Make, Store, and Pack
The Value of VirtECS
The many ways an MSP process can be operated translate to many ways VirtECS can generate value. For example, in a scheduling mode, VirtECS can manage limited intermediate storage to maximize throughput by limiting the amount of cleaning necessary and scheduling it so storage is available when needed. In an analysis mode, VirtECS can allow engineers to learn how much storage supports a process in the most capital efficient fashion. Real world customers sometimes specify packing line activity on the basis of forecasting or customer negotiation. In these cases, VirtECS can determine the best making schedule to support a desired packing schedule. VirtECS can also maximize plant throughput when both Making and Packing can be scheduled together. If you have an MSP configuration, APCI can schedule a custom demonstration to show how your specific needs can be addressed to generate value. APCI has generated value for MSP applications for over two decades and in a wide variety of configurations.
The Make-Store-Pack (MSP) process configuration is used to make cosmetics, creams, ointments, pastes, and other thick fluid products which contain high value-added mixtures and whose manufacture requires significant process and chemistry know-how. An instrumented making vessel is used to control temperature, pressure, and mixing as ingredients are added over the life of a making batch. Product fluid is then pumped to a storage vessel, often on wheels, which maintains the needed conditions from completion of making through product packing. Sophisticated packing lines handle thick fluids and rapidly fill tubes, bottles, etc. which are sized and labeled for the desired market. MSP based manufacturing requires scheduling because expensive process equipment is shared among a number of product fluids that pack into families of related SKUs. Vessels can require less cleanout for fluids within families than for fluids across families. MSP configurations are usually dynamically limited by making, storage, or packing depending upon the size of packages in packing, or the number of product fluids that are combined at packing. For example, if a speckled, multicolored, or striped product is being made, two or more product fluids may need to be available simultaneously at the packing line. Such coordinated making puts a heavy burden on schedulers and presents a substantial opportunity for scheduling-based capacity optimization.
VirtECS in Action
VirtECS has been applied to the analysis, planning, and scheduling of MSP manufacturing for almost 20 years and has been successfully applied to many distinct MSP processes. In analysis applications VirtECS adds value by exploring process improvements such as purchasing new storage vessels, improving the rate of packing lines, and engineering changes that would reduce certain inter-family cleanout times. VirtECS/Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be applied to learn MSP models from historical data. In planning applications VirtECS adds value by exploring different campaign strategies to balance inventory costs, cleanout costs, and labor costs. VirtECS can also quickly respond to changes by rescheduling a published schedule to meet new orders, unexpected equipment downtime, and loss of material due to quality assurance. VirtECS can reduce the time to develop a new schedule to minutes from many hours and still let the user apply their knowledge to control the schedule through Human-In-The-Loop (HITL) widgets that let the user work together with the underlying VirtECS algorithm, computer power, and artificial intelligence. VirtECS/AI is unique and the most advanced in any application addressing process combinatorics (the mathematics and computation of making decisions in the presence of many choices). In fact, VirtECS/AI is the result of more than one hundred ten person years of research and development on real world problems. Literally VirtECS/AI is the result of insights gleaned from hundreds of processes over years of application.
The above plot, generated during a real world VirtECS application, shows one way that VirtECS provides ongoing value. In this case the plot shows a constraint change imposed by the user in going from using 90 wheeled storage vessels to 80 wheeled storage vessels. VirtECS drives the schedule to utilize no more than 80 storage vessels and then “rides” the constraint to get as much capacity as possible out of the plant with 80 storage vessels until usage falls away when VirtECS has produced sufficient material to satisfy the known forecast. In this case the customer utilized the 10 “saved” storage vessels to conduct engineering product development runs so that they were unavailable for normal production. In this way the plant can simultaneously support both customer demand and the development of new products. VirtECS has been involved in dozens of such uses cases and can be rapidly customized for new ones. In this way VirtECS can provide a combination of more capacity or less cost to meet the same demand making the payback time on VirtECS MSP installations weeks or months and the customer reaping the savings and benefits for years to come.
VirtECS Symphony is used to intuitively publish schedules to a wide audience using a browser format which supports desk computers, tablets, and smart phones. Users can browse the schedule using a Gantt Chart, a calendar, or reports by areas. In addition, users can interact through a stream of comments placed on individual activities much as users would interact on social media about a particular event. In this way, users can understand how schedules evolve in response to process events. The scheduler can review all comments, reply and take them into account in updating the schedule.