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issue: August 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Boiler Production
Simulating Success

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English boiler producer Baxi Potterton uses discrete simulation software to prevent bottlenecks and improve production line performance.

About a year ago, boiler manufacturer Baxi Potterton Limited of Preston, England was preparing to place an order for a production line to support a new type of boiler at its plant in Padiham, Lancashire, UK. This production line would have numerous automated stations, a human-machine interface unit, and a barcode data capture function, which was more sophisticated than what the manufacturer had previously used. The plant that Baxi ordered it for usually manufactured standard, combination, and condensing boilers, all of which have different build and testing times than the new kind of boiler it would now produce.

The group engineer manager, Paul Bilbie, was concerned about the new production line’s system performance because Baxi had previously experienced bottlenecks in two of its other production facilities, causing production losses. Also, after receiving the design for the new production line from its conveyor supplier, he didn’t think it would run smoothly using the route the supplier recommended. This introduced a challenge—he needed to figure out a way to install it, knowing where the bottlenecks would occur before the production even started.

A 3D view of the packaging portion of Baxi Potterton's boiler plant in Padiham, Lancashire, UK.

Mr. Bilbie, who is responsible for all of Baxi’s production facilities, maintenance, production engineers, industrial engineers, and project engineers, started to research discrete event simulation. After looking into three different companies, Mr. Bilbie chose to use a simulation software called Quest from Delmia Ltd., the UK subsidiary of Delmia Corp. (Auburn Hills, MI, U.S.).

Quest is a standard, 3D, digital factory software that is used for process flow simulation and analysis. It uses a discrete event simulation environment and pictures of geometric objects from a resource library that enable users to create a simulation model of a production plant using their plant layout, alternate scheduling scenarios, and integrated product teams, as well as items such as buffers, machines, material handling systems, and docks. Quest incorporates production variables such as physical lengths, speeds, and a plant layout to analyze the effects on material handling of equipment and labor.

Mr. Bilbie chose Delmia’s software mainly because it is 3D and it enabled the boiler manufacturer to use and manipulate software simulation models it already had. For example, Baxi was able to extrapolate information from Altercat, a 2D software the company had previously been using, and combine it with Quest to make it 3D. He evaluated Delmia’s software by simulating Baxi’s three existing production lines and the new line proposed by the supplier.

Quest allowed Baxi to develop and watch its production line improve throughout the design process. Delmia says its clients reduce errors by minimizing problems and figuring out unplanned costs. With Quest, users can build a simulation model to the level of detail they want and add more detail as they go along to keep improving their design.

“Delmia took on the Baxi Potterton project because it was a ‘classic’ manufacturing problem that could be quickly addressed using Quest and would ensure accurate information upon which Baxi could make informed decisions,” says Tracy Doran, Delmia’s professional services manager. “Delmia’s overall goal when working with them was to demonstrate the flaws with their intended manufacturing concept and assist them in designing and implementing an optimized line.”

The two companies started by running a 9-day program, using Quest to build a simulation model. Baxi used its original design (from Altercat), which gave it a throughput and highlighted where various bottlenecks would ensue. Then Baxi undertook various tests using “what if” situations to demonstrate how it could make design changes and still meet the target throughputs for the line.

According to the companies, this process was complex because the production lines were based on program logic control (PLC) computers, and there were a lot of bar code readers and data capturers within the production plant. Delmia built a production output line into the simulation model, and then built that line into the 3D program. After first running the program and seeing all the problems that would have occurred, Delmia further developed it and added logic control to optimize the lines. The software company was then able to manipulate the simulation model to find other areas of concern. When Delmia found a bottleneck when packaging a product, for instance, it enabled Delmia to modify the packaging area.

“As soon as we built the product, we could tell that the line was starting to run a lot better and a lot sweeter than it was before,” says Mr. Bilbie. If Baxi had built the production line without the simulation, Mr. Bilbie claims the company would have been adding to the problems it already had on the line, such as carrier starvation. He says he never knew whether or not the production line received the exact amount of carriers it required because they travel around the plant automatically. With Quest, Baxi was able to use the simulation to find that out. What Baxi realized was that as it put more carriers into the production line, the line started forming bottlenecks again, which produced gridlock. When it tried reducing the number of carriers, it starved the line. After experimenting, the manufacturer saw that 20 to 22 carriers worked perfectly.

Delmia's Quest software simulation of Baxi's employees at various working stations within the boiler plant.


When the simulation model was built and the results were shown to Mr. Bilbie, he was pleased. “I had my concerns over the 2 years that I’ve been working with this production line, and my concerns came to light very quickly when we started to see the presentation,” he says. In fact, Mr. Bilbie says that if Baxi had not used Quest, the production line would have been completely starved of carriers by 2 p.m. on the first day of production, resulting in a 19-percent loss in production. “It would’ve been very embarrassing for all concerned,” he says. This would have induced what Mr. Bilbie calls “total gridlock” because all the carriers would have been full of partially completed boilers, so there would have been no way of releasing the completed boilers from the production line. “We wouldn’t have been able to produce anything,” he notes.

After receiving the solution from Delmia, Mr. Bilbie showed Baxi’s conveyer supplier the animated production line in the simulation. “They were very shocked to see the results and what would’ve happened if we would’ve gone the way that they were suggesting,” he says.

Baxi has future plans to build more simulation models with Delmia. In another recent project, Baxi put together a simulation model for the front end of its factory, where it is adding four more production lines. This next generation of lines will be added to all of the existing lines, and Mr. Bilbie plans to eventually have a complete 3D simulation of the factory running on a computer so he can see every aspect of production and how many operators he needs per line. Baxi is also working with Delmia on a Flexible Machining Systems (FMS) model for machining centers. FMS is a computer and robot-controlled system.

According to Mr. Bilbie, a critical part of Baxi’s ongoing success with Delmia is that he can take advantage of the support days Delmia provides when he needs help with the simulation software. He suggests that users take Delmia’s advice and understand that it takes time to build a simulation model. Also, before buying discrete simulation software, users should have to have a clear idea of what they intend to do with the software once they have it. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it,” Mr. Bilbie says. “Delmia helped us to achieve our goals by providing us with support on building the models.”


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