Royal Agio Cigars
Food & Beverage, CPG
Proficy Plant Applications, CIMPLICITY, Proficy Workflow, ROB-EX Scheduler
Proficy Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Proficy Historian, Proficy HMI / SCADA
Royal Agio Cigars is one of Europe's largest cigar producers, known for brands such as Mehari's, Panter, Balmoral, and De Huifkar. The Westerlo factory in Belgium produces approximately 3,000 country-specific end product cigars with no fewer than 164 production lines.
Managing Director Johan Gebruers and Chief Operations Officer Koen van Hooft explain the role of MES and automation solutions from GE Digital partner Novotek and how they automate the data flow of the entire production process, while simultaneously responding to changing legislation.
We have made huge improvements in efficiency. Quality and data have improved. Production now has real-time information and the administrative activities of our employees are now completely automated. This data gives us insight into the production process with which we can further optimize.
Johan Gebruers, Managing Director and Koen van Hooft, Chief Operations Officer - Royal Agio Cigars
The Role of Automation
The MES / automation solutions include:
- OEE, quality and traceability
- Centralized monitoring system
- Real-time visualization and control
- Industrial data management – real-time and historical
- Information anywhere, any time through web browser
- Scheduling and planning across plants
“The entire automation operation has been rolled out in various phases and consists of a number of steps,” Johan begins. "The first step was to fully automate the data flow to and from the PLCs. Many of our machines were already equipped with PLCs, but they were still set manually. In addition, only global information was available.
At the start of the project, we only looked at the automation of production registration and some other simple things. By implementing the MES solution for operational excellence solution with Novotek, it now automates the entire data flow, including the data collection of all PLC failures. As a result, in the pilot alone, we uncovered an important difference in production. We had been working on these differences for years.”
“We have also made great strides in terms of functionality,” Johan continues.
We now see exactly which product will run on which machine because the data flow is now fully linked. Actually, our operators can no longer make mistakes.
Johan Gebruers, Managing Director - Royal Agio Cigars
Koen adds: “We have made a lot of progress in the processing and handling of complaints. Originally these were manual procedures. For example, a complaint came in about a coil (roll of net curtain-like fabric on which the tobacco leaves are stored) from Sri Lanka. In the past, the booking voucher had to be looked up first, then that voucher went to administration, and eventually the ignition coil could be booked, and the complaint passed on. In this new situation, the ignition coil is already scanned on the machine and logged automatically. Any remarks about quality will immediately be considered. It is now fully automated and traceable online.”
Catching 100% of Failures
“Phase two included the RFID story,” says Johan. “Now if a container with bunches (semi-finished products) is placed on the wrong machine, the system will immediately display a message on the screen, and the machine is immediately stopped. In the past, the machines continued to run for a few more hours, with enormous consequences. Such an error produces 100% failure: the entire batch was then unusable. This occurred five to six times a year. That is now captured and errors prevented! Because there is a link between MES and RFIDs, we know exactly what is on the pallet and what goes into the machine."
Linking HMI and Document Management System
Phase three is also currently running. Johan said “We have taken on the extra functionality that was not in the pilot, such as the Document Management System. All our procedures are included. Until recently, they were printed out and hung up on the shop floor. If something changed in the procedures, you had to restart all numbering and replace all versions. Now the HMI is linked to the document management system, allowing operators to immediately have access to the corrected versions."
Koen explains that Agio Cigars also immediately deployed the real-time scheduling and planning module, ROB-EX Scheduler, in view of changing legislation. “Until now, all products were packed in Westerlo. We then put it in the Netherlands in stock, where we labelled the products country-specifically. Due to new legislation, there will soon be so many stickers on packaging, that we will switch to country-specific packaging, and therefore have to plan across factories: from ‘single-site planning’ to ‘multi-site planning. ‘ We are also going from ‘make to stock’ to ‘make to order.’ Real-time planning is then a must.”
Novotek is the leading creator of innovative solutions for Automation and Industrial IT in the Nordic countries, Benelux, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Ireland. The foundation is a portfolio of great products from among others GE Digital. With a team of highly dedicated solution architects, we are able to deliver solutions that makes it possible for our customers to stay ahead with competition.