Successfully Managing Energy Consumption at a Large Foundry

A Best for Production project was kicked off by metalcasting company Friedrich Wilhelms-Hütte Eisenguss GmbH (FWH) with its production management software partner in May 2011.

Dr. Caren Möhrke, Marketing Services Düsseldorf

The ongoing debate about energy prices and the challenges associated with Germany’s turnaround in energy policy have prompted industry, and in particular high-energy production plants, to optimise their consumption levels. This is why Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is sponsoring a project with the motto “Best for Production”. The ministry wants this project to serve as an example for energy-optimised production at large foundries and to play a pioneering role in the context of Green IT.

Whenever the aim is to improve production processes and sequences and to make more efficient use of potential in the supply chain, it is normally factors such as plant capacity, the availability of materials and human resources that are the focus. However, when it comes to energy-intensive operations such as foundries, this is not sufficient. In this context, intelligent control of their massive energy consumption levels is an additional, if not the decisive factor if a firm wants to boost productivity while conserving resources and so improve its competitive ability.

Realisations and results
This realisation was fundamental to the Best for Production project, which was kicked off by Friedrich Wilhelms-Hütte Eisenguss GmbH (FWH) with its partner PSI Metals in May 2011 and has received funding from the Federal Ministry for the Environment to the tune of some € 290,000 under its Environmental Innovation Programme. For the first time an IT-based Manufacturing Execution System (MES) has been implemented that also defines and highlights energy efficiency as a relevant target criterion. The results are extremely satisfactory: “We assume that we will even exceed expectations in terms of optimising energy efficiency. A truly satisfactory and gratifying outcome”, was the comment of Dr. Georg Stierle, Commercial Managing Director at FWH. The savings target was after all 1.5 m KWh of electricity per year, corresponding to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 850 tonnes. And that’s not all: The savings include 60,000 m3 of gas per year. “It also looks as if we are going to surpass the planned increase in productivity of 10%.”

Since July 2012 all production facilities at the foundry have been working with PSI’s innovative production control system. The project will most probably also be of interest to other large foundries as Green IT, as applied here, has improved the energy balance, boosted productivity and cut lead times. The optimisation of raw materials/materials efficiency likewise results in additional effects, for instance in the case of maintenance and repair or by making energy procurement more flexible.

The partners involved: Close collaboration
FWH is part of the Georgsmarienhütte Group with customers from the conventional power engineering sector, mechanical engineering, heavy-duty engines, the minerals and the steelworks industry as well as wind energy. As a traditional large-scale iron foundry FWH manufactures products weighing between 8 and 160 tonnes. Its key partner on the Best for Production project was the PSI Metals team from Würselen, which has made a name for itself with production management solutions for metal producers to optimize production and logistics. Its specialists had already come up with a concept for a Manufacturing Execution System and shop-floor data collection based on earlier analysis of actual values. They managed to successfully implement it at FWH in just 13 months. Furthermore the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF, which is based in Magdeburg, offered advice on special questions of energy optimisation for melting processes. On this project, the factor of energy efficiency has been introduced in a Manufacturing Execution System as a relevant control parameter for the first time. This represents a significant difference and benefit in relation to conventional process optimisation procedures and is undoubtedly one of the reasons prompting the ministry to offer funding for this innovative venture.

Initial situation and approach or: Mastering complexity
Work processes at large foundries are rarely organised in a centralised manner, but are traditionally perceived as individual steps in isolation, which are mainly controlled through the skills and expertise of the foremen or individual departments at the firm. Another problem that is typical of such plants is the occurrence of bottlenecks in the availability of cranes and casting pits. The result is that processes are likely to get held up due to external and internal influences. The production chain is seldom transparent, with workers often waiting around and machines standing idle, thereby putting a massive strain on resources. Optimum energy efficiency is almost impossible here. An alternative scenario: A Manufacturing Execution System that incorporates energy consumption as a key control parameter.
PSI extended its standard modules and created new interfaces to the energy consumption measuring systems. The concept proved to be the correct strategy: “While the project was underway, intermediate results already showed we were on the right track”, comments Reiner Eschen, Technical Managing Director of FWH. “The improved synchronisation of processes has a direct impact on energy efficiency and productivity.” Efficient planning and control of the weekly casting schedules on the basis of energy consumption is now possible with the help of the MES. All upstream processes (moulding, core-making) and downstream steps (emptying, fettling, processing, inspection, dispatch) can be organised in the schedules and coordinated accordingly.

Transparency allows business strategy to be adapted
“It was our objective in terms of rough-cut and detail planning to set up centralised, market-driven continuous production that responds in a fast and flexible manner to changes in conditions and is above all geared to energy consumption requirements”, comments Wolfgang Tobias, the man in charge of the project. “This was a multi-stage process, and we had to proceed step by step, one department after the other, since the new system was being introduced while maintaining production with our old system.” The Production Planning and Control department was set up to ensure more accurate planning. This means that in future, centralised, transparent and more precise coordination will be possible on a 24-hour timescale. One important factor for the control process is the collection of shop-floor data, which is fed back to the new terminals in the Production department. The program not only shows staff the daily worklist but also the sequence of operations involved. The time actually taken for each task and disruptions are analysed by the MES for the purposes of subsequent planning, with any bottlenecks or conflicts being displayed in good time. Like an early warning system. The constant acquisition of actual data is followed by permanent analysis of this information by the system. Data for post-costing is consequently available at any time. This method allows workflows and products to be continuously improved, so helping to optimise business strategy.

Moving towards a new structure step by step
Given the complexity of the system switchover, the stepwise approach proved to be effective here. Interestingly enough, it was the fettling shop that was restructured first, a process that is at the end of the production chain. As this involves an especially wide range of work steps, with crane and space availability also being key factors here, it was important to ensure the consistent reorganisation of sequences and rearrangement of the layout from the start. This has served as an example for the rest of the project, as it supplied empirical values and insights that offered significant benefits later on when dealing with the other departments.
“The entire process involved major effort and made high demands on us all”, remarks Wolfgang Tobias. This is not surprising, as modifying tried and tested internal structures at a plant is always a great challenge, particularly when the entire production chain is undergoing reorganisation. Smooth implementation has thus also depended on the provision of training by PSI for heads of departments, foremen, supervisors and workers. All staff in charge of the project at FWH consider it essential not to underestimate possible resistance to the switchover to computerised operation or a fear of new technology. It is in any event worth making the effort to overcome such opposition given the long-term energy savings available here.

Side effects and opportunities
Another consequence is a significant improvement in lead times for individual products. This has already been clearly demonstrated in the test phase of the new system. A casted mainframe for wind energy plants was initially planned using the old procedure and then switched over to the new system. The result was a 20% improvement in mean lead times, although theoretically an optimisation level of 10% had been expected here. Another side effect also came about: the positive effect on the working atmosphere, thanks to all staff having a better overview of operations. They know what they have to get through each day and the time needed for every worklist. This allows them to pace themselves and they now do fewer extra shifts at the weekend. The company has managed to convincingly do away with initial opposition, which above all came from the foremen and heads of department, who were obliged to surrender their “power base”. FWH’s Best for Production project will undoubtedly act as an example to other large foundries as the benefits are obvious: Intelligent Green IT allows resources to be conserved during production and offers the branch the opportunity of totally rethinking networking in the context of a smart grid. Not lastly, this innovative Manufacturing Execution System is able to make a significant contribution to the competitive ability of what are largely traditional companies. “A pioneering project”, in the view of Georg Stierle, “Literally Best for Production.”

Author: Dr. Caren Möhrke, Marketing Services Düsseldorf


Project grant programme
Best for Production is a Green IT project attracting priority funding under “IT goes green” in the Environmental Innovation Programme of Germany’s Ministry for the Environment. Since 1979 the Environmental Innovation Programme has offered funding for demonstration projects aimed at encouraging the utilisation for the first time of innovative technology that does not burden the environment. This is subject to certain conditions: Such ventures must demonstrate that they bring about a marked improvement in the state of the art in the relevant sector and that they can be applied to similar processes and systems. The Environmental Innovation Programme acts an important link between R&D in the field of environmental engineering and its implementation and market penetration. In the foundry industry 40 innovative projects have to date received funding worth over 42 m of euros.

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