Today’s guest is Dan Stauft, a professional in the food and beverage industry, who shares his process of discovering Ignition, building upon his skills with the platform, empowering staff, and utilizing Ignition inside his company. We discuss getting relevant, actionable data from the plant floor and equipment in front of the decision makers in a manner they can understand to make decisions, improve and reduce costs, and increase efficiencies.
"Everybody is engaged. Now that all the data is visible, we're getting ideas from people that are machine operators who have never been involved in any type of problem solving. Now, they’re empowered.”
Dan Stauft has 21 years in various manufacturing engineering roles in the automotive industry. Dan joined SugarCreek, a privately held food-manufacturing company, four years ago. In his current role, Dan leads the OT side of the Corporate Continuous Improvement (CI) team which includes engineering, IT, maintenance, and operations personnel. All of the data and reporting for the CI activities comes from an Ignition project that Dan developed for data collection, visualization, and reporting for five manufacturing sites.
Don: Because we have a diverse audience, across many industries, can you explain a little bit about the work that you do to people outside of the industry, which will bridge us into it a little bit more of an Ignition discussion?
Dan: Yeah, sure. My company is a food manufacturing company with six sites across four states. I run the Operational Technology Group for all six of the sites. The role of our group is to get relevant, actionable data from the plant floor and the equipment, and in front of the decision makers in a manner that they can understand and make decisions to allow us to improve and reduce costs and increase efficiencies.
Don: Well that's a good broad mission that you got, that you're supposed to accomplish. Let me bridge into, we've known each other for a number of years, so I'm going to go back as if I don't know you. Tell us a little bit about how you were introduced to Ignition.
Dan: This is actually a funny story, and I know you'll like it. My company, about five years ago, was looking at different SCADA solutions. We were kind of flying blind. We didn't have a lot of automation. We had a ton of automation on the floor, but we didn't have a lot of automation that was connected. We were relying a lot on tic sheets and Excel spreadsheets filled out by the supervisors and leads. We were basically managing the company by driving forward while looking in the rearview mirror. We decided that we needed a data collection MES solution that would allow us to get the real time data in front of the decision makers in a manner that made it immediately visible as to what the current situation was. We went out, we looked at 10 different vendors, Ignition was not on the list, I'd never heard of Inductive Automation. They weren't one of the big players.
Dan: We actually had one of your competitors, a little company called Wonderware, come in and they gave us their dog and pony show and we asked for a guesstimate on what it would cost based on our estimate on a number of tags. They threw a number out that was over $200,000 and, my boss at the time, chuckled, and the salesman looked at me and he goes, well, if you don't like that, there's just a little startup in California we've heard about. They're supposedly pretty cheap and they don't have all the functionality but, that might be something you might wanna investigate. So your competitors sent us to you.
Don: A nice introduction. We thanked them kindly for that.
Dan: At which point, I got ahold of Inductive. Got connected with Ramin. Ramin did a video demo from the install, showing the two minute install, showing how easy it was to get the system set up. Due to the trial, we were able to download a copy of Ignition for free. I set up one of our plants, a manufacturing line, to see what the capabilities were. Had all the functionality, just had the two-hour trial limit on it. We basically built a platform for free and took it to our corporate leadership and said, hey, this is what you can get. Here's the cost. And by the way, it's about 15% of what Brand X said the system's going to cost.
Dan: And we've been with you for the last four years.
Don: It's been going fast for the last four years.
Don: So, about your own discovery process, that's how you heard about Ignition. But you've also learned it, your discovery process about the platform. Did you interact with University? Did you use a manual? Do use the forum? Do you use all of the above? None of the above? How did you gain your own skills and start utilizing it inside the company?
Dan: I actually did it the wrong way. The issue is, Ignition's so easy that you can throw a screen together that's fully functional and you can do it in a very inefficient manner. The way that I initially ... I was the initial developer for the company and I basically read the manual when I hit a sticking point. I've had experience with a number of the competitors to Inductive and they're all pretty same in the way they work. I'd go to Inductive University and focus in on, if I had a problem with a report, focus in on the report module and the videos. If I had a problem with scripts, I'd focus in on that.
Dan: Knowing now what I wish I knew then, I probably would have gone through the whole Inductive Automation, Inductive University, the whole course scheme, to really understand the best way to do things, because the way I did it wasn't the best. Now I've got three developers that work underneath me and all three of them are Ignition Credentialed through Inductive University, and one of them just ... he's an overachiever, so he went out and got Gold Certified a month ago.
Dan: I've learned a lot from them and how I did it the wrong way and they know how to do it the right way.
Don: Well that's okay. They stood on your shoulders and went further. That's how it's supposed to be.
Don: What's your favorite thing, just as a quick little thing, what's your favorite thing about working with Ignition? If there is a favorite thing.
Dan: Yeah. My favorite thing about Ignition is the speed that you can develop in. One of my counterparts in our continuous improvement team, when we were initially put in one of our first real plants online, he always had this mantra. He'd ask me, well, can it do this? Can it do this? And we were able to, very rapidly, do things that he requested, much faster than we could do in the competitive environments.
Don: Okay. If we take a look at you, personally, your own professional experience with it, how has Ignition, in your career, in your job with your company, how's it inspired, shaped, influenced, anything about you as you've evolved professionally over those years since you were introduced to it?
Dan: Probably the biggest impact that Ignition's had is, when we initially, the initial scope of the project was a machine data collection system, it was a very narrow scope. Ignition is so powerful, there's so much stuff you can do with it. Working with our plant management and our IT folks, and continuous improvement team, we keep finding new ways to use Ignition in ways that nobody else uses Ignition. It forces you to think outside the box, because when you’re constrained to, we're just going to grab data and report on it, that's one mindset, but when your mind opens up and you go, well I can really do anything with this, that's powerful.
Don: Sure, sure. I know that I've had conversations outside of this little taped discussion here, with you, about ROI and the importance of getting value from what you're doing. In fact, yesterday you showed me some graphs on some of your production lines and what's happened with your OEE. Reductions in downtime. Increases in productivity. There's a lot of challenges you face in food and beverage. Productivity and handling downtime is certainly one of them.
Don: Can you say anything about how Ignition's helped in terms of getting real return? Yeah, it's cheaper, but if it doesn't do anything good, it doesn't matter if it's cheaper. Let's look at the positive gain end of it.
Dan: Initially, the first positives we saw, when we're looking at just our process stuff, like wastewater treatment and refrigeration and such, it was just getting the data visible and getting employees engaged and be able to go out and see what's really going on. We were able to optimize our processes, which reduced costs, obviously. We're able to predict when downtime would occur, based on some of the inputs we had. But we didn't really see the real value in Ignition until, this year, we launched a corporate wide continuous improvement initiative, which involves all levels, everybody in all our plants. The focus is to figure out what all of our challenges are, develop countermeasures and evaluate the effectiveness of the countermeasures.
Dan: We've got a meeting cadence right now at all our plants where everybody from the line leads to the supervisors, to the supply chain guys, to maintenance, quality, sometimes safety. They meet and do huddles twice a day for each shift and they go through, in real time, using the Ignition dashboards, what's going on? We have a whole task, I guess like a task list that's within Ignition that we identify what an issue is. We implement a countermeasure. We log it in Ignition. We assign it to somebody to be completed. When it's completed, we go back and we evaluate the effectiveness of the countermeasures.
Dan: The cool thing is, everybody's engaged. Now that all the data's visible, we're getting ideas from people that are machine operators that have never been involved in any types of problem solving. They're the grunts on the floor.
Dan: And now they're empowered.
Don: They're engaged and empowered.
Dan: Now they're empowered and they're the ones that are saying, hey, this is something that's been kicking our butts for the last six months. But they never had a venue to be able to offer it up.
Dan: We're able to attack the little stuff. You know, the low-hanging fruit's easy, but when you get into making incremental improvements of 10%, that's where you need everybody's input. And the results have been huge. We've got record productivity.
Dan: The one plan I showed you yesterday, we had a 50% OEE improvement over a seven-month span. That's actually ... I'm sorry, it was 100% improvement over a seven-month span, which actually forced us to look at what our production standards were and rewrite all of our bill of materials because we didn't know we could run as fast as we were running.
Don: Sure. Those kinds of things actually speak all the way up and down an organization, when you start seeing that kind of an ROI from the investment. If you think about it as your industry and the impact you guys have had as a company and the plants that you're responsible for, from your post. If you look back over the past year, with the little bit of time that we have left, I'd like to have you maybe take a moment and say where do you see yourself and your company growing? And what benefits you've seen over the past year or two? And then maybe also, where do you see that going into the future?
Dan: Over the past year, as I just noted, we've made some significant productivity gains. We're a very, very flexible company. We pride ourselves in our ability to make virtually anything that's in our manufacturing toolbox, so to speak. When you get the productivity improvements that we've gotten, it allows you to open up capacity, so now we can sell more product. We can bring new products in because we can make the other products faster. It allows us flexibility in how we can lay a plant out. It's huge, the impact that just, even a 10% improvement in productivity opens up doors for maybe a small batch for one of our customers, or larger batches that we didn't think we had the capacity for before.
Dan: Where I see us going in the future is, there's a couple points in our manufacturing process that aren't on the system yet. Obviously, due to the success that we've had, those points are now a top priority for our leadership team to get on the system. We've got some challenges. Technically, some of the equipment's old, some of the equipment we might have to rebuild, but our objective is to make everything everywhere visible through Ignition.
Don: Okay. Well as a final question then, it's an open-ended question. Anything you, this is a diverse audience, there's certainly food and beverage professionals listening in, but there's a lot of folks who aren't, they're trying to understand a little bit about what Ignition is and where we are and our conversations go all sorts of different directions. Any final thing you wanted to share with the audience from your personal experience and things you think they might find interesting?
Dan: Well, that's an interesting question. The biggest thing that I say, if anybody is considering going to Ignition, or is already on Ignition, with a very, very stringent project plan, open your eyes and your ears and understand what other people have been able to do with the system. There are some people that are doing some crazy stuff. I know Steve has often told you, when we built this, we had no idea what people were going to use it for.
Dan: Just don't automatically think it can't do it, because typically it can.
Don: Thanks, Dan.
Dan: Thanks, Don.
Don: Very much appreciate your time. I know you've got a busy schedule, so thanks for taking time out to join us here on Inductive Conversations from Inductive Automation. That's our show for today.