SLV Cement in Cimentos Madeira Terminal - Still running smoothly - Cachapuz Bilanciai Group

  

Back in 2001, when Cimentos Madeira wanted to automate the bulk and bagged cement dispatching processes at its Socorridos depot on the island of Madeira, Portugal, it turned to the Cachapuz Bilanciai Group for a 24/7 solution. The producer's offshore location, its extended dispatch schedule as well as the inter-operability and the synchronisation of data between its SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and the new solution were key considerations when selecting the most suitable system and supplier.

Cimentos Madeira was established in 1984 and is located on the island of Madeira, Portugal. The company manages three terminals on the archipelago - Socorridos, Porto Santo and Caniçal - which provide bulk, bagged and big-bag cement. Since 2001, the company has supplied bulk cement in self-service mode. With the system working 24 hours per day, seven days per week, customers are able to load their product at any time, according to their needs, availability and convenience.

Since 2001, Cimentos Madeira has relied on Cachapuz Bilanciai Group's SLV Cement solution to automate its bulk and bagged cement dispatching processes at the Socorridos depot 24/7. Even though the SLV Cement software and hardware modules were installed over 10 years ago, the system still runs smoothly today thanks to their robustness and reliability, according to José Franco, logistics manager of Cimentos Madeira.

The challenges
After the successful implementation of SLV Cement in several cement plants in Portugal, Cimentos Madeira challenged Cachapuz Bilanciai Group to improve the bulk and bagged cement dispatching processes at its Socorridos depot, located more than 1000km offshore on the island.

The first big challenge for the implementation of the system was the distance between the plant and Cachapuz headquarters. Plant officers were concerned about the robustness of SLV Cement and also about the response time of Cachapuz support services in case of any possible maintenance requirements needed for the hardware and software modules to be installed at the plant.

The project's second challenge related to the extended dispatch schedule to 24h per day, seven days per week, without any involvement of the plant operators in the bulk loading process. The plant needed to increase the number of trucks dispatched per day without increasing the number of operators and shifts at the plant.
The third challenge concerned the inter-operability and synchronisation of data between the SAP ERP and SLV Cement solutions. This was required to avoid manual, repetitive tasks to update the two complementary systems with information about planned and performed operations.

The solution
Based on the above challenges and the project requirements, Cachapuz designed an SLV Cement solution to solve the problems identified and to improve the logistics and dispatching processes at the plant. SLV Cement was customised to meet Cimentos Madeira's needs, providing the necessary software and hardware modules for the complete automation of its functional areas: gates, weighing zone, bulk cement loading silos and associated processes (check-in, gate-in, weight-in, bulked and bagged cement loading, weight-out, check-out, gate-out and SAP integration).

To overcome the first challenge of distance, Cachapuz decided to work in four different areas as detailed below.

1. Software modules: SLV Cement Core modules were prepared to run as a centralised solution and on top of the LAN network available at the plant (using TCP/IP technologies). This offered significant advantages because Cachapuz engineers only had to access one server to perform all the implementation, testing and configurations before and during commissioning of the system. Moreover, the new architecture of SLV Cement also introduced benefits for the system's support services because all configurations and monitoring can be performed in one server.

2. Hardware modules: For all its projects Cachapuz undertakes extensive market research and procurement to find the most robust and reliable hardware components to be integrated in SLV Cement. This guarantees the minimum number of system failures and malfunctions. Besides the important robustness features, the hardware components are controlled and configured using TCP/IP protocols, introducing significant benefits for the configuration and remote support tasks.

3. Training and spare parts: For the success of this project, Cachapuz introduced a new programme to give the plant's team autonomy when performing standard maintenance tasks, therefore ensuring the smooth running of the system. This provides the maintenance team at Socorridos with the necessary training and documents so they can independently carry out the first inspection and quickly resolve potential issues using the spare part kits and extra components provided for each project.

4. Support services: Cachapuz offered Cimentos Madeira an annual maintenance contract consisting of a preventive maintenance check whereby Cachapuz engineers visit the plant annualy to ensure that all system components are running smoothly. It also established a set of remote support service hours to ensure continuous operations for the terminal operator.

SLV Cement solution for Cimentos Madeira
The SLV Cement solution implemented at Cimentos Madeira comprised:
• SLV Cement Software Framework (desktop-based) with SAP ERP integration
• one gate-in/gate-out kiosk (with touchscreen, RFID card reader and RFID card collector) and two multifunctional control barriers: access control of the self-service solution, access control of the company's employees
• one SLV Cement weighing kiosk (with touchscreen, RFID card reader and thermal kiosk printer), two control barriers, two positioning sensors in the entrance/exit weighbridge used for raw materials trucks and finished goods self-service weighing
• four SLV Cement bulk loading kiosks (with RFID card reader, screen and integration with the loading automation system to validate the loading conditions) installed in the cement silos (four loading lines with one weighbridge in each loading zone).

For this project, Cachapuz installed one of the first versions of SLV Cement software modules, integrated with SAP ERP, and also SLV Cement kiosks to ensure that the operations (check-in, gate-in, weight-in, bulk loading, weight-out, check-out and gate-out) are performed in self-service mode by truck drivers.

ERP integration
Integration with the customer's ERP is always one of the most important parts of any SLV Cement project, and this was also the case for the Cimentos Madeira contact. Together with the full support of Cimentos Madeira's IT teams and SAP ERP consultants, Cachapuz defined the best possible integration interface and the required data to be exchanged. SLV Cement was integrated with SAP ERP so that the master data and planned operations could be synchronised to SLV Cement (products, customers, loading operations, vehicles, etc) and the result of each loading and unloading operation (date and time, tare, gross and net weights, etc) synchronised to SAP ERP.

Most of these processes are performed by SLV Cement automatically and in online mode by using the integration modules. Additionally, the operators can obtain the master data and planned operations manually using the SLV Cement front-end modules, reading from SAP the necessary data to complete the check-in of the truck drivers. The operator validates the driver's documentation, registers the check-in operation in SLV Cement, associates an RFID card to the operation and delivers it to the driver.

The driver uses the RFID card to identify himself in each zone of the plant and in each process, such as the self-service weighing and loading processes. By using the RFID card for identification purposes, the repetitive validation of documents by operators in various zones is eliminated and the time to complete the operations is reduced.
SLV Cement introduced greater efficiency, speed and availability in terms of the plant's dispatch and reception processes, which can be carried without the need of manual involvement from the plant operators. Additionally, and in the case of bulk loading and dispatch processes, the working hours and days of the plant were extended to 24/7, in self-service mode.

Self-service weighing and bulk loading
Before the installation of SLV Cement, all the weighing operations were performed by the operators by manually obtaining the weighing data from the weighing indicator connected to the computer. With SLV Cement, the weighing operations are conducted in self-service mode by the truck drivers and without the intervention of plant operators.

This function was achieved by installing an SLV Cement weighing kiosk, which is activated by the RFID cards and has a touchscreen interface to lead the driver through the simple weighing process, presenting simple text messages. In the entrance/exit weighbridge positioning sensors were also installed to ensure that the truck is well positioned on the weighbridge before acquiring any weighing data, avoiding errors and fraud. In addition, barriers to control the access to the plant and the exit from the plant have also been included, taking into account the schedules and limits to the number of trucks inside the plant. The control barriers were installed with sensors for truck detection, which enables the system to automatically establish the order and priority of the trucks to access the weighbridge.

In the bulk cement loading silos four SLV Cement bulk loading kiosks were installed to allow self-service bulk loading operations to be performed directly by the truck drivers. Each kiosk was installed with RFID card reader and was integrated with the loading automation in the plant to exchange I/O data related with the status of the loading spout.

The driver presents the RFID card in the kiosk and SLV Cement automatically validates the loading conditions (if the operation was already planned, if it is valid and also if the truck is in the correct loading silo, taking into account the type of product to load) and the status of the loading spout before allowing the loading operation. At the end of the loading operation, the driver goes to the weighbridge to conclude the process (registering the gross and net weights), the loading data is synchronised to SAP and the necessary documentation (in this case, the delivery note) is printed directly on the thermal printer on the kiosk. The main advantages of the solution include:
• RFID access control and identification
• self-service and unmanned weighing operations
• 24/7 automated bulk loading and dispatching processes
• reduction of manpower, human errors and fraud
• enhanced plant safety and security
• improved logistics and control on the inbound/outbound processes
• increased organisation of truck movement
• reduction of turnaround time to complete the loading and unloading operations• increase in the number of trucks dispatched per hour
• increased quality of service for customers, suppliers and transporters
• elimination of parallel and non-integrated systems
• well-oriented and business-focussed software front-ends
• SLV Cement front-ends with authorisation and authentication security features
• detailed and comprehensive reporting for control of the operations and decision making
• integration with SAP ERP
• remote support to the system.

Improved customer satisfaction
According to José Franco, logistics manager of Cimentos Madeira, "...the accelerated growth and development of the Autonomous Region of Madeira (Portugal) in the 1990s, was based on the construction of several kinds of infrastructure, particularly in the field of transport: ports, airports and roads. This required an appropriate response from the construction sector. The amount of cement required was such that the self-service bulk loading system was high on the company's agenda.

"However, the self-service system that was implemented in Portuguese cement plants to enable them to operate 24/7 was not appropriate to our company because we operated, and wanted to continue to operate, only eight hours per day. We needed a fully-automated system which could run without human intervention throughout the supply and cement loading processes while being immune to fraud. These were the starting conditions when we challenged Cachapuz to design and implement an efficient system. Cachapuz met our requirements and appropriately solved our logistics issue," says Mr Franco.

In 2001, the self-service bulk loading system was put into operation, 24h per day, 365 days per year. To dispense of manual intervention and incorporate several mechanisms and devices to prevent fraud, the system is based on two modalities:
• Single load, in which the RFID cards only allow one cement loading operation and are assigned according to the previous verification of the customers' commercial situation towards the company
• Multi-load, with RFID cards that allow multiple cement loading operations, with verification of the customers' commercial situation towards the company a posteriori.
"This is the system that has been operating in the company since 2001, satisfying the cement needs of our customers, without significant additional costs to Cimentos Madeira. We are very pleased to know that SLV Cement is a world pioneering system, which is continuously being developed and improved in Portugal and by Portuguese engineers," concludes Mr Franco.

SLV Cement today
SLV Cement is a web-based and cross-platform dispatching and truck management solution that automates all the processes, from the truck's arrival at the cement plant, to the dispatch of cement/clinker, reception of raw materials and automatic printing of the necessary documentation at the end of the process.

SLV Cement not only enhances the logistics processes inside the cement plant, but also guarantees all the data exchange between the logistics and commercial departments efficiently and automatically by being integrated with the ERP. SLV Cement complements the business software (ERP) with automation features, creating a vertical and tailored solution for cement companies. The main functional areas covered by the solution are:
• RFID access control and identification (both short and long range RFID technologies)
• cement and clinker dispatch
• automatic truck parking management (queue and calling)
• entry/exit gates control
• self-service and unmanned weighing
• self-service bulk loading (cement, clinker and fly ash) for trucks and wagons
• bags loading and automatic counting
• raw materials unloading
• fleet management (GPS/GPRS)
• business and KPI analysis and rich reporting features
• ERP integration in online and offline modes (contingency)

This article was published in the International Cement Magazine, in September, 2012.