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The Wakayama Works of Honshu Chemical Industry Company, Ltd. was established in Wakayama City in 1914. When the supply of dyestuffs from Western countries was disrupted at the start of the First World War, the Honshu Chemical Industry Company constructed the first-ever benzene distillation plant in Japan and successfully launched the production of aniline. The company went on to develop a number of original technologies and produce a wide range of chemical products, and thus contributed to the development of regional industries. Therefore, there are still many chemical companies in Wakayama City.
Today, the Honshu Chemical Industry Company is making use of its expertise in phenol derivative synthesis to produce high-quality fine chemicals for niche applications in such industries as information and communications, automobiles, and pharmaceuticals.
The Manufacturing & Development Section at the Wakayama Works was having difficulty eliminating variations in quality with the production of a certain high-value-added chemical. Since this chemical was made to order, the conditions (seasonal factors, etc.) were not consistent, and the batches were typically smaller than those for products that were in continuous production. Although the staff in charge had tried to analyze the data from this particular process to ascertain the quality of the chemical, these inspections were not always the desired results.
Therefore, it was decided that the Wakayama Works would work with Yokogawa to jointly conduct a detailed analysis of the relationship between this production process and product quality. Based on the findings of this analysis, they were able to base their production operations on final product quality estimates and succeeded in achieving these targets.
These benzene distillation units were certified as a “Heritage of Industrial Modernization.”
For this high-value-added chemical, the Manufacturing & Development Section aimed to raise the quality acceptance rate to 100% and improve product yield.
In step 1, Yokogawa sought to identify the relationship between product quality and the amount of time required to complete a certain process. Consequently, modifications were made to production control system sequences and standard operating procedures (SOP) were revised to make clear to operators which operations could cause a drop in quality. As a result, product quality problems caused by the process were eliminated.
A project team made up of personnel from the Wakayama Works and Yokogawa conducted an analysis focusing on product yield that identified a relationship between the additive injection amount and product yield. Based on this, Yokogawa developed an additive amount decision support tool that calculated and displayed the appropriate additive injection amount based on actual values from previous processes. Thanks to this tool, the plant met its target for product yield while maintaining product quality.
The financial impact of these improvements at this plant is estimated at several million yen. In addition, while using the PDA tool to analyze process data, members of the Manufacturing & Development Section began to actively share information and engage in an exchange of opinions with each other. After coming to appreciate the benefits of this, they made it a regular practice thereafter. This made for a more lively workplace and contributed to ongoing efforts at the Wakayama Works to make improvements through the use of process data analysis.
Interview attendees：Mr. Sekiguchi of Shinkawa Electric and Mr. Shogo Kataoka of Yokogawa
Q. How did you use the process data analytics solution?
Fujioka: About two years ago, when we were using another Yokogawa service, Yokogawa’s people proposed that we try data analysis. Just two to three hours after giving them process data, they were able to show us the results of an analysis performed using the MT method. I felt it was great because it hit the mark. The decision to introduce this solution was made by our production managers. I was selected to work on this project and was engaged in all its activities.
Q. Did you have any difficulties?
Fujioka: This was my first experience with the PDA tool and it was little bit difficult to use at first. Mr. Kataoka created an MS-Excel macro for importing process trend data into PDA, and this has been very useful. Now we use PDA every day. I use it whenever I sense that something unusual is happening in the process or when there is a need to stabilize product quality.
Q. How did the analysis project go?
Fujioka: I enjoyed working on it. We had tried to do process data analysis before, but the methods for doing this have changed since then. Now we do analysis from a variety of viewpoints. I think that my colleagues in this section now view process data differently, from different perspectives. By sharing information on this each day, I think that we have been able to expand our horizons. The project was a good experience, exposing me to many different things, and I learned a lot.
Q. What results did you get from the analysis?
Fujioka: The data backed my perceptions that something was not right. Most importantly, based on the analysis, we are able to streamline our work processes. When product quality is satisfactory, we are able to avoid unnecessary tasks and devote our time to production activities. We also have more time to improve our own capabilities. There is a market for everything that we produce, so I think that we are contributing to our company's profits. I am very glad to have had the opportunity to participate in this analysis project.
Sekiguchi: When it was decided to introduce the process data analysis solution, a production manager told me that "We are spending money for this, but we don't need immediate results. I would like to give all our staff the opportunity to improve their skills.” Did you know that?
Fujioka: No, I never heard that. I am very grateful. We were able to achieve results and contribute to our company, and I feel a sense of accomplishment. I would like to keep working to solve problems at this plant while continually improving my skills.
Q. How was your experience with the analysis project?
Yamasaki: The analysis had a wider scope that our previous analysis activities, and it, for example, uncovered in an unexpected location a factor that was related to the problem. I learned that there is almost always something to be gained by looking into things. I learned that it is important to look into things that don’t even seem relevant, and to check them off one at a time based on results.
Q. How did things change as the result of the analysis?
Yamasaki: As I was analyzing the data in the project, I realized that I had always only been looking at the data from my own perspective. Working with the other team members, I learned that everyone has their own unique take on the data. It was very interesting to me. So Fujioka-san and I usually fail to see eye to eye (laughs), but we objectively discuss our hypotheses with each other from a variety of angles. By learning how others see things, we are able to benefit from each other’s knowledge and know-how. In the past, each of us analyzed things on our own, and a limited number of people received our reports. Now we take it as a given that we should share everything with each other on the team.
Q. What were the benefits of the analysis project?
Yamasaki: It was great to be able to work together as a team toward a common goal. I think Fujioka-san showed good leadership. Today, if someone is using PDA, I go up to that person and say, 'What are you up to? Let me know the results later," and they usually do that. A culture in which we all listen to each other’s opinions has taken root. Some people are better than the others at analysis, and some people are good at boring down into the data while others look at it from a broader perspective. I think both approaches are good. By sharing our own views with each other, we can broaden our points of view and everyone can improve their skills. By looking at all parts of a process, even those parts that don’t seem relevant, everyone can gain in understanding. Having said that, I don’t have much time available for using PDA, and will add that it's a little bit hard to import process data into it.
Kataoka: It can take a long time to import process data from a spreadsheet file. The solution is to use a database, so how about if you install your Exaquantum plant information management system here? (laughter)
Q. Are similar improvement activities being conducted in other departments?
Yamasaki: Honshu Chemical promotes small group activities, calling them step-up activities. At an annual information sharing session, I got the feeling when I was listening to another section’s briefing on their process data analysis that we were one step ahead with this. I think without what we learned from Yokogawa, we’d be at about the same level right now.
Kataoka: I think the analysis team in the Manufacturing & Development Section has a fairly high level of analysis. I think it's at about the same level that our analysis team at Yokogawa was at a little while ago. However, we are also working hard every day and will continue to improve our skills so that we aren’t overtaken by our customers!
Yamasaki: The production manager who introduced the analysis solution wanted us to take on new challenges, and I am grateful for that. I hope that Fujioka-san, the analysis project leader, will continue to play a central role. I now consider myself a veteran in this, and would like to share what I have learned with my younger colleagues.
Q. What was your first impression of the analysis?
Moriyama: We chose this product for the analysis because the problem had proven very difficult to solve, and great benefits could be expected if it could be solved. To be honest, we had no great expectations when we started the analysis project, because our past efforts had not gone very well. However, as we got started on this work with Yokogawa, I began to see that success could be possible. I saw that we could learn from Yokogawa's methods for handling and organizing data, discussing matters, working toward solutions, and so on, and became convinced that the project would go well.
Q. Did anything change with the project?
Moriyama: Our section has always been busy because we produce a lot of products and have to switch recipes frequently, so we’ve never had much time for sharing knowledge with each other. But through their work on this project, people became more willing to share knowledge and express their opinions to each other. In the past, we only reported to the group leader and the person who was responsible for receiving reports, but now people are inclined to share that information with all concerned parties. Today when I ask people about a particular problem, they likely would have already been collecting data on it using MS-Excel, without being asked. It has become an established practice here to think carefully through things and analyze them from different angles, and this has only added to people’s individual strengths.
Q. What’s your management style?
Moriyama: I aim for a workplace where people have no qualms about expressing their opinions. Given the fact that plant safety is our top priority, some people might say that it is better to be very stern and strict, but I would like everyone to be able to work harmoniously and share knowledge with each other, as we did in this project. And I want to provide our people more opportunities to experience success, as we did in this project. Thanks to the results that have been achieved, we are now in a good situation where we can produce whatever amount our customers require, and sell it as is. From here on we will take on new challenges with our other products.
Q. What’s next?
Moriyama: This is a busy department and we often have to attend to problems with equipment, so even if this approach to analysis takes hold we will have to find time for it between everything else. I would like to make use of this experience to improve the abilities of each and all members of this section and develop people who can analyze more efficiently and powerfully.
Kataoka: If you have any problems, please let me know.
"With a culture of respecting each other and having fun at work, the Manufacturing & Development Section is a strong team that can take pride in what has been accomplished. What the team cultivated with us was mainly analysis capability, but that is just one way to solve problems in the manufacturing field. I hope that the team will learn from each other and overcome many difficult challenges that will occur in the future. I am looking forward to working with the team again."
"I was very impressed with how the Manufacturing & Development Section worked to make improvements, particularly in how they switched from an individual to a team orientation while working on the project. The reason for this change was that data analysis requires a unique approach. The choice of the analysis method, the question of which analysis results to focus on, and other items all depend on the analyst's experience. Therefore, they may have come to appreciate the effectiveness of multifaceted analysis by a team. I hope that they will continue to work together as a team toward a higher goal."
Achieving consistent quality by detecting problems at an early stage
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