A salt manufacturer has benefited greatly from automating its production analysis with a laboratory information management system. Implementation was quick and simple, and employees adapted easily to the user-friendly controls.
ZOUTMAN NV is an independent Belgian family firm that produces 300,000 tons of salt yearly for various applications, with sea salt for food as its specialty. The company’s products differ in purity, grain size, moisture content, and packaging, and are all tailored to clients’ requirements. The fast-growing firm, which focuses on customer service, efficiency, flexibility, quality, and environmental friendliness, realized that its manual analysis processes were too unwieldy and turned to Siemens for help.
Increasingly elaborate procedures led to an increase of manual lab work and (semi)automatic analyses
Starting From Scratch
ZOUTMAN’s processes were fully manual. Employees were still using paper and Microsoft Word and Excel to keep track of production quality, but as the company expanded it needed to maintain its certification status (BRC, IFS, kosher, GMP, and ISO 14001). A laboratory information management system (LIMS) was needed to save time.
Siemens proposed using Simatic IT Unilab to inspect raw materials and finished products, automatically generate analysis certificates, and connect with the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. ZOUTMAN appreciated that even though the system is state of the art, little training was required because of its user-friendly and intuitive operation. It is 100% web-based and does not require client installation, making the program simple and cost-efficient to manage.
Simatic IT Unilab is also compatible with any device, brand, or platform. Users can access data and functions through any HTML5 web browser. Unilab makes optimum use of hardware already available through the horizontal and vertical scalability of databases. This allows users at different sites to share the data in the server database.
Because Simatic IT Unilab offers a single-page application design, it is usable on a tablet. Users can easily switch between compact and full-size screens to view the application on different devices. The ergonomic screen design displays only the active functions and offers drag-and-drop and docking features so each user can rearrange the work screen and adapt it to his or her own tasks and preferences.
Implementing The Plan
The first phase of the LIMS project was completed and went live in just three months. This short implementation time and smooth go-live were possible thanks to the phased implementation approach, which was also aligned with a planned expansion of production capacity. Because the program is fully web-based, ZOUTMAN did not need to download any applications, and installation was not required to start using the LIMS software.
Siemens’ solution used the standard functionality of Simatic IT Unilab and off-the-shelf preconfigured work processes for quality control in a production environment. Not one bit of programming was required.
Samples are registered into the LIMS manually, after which the analyst assigns predefined analysis plans with product-specific specifications. Ad hoc modification, addition, or elimination of these plans is also possible and can be easily carried out by the lab analyst because these functions require no programming skills.
Sample information is stored in info cards. Work lists and overview reports present lab staff and management with the plans and progress of the analysis workload.
The LIMS automatically calculates the result of an analysis method based on the input fields. The system applies the so-called management-by-exception approach to the analysis results. It automatically releases products that are within specification and rejects those that are out of spec. If a result is out of spec but within certain limits, manual validation is requested. Analysis certificates are generated from the LIMS and sent directly to customers via e-mail.
Ready For The Future
ZOUTMAN’s employees are enthusiastic about the upgrade and have adapted quickly to the newly automated processes. The company has seen a reduction in errors and is ready for further growth. In the near future, ZOUTMAN will start using the LIMS for trending and for connecting to the company’s ERP system and manufacturing execution system. This means that when a production order is created in the ERP system, the LIMS is notified about related purchase orders for raw materials, to help calculate availability and analysis scheduling. ZOUTMAN will also use the LIMS to connect to instruments such as titrators and sieving machines and to create additional reports.