Foundry Projects Itself into the Future

Sept. 5, 2023
A Mexican ferrous foundry located the technologies it needed to establish a connected, communicative, and flexible data network.

Giorgio Moreno is a special projects coordinator for Castings Foundry POK, a 129-year-old ferrous foundry in Guadalajara, Mexico, and a subsidiary of Nucor Corp. His work over recent years has been critical to the foundry’s progress toward fully automated, integrated operations with real-time data availability.

POK’s goal is to operate with predictive, preventive, and corrective capability over errors and defects, able to communicate all the progress and performance results for casting and machining as they happen.

POK supplies steel, stainless steel, and specialty alloy castings for oil-and-gas producers, mining, and other industries, including pump housing, pipes, valves, rotors, impellers, drill heads, and various other industrial parts. Its no-bake molding operation produces parts up to 8,000 lbs., but it also has investment casting capability for very small parts, and up to 1,000 lbs.

Foundry POK’s first step toward Industry 4.0 was adopting a manual enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in response to a customer request for individual serial number traceability. That was in 2012.

In 2020 POK started building a greenfield operation, POK Acatlan, that would double its production capacity, with Moreno overseeing the development of a foundry capable of aggregating all the data collected from production equipment and the information network, and to make all of it available for exchange with the corporate SCADA and ERP systems. Moreno also wanted the new plant to be accessible to future networking developments – including cloud-based software and services.

The first challenge was to integrate so many different processes, from different developers. “Every equipment vendor wanted to sell us their systems, with their individual monitoring systems that were not compatible with our other machines,” Moreno recalled. “We wanted to develop the new factory internally to save costs and avoid recurring costs, such as licensing. The main challenge was to communicate with all our equipment without voiding any warranties.”

At the established POK foundry Moreno had been introduced to Opto 22 SNAP PAC products, which he reported are easy to program, simple to use, and highly reliable. When he saw the IoT capabilities in Opto 22’s edge programmable industrial controller, called groov EPIC, and its direct integration with Inductive Automation’s Ignition SCADA software, he recognized the possibility to integrate data from all possible equipment and processes the foundry may need to use.

The 14 groov EPIC systems POK installed at the edge of the new foundry’s network provide local control, connectivity with PLCs in the separate systems, data acquisition, and secure communications with Ignition.

Each EPIC system consists of an industrial processor and I/O on an 8-module chassis, all UL Hazardous Locations Class 1 Div 2 approved and ATEX compliant. The system is sturdily built and has a -20 to 70 ºC operating temperature range that suits installation in a metalcasting operation.

EPIC processors can be programmed with either Opto 22’s flowchart-based PAC Control – or, with any IEC 61131-3 compliant language using the CODESYS Development System. Moreno selected CODESYS to program the new POK Acatlan foundry.

“The digital inputs indicate position switches of the equipment and its moving parts; the digital outputs are for driving solenoids and for lamps to indicate system status to the operator. The thermocouples are for temperature, the 4-20 mA inputs for temperature and pressure sensors, and the 4-20 outputs for some control loops, especially to regulate temperature,” according to Miguel Cuevas, commercial manager at Opto 22’s distributor in Mexico, Instrumentación y Control 22 (IC22).  

In addition to local control, the EPIC processors provide supervisory control, e.g., for batch processes. Unlike a standard PLC, they connect directly to PLCs and other automation equipment: variable speed drives, robots, induction heat-treating chambers, compressors, and more. The EPICs consolidate data from these sources and exchange it via Ignition with the ERP and SCADA systems.

A groov EPIC system can run either Ignition EDGE or Ignition FULL on its processor, but in this case, Moreno chose to run Ignition on a separate server. He uses Ignition Tag Historian, Alarm Notification, Perspective, Sequential Function Charts (SFC), and OPC UA. Postgres, an open-source SQL database, provides the database for Ignition Historian. The flexible ERP is called Odoo.

POK Acatlan uses the Perspective Module’s scripting function for direct control of some processes in specialized equipment. And they use Ignition to directly monitor power meters, gas meters, resin meters, and sand level meters.

Moreno is particularly pleased with the opportunities for operator interfaces (HMIs), using both Ignition Perspective and EPIC’s built-in groov View software. “We now have a mission control in the center of our factory where all pertinent Perspective screens display every active part of our process,” he said. “Perspective has allowed us to add an HMI to any of our equipment, including those that don’t even have a physical HMI. All of our operators, with the appropriate credentials, can view the HMI of any machine using tablets at the machine or even with their mobile device.”

And groov View HMI gives them local access to systems. “We were able to use both groov View’s HMI and Perspective simultaneously, and that allows us to have local HMI control should our network connection to the edge ever fail. This was great for us to find out, as we used these double HMIs for our processes that are of critical importance.

“I have an integrated HMI and I can take advantage of organizing my factory into zones depending on their proximity to a nearby EPIC. I can integrate all independent processes—shelling, inductive furnace, heat treatment, etc.—and have a local HMI that allows me to control it, with no added costs,” he says. In addition, they can freely and easily create and generate new reports and trends in groov View.

At POK Acatlan manufacturing now is fully automated, from ERP order entry to manufacturing, to updating finished goods in the same ERP.

Operators find that historical reports, process tracking, and tracking production make their jobs easier, and every engineer can monitor any part of the plant from a mobile phone, a local tablet, or from mission control at the center of the plant.

Castings Foundry POK estimated savings from the initial outlay, lower recurring costs, improved product quality through tracking, faster new product production with automated orders in the ERP system, and labor costs.

“We estimate to have saved over 60% of the cost of this had we purchased a turnkey system from our vendors. We don’t have to pay any recurring licensing costs for any of our software. We are not limited by users, devices, tags, screens, etc. Ignition allowed us to use the licenses that we had already purchased for our equipment from our first plant into this second plant with ease,” Moreno said.