Kyowa Hakko Bio Co., Ltd. is a bio-chemical company with unique fermentation technologies that produces and sells amino acids and raw materials for pharmaceuticals. Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins, which are the basic building blocks of life and essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of the body. While some amino acids can be synthesized in the body (nonessential amino acids), essential amino acids that are particularly important for nutrition all come from foods. Amino acids are also widely used as raw materials for the production of pharmaceuticals, health foods, cosmetics, animal feed, and fertilizers.
A fermentation technique invented by Kyowa Hakko Bio is one of the main methods for producing amino acids. This has made it possible to produce amino acids on an industrial scale.
In cooperation with the maintenance firm Kyowa Engineering Co., Ltd., Kyowa Hakko Bio introduced Yokogawa's Sushi Sensors at its Yamaguchi plant in 2018 as part of an IoT strategy to stabilize production and maximize efficiency throughout the plant. These sensors have made it possible to visualize the status of production line machinery and detect signs of failure. Moreover, the use of these sensors has brought about a significant change in the mindsets of the operators working at this plant.
The Challenges and the Solutions
There is zero tolerance for unexpected production stoppages
At the Yamaguchi plant, where processes vary according to the type of product and individual batch production runs take several days to complete. Pumps, fans, centrifuges, and stirrers are all used on the production lines. If these devices break down, they can cost tens of millions of yen to repair or replace. To prevent this and any unexpected halts in production, equipment failures need to be avoided at all costs.
Kyowa Hakko Bio has outsourced inspections of the production equipment at the Yamaguchi plant to a maintenance service provider. Typically, it takes several days each month to inspect hundreds of devices, and these inspections are scheduled between batch runs. To enable the continuous monitoring of device conditions and trends on its production lines, Kyowa Hakko Bio decided to introduce an IoT solution that used Yokogawa’s XS770A battery-powered wireless vibration sensors (Sushi Sensors).
Installation of approximately 100 Sushi Sensors
Approximately 100 Sushi Sensors have been installed on critical equipment on the production lines. Vibration and temperature values measured periodically with these sensors are stored in the cloud. Depending on the device, the data acquisition cycle is set to 10 or 30 minutes.
By using Yokogawa's industrial IoT data logging & dashboard, everyone from production line operators to maintenance personnel can view all the data stored in the cloud. If something goes wrong, operators can immediately access the data needed to understand what happened. An additional benefit is the ability to view data for production line equipment, which gives operators a better understanding of how production condition is affected by operation and stimulates their interest in maintenance.
Threshold for detecting abnormal vibration
Thresholds have been set for each of the approximately 100 Sushi Sensors. Alert messages are sent to the supervisor on the plant floor whenever an anomaly is detected. If the problem cannot be resolved by the people who are on site, maintenance personnel are called in.
The setting of thresholds for the batch processes at the Yamaguchi plant present the following challenges:
- Batch runs take several days to complete, and during each run, the process shifts many times to downstream processes.
- Some of the equipment operates only for specific processes such as agitation and transfer.
- For certain equipment, the rotation speeds and vibration level change due to inverter control inputs.
- Vibration levels and other values also vary depending on the batch recipe.
When the sensors were first installed, information was lacking and the thresholds were changed frequently through a process of trial and error. With the know-how that was gained, the thresholds could eventually be set at the appropriate levels.
Abnormality detection by the Sushi Sensors
On two separate occasions, the Sushi Sensors prevented major breakdowns by issuing anomaly detection alarms. In the first case, it was determined through on-site inspection that equipment mounting bolts had come loose. In the second case, it was identified during the subsequent overhaul that a component had broken down.
If equipment breaks down during a production run, production will often have to be stopped for several days to perform corrective maintenance. If the signs of an impending failure can be detected at an early stage, maintenance can be done in a timely manner, thereby minimizing downtime and improving operational efficiency.
Know what's going on before a breakdown occurs
Thanks to the introduction of the Sushi Sensors, the visualization of data on equipment operation and condition has been enhanced. Without these sensors, there was no way for someone in a remote location to access this data, and if a malfunction was suspected, one had to go to the site to perform a visual check. With the ability to remotely access this data, problems such as abnormal vibration can be spotted early on.
Example of abnormal vibration detection
The benefits of sharing visualized data
As a result of the sharing of the data from the Sushi Sensors with everyone involved in manufacturing, the operators on the production lines have begun to show a greater interest in the maintenance side of operations, exercise greater caution when operating equipment, and paid closer attention to the condition of their equipment.
To get a better handle on all maintenance information, the Yamaguchi plant has also introduced Yokogawa's eServ computerized maintenance management system. With this solution, plant equipment is registered in an equipment ledger along with maintenance plans, maintenance standards, component parts, etc. for each piece of equipment. Of course, inspection results and maintenance history are also recorded. Whenever an abnormality is detected using data from the Sushi Sensors, the operators have immediate access to the past maintenance history in eServ and can respond appropriately. This gets everyone at the plant involved in maintenance activities. Not only maintenance personnel but also production operators can see the maintenance information and make entries on any equipment concerns into eServ. And the creation and review of maintenance plans is facilitated by using the data in eServ.
-- What was the aim of introducing Sushi Sensors?
"Our customers are in the fields of pharmaceuticals, medical care, and health. We believe it is of utmost important to maintain a stable supply of products to our customers by stabilizing equipment and manufacturing. Sushi Sensor is one of the tools for that. We introduced Sushi Sensors not only as a tool for the maintenance department, but also for the use of production operators. Both maintenance personnel and operators are looking at the Sushi Sensors' data on a regular basis. The fact that the maintenance department and the manufacturing department are able to operate the plant together and prevent major breakdowns is just as we expected."
"Inspections are still being outsourced. Of course, we want to reduce maintenance costs, but there are some tasks that require inspection by humans, and periodic inspections are stipulated in the maintenance standard. I believe the introduction of Sushi Sensors also has value in areas such as data visualization."
-- Has anything changed as a result of the project?
"I feel that the operators' awareness about operations and maintenance has changed as they are able to see the data on the dashboard screen with their own eyes. They have become interested in maintenance. For example, when reviewing the monthly inspection activities, an operator suggested adding Sushi Sensors to the inspection items. Therefore, checking the vibration values detected by the Sushi Sensors and the remaining battery level are included in the inspection items today."
"I think that visualizing and sharing data also makes the operators feel more involved in plant operations. With Sushi Sensors and eServ, our people are actively sharing information with each other."
-- How do you set and review thresholds?
"In our company manufacturing processes, the processes are nonlinear and transfer to downstream processes is carried out repeatedly. Some equipment, such as fans, operate constantly, while other equipment, such as pumps, operate only at specified periods. So, we relied on trial and error to set the threshold values, and now know what values are appropriate for the settings. In addition, we asked Yokogawa to modify the software, so an alarm is now notified whenever the vibration value exceeds the threshold several times."
-- Are Sushi Sensors installed both indoors and outdoors?
"Yes, Sushi Sensors are installed both indoors and outdoors. Some of them are in locations where the conditions are severe, but they work without any problems."
-- What are your future plans?
"I think it's a great value for us to be able to see what's going on with the equipment before it breaks down. The acquisition of data can lead to improvements in maintenance activities, and condition-based preventive maintenance can be performed whenever a phenomenon occurs that previously resulted in an anomaly. We look forward to receiving excellent proposals of AI and other solutions from Yokogawa and Shinkawa Electric, an agency of Yokogawa."
"We are ordering over 20 more Sushi Sensors for our new production lines. We would like to further improve manufacturing while utilizing IT tools such as the Sushi Sensors."
Hiroki Nakamoto, Technical Department, Kyowa Hakko Bio Co., Ltd. (Left)
Masato Mizukoshi, Engineering Division, Kyowa Engineering Co., Ltd.
Specialty & Fine Chemical
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