Lion faces its fear of failure

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At a glance

  • New Zealand’s leading alcohol beverage company, Lion, has piloted technology to improve monitoring of the centrifuges, pumps and motors that underpin its beer-brewing operations.

  • Callaghan Innovation’s Digital Lean programme enabled the brewer to experiment with predictive analytics and pilot a new equipment-monitoring system.

  • The project allowed Lion to lay the groundwork for data analytics and sensor technology to feed into its new enterprise asset-management system.

Rotating up to 5,000 times per minute, Lion’s centrifuges play a crucial role in removing hop debris, and brewing proteins and yeast to create the pure beer the Kiwi brewer is famous for. 

The centrifuges that Lion operates at each of its production plants, including its Auckland facility, The Pride, are also incredibly sensitive and can become destabilised. Lion knows well what that can lead to.

Three years ago, the brewer experienced a lengthy production outage after a centrifuge unexpectedly failed. Ever since, it’s been on a mission to introduce technology that can pre-warn it that its centrifuges, as well as critical pumps and motors, are likely to fail.

“A centrifuge is like a washing machine made of heavy metal, and moving super fast. What we’re looking for is like the warning light on the car dashboard that tells you something is going on before it breaks down, and before it can do damage,” says Simon Mezzino, Lion’s Adelaide-based engineering and process safety manager.

“Ideally, we want our equipment to run at 100% efficiency, and only maintain it when we really need to,” he adds.

Lion set out to find a more effective way to monitor and predict maintenance for its centrifuges through Callaghan Innovation’s Digital Lean pilot programme.

In search of sensors

The ultimate solution is a network of sensors that could be placed on critical pieces of machinery, and transmit status updates about their condition and warning alerts when they’re showing signs of stress.

This tech solution would provide workers with more timely and accurate information, giving them time to perform maintenance on the centrifuges, rather than responding reactively to a failure. 

“During the Digital Lean pilot at The Pride, we tried to automate that process. Rather than writing down readings, then entering data into Excel, we planned to put sensors on many bits of equipment and wirelessly connect it to an app on a tablet,” explains Mezzino.

But as he consulted with experts from Digital Lean supplier, engineering firm Beca, it became clear there wasn’t yet a solution on the market that would suit Lion’s needs. Instead, the project proved the impetus for Lion to work more closely with GEA Group, the German manufacturer of the brewer’s centrifuges. 

The GEA system, already used in the European market but to date not at any breweries, includes additional sensors, and measures specific process flows and temperatures to help provide early warning of a potential failure. The ‘health’ of the machine is also displayed using a Human Machine Interface (HMI), which issues warnings when appropriate.           

“We’ll be the first business outside of Europe to try this technology,” says Mezzino.

A magnetic idea

With a longer-term solution to centrifuge monitoring in the pipeline, the team pivoted to looking at how to more efficiently monitor less-critical equipment, and to integrate monitoring into Lion’s new enterprise asset-management system.

Lion’s automated system will eventually involve the use of algorithms and predictive analytics to create the crucial dashboard of indicators Mezzino has been seeking. 

An early step involved trialling new vibration pens, which a technician holds to a motor or pump to take measurements such as vibration and temperature. But there were limitations because you had to use it at the same spot, and with the same pressure at the same angle, every time to get accurate readings. 

Lion then introduced a new magnetic pen that made it easier to get accurate measurements, and a tablet-based app that allowed fast data entry, allowing plant employees to 

input readings directly into Lion’s asset-management systems via tablets. 

“To some extent, getting a reading is still a manual process, but it’s given us a great base to continually improve on, and we’ll look at how we can reduce a couple of steps to make it smarter,” Mezzino says.

On the right path

Lion is taking an incremental approach, seeking small wins, while making sure that solutions continue to be appropriate for the business context and strategy. While the cost of putting sensors on every piece of equipment to automate the entire monitoring process remains prohibitive, a Lean approach is enabling Lion to identify the lower-hanging fruit. 

The pilot project not only put Lion on the right track to finding predictive analytics on the condition of its centrifuges, but laid the groundwork for automating monitoring of its other equipment and introduced the company to Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

The funding support offered through Callaghan Innovation’s Digital Lean programme has also allowed Lion to expand the scope of its manufacturing excellence programme, which has been in place since 2010. Lion’s parent company Kirin is closely watching developments at The Pride, with a view to rolling out innovations at its plants around the world. 

“The old way of doing things was you waited until there was noise, heat or smoke, to figure out that something was wrong,” he says.

“We are trying to move ourselves up the failure curve a bit, and this work has helped enormously on that front.”

Digital Lean is Callaghan Innovation’s capability-building programme that will boost your business’s competitiveness and performance. It uses proven Lean thinking methods to implement Industry 4.0 technologies.

Contact us for a free no-obligation conversation to see how Digital Lean could help your business.

 

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Updated: 21 June 2021