PCL’s manufacturing team has worked with clients like 3M, Cargill and General Mills to make these “live operations” more efficient and reliable with cutting-edge construction innovation to help clients meet demand.
Brought on by the introduction of advanced manufacturing, one of the most exciting frontiers of change in manufacturing, Ahrendt says, is “edge” decision making.
Not long ago, the machinery in a typical manufacturing plant was connected to a central control center that would coordinate and organize the actions of the machinery.
“Say the plant is running cans of beer or making granola bars and something goes wrong,” says Ahrendt. “The line is backing up, but the system keeps pushing product out until someone sees the back-up and hits a switch.”
Advanced manufacturing practices such as edge decision making sidesteps this problem with two technologies. The first is project logic controllers or PLCs, which act as localized control centers for sub-sections or sub-systems of a manufacturing plant.
The second are “smart” sensors that can detect problems on a line.
“The PLCs are like a nervous system for the plant,” says Ahrendt, “while the sensors are like the eyes and ears. They detect things like throughput and speed and report it back to the PLCs, which make adjustments so that you’re not wasting output.”
This technology doesn’t only improve quality control, either.
“As manufacturing lines get faster, communication and control of them becomes the weak link in the chain,” says Ahrendt. “Pushing integration and control decisions down to the lowest possible point with edge computing and leveraging AI and machine learning unlocks new levels of production control and speed for a plant.”
Maintenance is a perennial challenge for manufacturing. The failure of a single part can bring an entire production line to a standstill. Knowing which parts are approaching the end of their service lives or otherwise at risk of failure in a complex plant is more than half the battle.
Our teams unlock proactive, preventative maintenance with digital technology and advanced manufacturing processes.
“When we build a manufacturing plant, we can also make a ‘digital twin’,” Ahrendt says – a digital model of the plant that brings together data in real-time from smart sensors in the plant. “We bring in all the programming and equipment data into the building management system or BMS.”
“When you click on the equipment in the system, all the product data appears. You can see when belts were changed and when maintenance will be required. You can manage all of the technical and engineering requirements for the equipment on the manufacturing plant floor through the digital twin.”
Many manufacturing projects, particularly in high-growth industries, operate on unusually tight schedules. Businesses want to build or expand their manufacturing plants quickly.
“People want to be first to market with in-demand products,” says Ahrendt. “These are fast track, highly complex jobs.
“We aid in the success of these type projects by ensuring the right people are on the team, who understand how to develop a lean manufacturing plant floor and how to expand it. You know the client who wants to start with a 30,000 square foot plant might need to go to 100,000 square foot the next year.”
PCL can also use modular construction to position plants for rapid future expansion.
“We use removable clips and wall panels for the removal of exterior walls,” says Ahrendt. “We leave extra room in control panels and motor control center (MCC). When brought into a project early in the planning stage, we can build this into the plant design so the client can seize new opportunities quickly through building expansion flexibility into the original designs.”
“North American manufacturing is being reborn right now,” says Deron Brown, president and COO of U.S. Operations. “And PCL is helping clients meet demand at every step.”