized to run on Stratus platforms and provide a combined solution optimized for OT environments.

New and existing PLCs and instrumentation interface directly with the AVEVA System Platform running on Stratus ftServer, including applying the appropriate networking requirements, generating documentation, testing and commissioning.

AVEVA System Platform Galaxy Configuration and Implementation utilize InTouch and Historian for operator interface and data collection. AVEVA’s thin manager, also running on ftServer, allows the installation and configuration of thin clients using Stratus redundancy.

With this foundation in place, Rubberlite was well positioned to deploy more sophisticated automated controls and process improvements, and continue to leverage AVEVA System Platform’s full capabilities. The software’s template-based technology in a centralized deployment eliminated the costs and risks of technology implementation, and reduced engineering labor costs to enable long-term project sustainability.

“We have not had a single downtime event since [Stratus ftServer] has been running in March 2016.”
Jessica Spurlock
Process Automation Engineer
Rubberlite

Data Reliability and Automation Translate to Product Quality and Customer Satisfaction

Instead of a rip and replace of foundational technology, Rubberlite was able to modernize existing technology and creatively utilize current investments to their greatest potential. By automating previously manual tasks, they gained enhanced quality control while improving critical business KPIs such as:

  • 80% reduction of off-grade material within five years of implementation
  • 25% increase in sales and several new product offerings introduced to the market, including two new product lines

“Our partnership with Stratus has helped Rubberlite evolve into where we are now, and it’s put us in the position of where we can continue to grow and improve.”
Jessica Spurlock
Process Automation Engineer
Rubberlite

Simple, Protected, and Autonomous Operations with Stratus

Through the success of the Supervisory Control Systems Project, the Rubberlite team is now freed to optimize performance and results, rather than focusing on maintenance tasks and data quality. Rubberlite is also able to develop standards and processes that combine employees’ years of valuable knowledge with modernized technology from Stratus. Specifically, some of the processes improved include:

  • A central database to generate recipes and process parameters for every grade of foam produced which digitized Rubberlite’s paper-based processes.
  • An automated recipe management system that greatly improved efficiency in startups and change overs, and reduced errors in operator entry.
  • A historian-linked interface for engineers to access all process data according to associated fields. This project turned the painstaking process of generating reports into a simple task, saving hours of time overall.
  • A web-based visual scheduling display for plant-wide production and maintenance activities. This user-friendly graphical user interface allowed for easy editing of scheduling information in real time, improving communication between management, engineering, operations, and maintenance.

While Rubberlite had already achieved decades of success, they were not satisfied with the status quo – they had a drive to continually innovate and improve. By partnering with Stratus, Rubberlite was able to fully leverage and maximize the benefits of Edge Computing to deliver simple, protected, and autonomous capabilities to their manufacturing operations.

“Going with Stratus was a no-brainer”
Jessica Spurlock
Process Automation Engineer
Rubberlite

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