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Integrated computerized system for formulations, mixing and testing of materials.

Every rubber converter as always taken great care with its recipe. They are basis of its profitability.

In more than 20 years of recipe development, DSM Elastomers has collected a great deal of recipe data. During that time, improved quality requirements meant that customers asked for recipes of compounds capable of meeting more difficult demands. At the same time, DSM started to extend its rubber business all over the world as a consequence of its global policy. All of this could not be done without the help of ne (young) rubber technologists. Up to now, however, compounding has been more of an art than a science. This means that either you have to have been in this field for a long time or the collected knowledge has to be available in an easily accessible way in order that the customers can be given high level supprot. Nowadays the use of computers seems to be the answer to this problem. But in the traditional rubber industry this is not as obvious as one might expect, with the possible exception of some big (tire) companies (ref. 1). Considering the many disasters in all kinds of attempts to introduce computers in various industries (ref. 2) this waiting attitude may have been wise, but times have changed and hardware and software have been dramatically improved during the last few years. At present, computers can be used, and are being used, in almost all parts of (the rubber) industry (ref. 3). However, there is one big disadvantage: most of the systems used do not communicate with each other, mainly because the systems were not developed as part of one overall concept (ref. 4), but were meant only for a specific task such as weighing (ref. 5 and 6), mixing, curing (refs. 7 and 8) or dealt with just a part of the total process of producing rubber articles such as production (ref. 9), injection molding (refs. 10-13) or a number of specific tests (refs. 14-16).

This article describes the hardware and software concept of an integrated modular system developed at DSM starting in 1987. Although originally designed for the laboratory of a synthetic rubber producer, it has all the necessary attributes for a computer-integrated enterprise (ref. 17).

Use of computers

Although the use of the correct formulation plays an important role in the profitability of a rubber company, this is just one of the success factors. A balance has to be achieved between product volumes, costs, revenues and various other parameters (ref. 18).

It is DSM's strong belief that information technology can play an important role in this field. But to be able to implement information technology successfully, besides careful planning and a systematic realization (ref. 19), certain conditions have to be met:

* Information Policy - The organization needs to have an information policy: who needs what kind of information at what frequency and in what detail? It must also be specified who is allowed to input, manipulate and/or delete data. By starting on the information side, the basic needs of the organization can be determined. These are the receiving, storage, manipulating and sending of information. Almost automatically it then becomes clear that main subsystems and/or individuals need the same data. This is a strong case of integrated systems, as these offer the highest degree of freedom (ref. 1).

* Clear vision about ideal (end) situation and interim goals - From the beginning the organization needs to know where it wants to go. If it has no clear vision of the ideal final situation, targets could change during construction and implementation, which could lead to malfunctioning and expensive "solutions." This does not mean that it is necessary to have a detailed description of all functions and functionalities from the beginning, but the objectives and framework should be known.

* Step-by-step approach - A step-by-step approach enables the organization to get used to the new situation. It is possible for everyone involved to become familiar with the new facilities and to learn from any mistakes made. Furthermore, new technical and technological developments can be taken into account before the next step is taken. This implies that the system must be built in a modular way with clearly defined interfaces. Here the ISO Open Systems Interconnection seven-layer model (ref. 20) can be very helpful.

* Commitment of management - the main task of management is to motivate and guide employees (ref. 21). This it can best achieve by showing its commitment. Management should act as a facilitator by making available the necessary facilities (funds, equipment, time, people). Decisions concerning aims, time schedule, etc., have to be taken and controlled by management. In general this sounds very logical, but with regard to information technology management is often seen to keep at a distance.

* Dedicated project manager within the organization - "The problem of achieving good communications is common to every organization; and in business based on technical products, communications between technical people are especially important. Yet at times well-qualified, well intended technical groups find that reaching real mutual understanding can be very difficult indeed. Worse yet, thinking that understanding has been reached when in fact it has not can result is truly monumental problems for all concerned" (ref. 22). This also holds for communications between rubber technologists and software engineers. It is therefore important to have the project manager within the organization. He/she should be able to think in conceptual terms and perceive analogies between different application areas and should have a strong affinity for information technology. Because some users will have to be convinced tha they really can gain from the new situation, suppliers will need to be pushed on some occasions, and also a lot of basic work has to be done. The project manager should be really dedicated. Moreover, even if an external specialist is used, as is done to a great extent in Western Europe, where in 1990 already $2.5 x [10.sup.9] was spent for this purpose (ref. 23), an internal project manager is necessary.

* Competent administrator - At the latest, once a system has been introduced, there is a need for a competent administrator. It is his/her task to run the system smoothly. Particularly shortly after the introduction it is a major drawback if the system shows problems due to bad system management. In this period, when the new users have to be persuaded to utilize the facility, they will use any system malfunctioning as an excuse not to use the system. At a later stage it is essential to keep a good record of the installed facilities and the parameters used. Monitoring of the system might lead to better problem solving.

* Training of (potential) users - The training of (potential) users should start before installation of the system. In fact, the (potential) users should be involved in the specification of the functionality, although it may be difficult for (a number of) them to form a correct picture of the system to be specified. Training should also involve a brief introduction to the (use of) the hardware and its operating system(s).

Differences in level of knowledge and abiliy to use new information between the different users should be taken into account when the training program is drafted. It is essential that the newly gained knowledge be put into practice immediately after the course.


The system to be used should in some way reflect the organization for which it is built. It needs to be able to deal with the task of the different parts of the organization. Furthermore, it has to be able to copy the way different groups of people work. If the system is also in line with the information policy of the organization specified earlier, it is an important quality assurance tool (ISO 9000 series, Ford Q-101 [ref. 24], etc.)


Right from the start of discussions at DSM about the use of computers, it was clear that the end result should be an integrated system for all parts of the process of developing recipes for customer applications. Furthermore, the system should also be a valuable tool for research purposes in order to be able to further improve the quality standards of our EP(D)M and the divisions other products. The possibilities


of the system to be developed should not only be available to DSM. DSM strongly believes that it is the interest of both the customer and DSM to share its knowledge with its customers. Besides, traveling all over the globe with an ever-increasing pile of hard copies of recipe formulations is a hard job. In other words, at least that part of the system dealing with recipe selection on the basis of properties should be available on the spot during visits to customers. These were some of the requirements which almost automatically led to a system using a network of (portable) personal computers. A modular system was chosen in order to ensure the possibility of updating and extending the system without high costs.

Furthermore, we wanted a high degree of flexibility. Because of the difficulty of specifying every requirement, especially not future ones, it should remain possible to use the collected and stored data. An open relational database structure is therefore the best possible choice. This also enable the user to "play around" with his/her data using standard software packages, without needing to adapt the user specific software.

Obviously, all these requirements cannot be fulfilled by a single software package. Therefore DSM Elastomers in close cooperation with software suppliers developed the concepts of an integrated system of software packages called ELIMS, elastomers laboratory information management systems.

Network structure

It was decided to build the system as a network, for the following reasons:

* Management - It is more convenient to be able to install and update or upgrade the software just once in a network. Only by using a network can one be sure that every user has access to the same release of the different programs. Backup procedures can be run automatically, which greatly improves data availability.

* Security - Most network operating systems have facilities to regulate the access of the system and to specific information. The system manager can fine-tune this in accordance with the needs of the organization.

* Standardization - Using the same release of software already imposes a certain level of standardization. In addition, making the same settings available and using the same predefined forms contributes to corporate identity.

* Lower costs - Using network software can be cheaper regarding licenses. Furthermore, a network enables the sharing of hardware such as disks, printers and plotters, and allows access to other networks and backup facilities.

* Shared use of information - Only when there is one set of data can one be sure that every users uses the same information. In a network, all the information can be shared. As soon as data is distributed its integrity can no longer be guaranteed.

All these arguments are valid for both a mainframe network and a PC network. The latter, however, has additional advantages (ref. 25), such as:

* PC less expensive than terminal - A PC is much cheaper than a mainframe terminal when maintenance and facility costs are included. This is especially true if diskless PCs are used, but the picture may vary depending on company-specific internal accounting principles.

* Cheaper software - For (MS-DOS) PCs there is a lot of standard software available, which costs for less than mainframe software. Moreover, PC softwares often more user-friendly.

* Cheaper programming - Programmers working on mainframes are more expensive than their colleagues writing PC software.

* Graphics facilities - PC software mostly offers more and/or better graphics facilities than mainframe software.

* Use of local processors - In a PC-network the terminals are intelligent machines, using their own procesors. The network server only has to supply the requested data. The network server only has to supply the requested data. The processing of the data is done internally. This can give better performance in the case of graphics and a high volume of internal calculations. In the case of extensive searches, the client-server concept using a dedicated database server will reduce network traffic. There is a tendency to downsize from one big mainframe to many small systems because of the resulting flat organization, reduction of vulnerability and stimulation of creative.

The Local Area Network (LAN) of (portable) personal computers (ref. 20) as DSM uses the industry standard Novell


NetWare as the network operating system (ref. 26) and protocol (IPX/SPX), and Ethernet (ref. 27) as the cabling system. All data concerning ingredients, recipes, compounds, vulcanizates and aged vulcanizates are written in dBASE III+files.

ELIMS consists of four main parts:

* Recipe management system;

* Processing equipment; control and data acquisition;

* Testing equipment: control and data acquisition;

* Connections to other computer(ized) facilities.


Besides standard software packages, DSM Elastomer, uses specially developed and/or adapted software (table 1).

The programms are selected on the basis of their operation, use in industry, multi-user and network facilities, user-friendliness, ability to incorporate special user-specific features, data exchange and requirements imposed on hardware.

Recipe management system

As the recipe management sysem is the central part of the concept, a great deal of time has been spent in selecting the software. In fact, DSM is still looking for software with interesting features for recipe development. Although several software programs have been developed in this field, most of them do not fulfill the requirements. Some of them run only on mainframes, others are available only to the companies they have been developed for. Most of them use their own data (base) format and hardly any can be run on a multi-user basis in a local area network. Some of these packages are listed in table 2.

Because in 1987 no known software package could satisfy all conditions, a detailed specification was written in consultation with the potential users and employees of DSM's information management department. This specification included a performance test under specified conditions. Based on this specification, a software package called Compound, which was first released in 1985 (refs. 28 and 29), was completely rewritten. During the development, the users at DSM were fully involved in the evaulation of the software, and they still are, along with users in approximately 25 other companies. This involvement, an extensive general training in the use of personal computers and the various software packages, and a stable network with short response times account for the high level of acceptance.

Compound (the recipe screen lay-out is shown in figure 1) focuses in particular on the formulation of new recipes and selections from existing ones using a broad range of selection criteria specified by the user. It has the following (main) facilities:

* Ingredient database - All ingredients needed to compile a formulation are stored in a database relationally linked to databases contining information about their health and safety aspects, stock situation, supplier and producer and additional remarks. Single ingredients can be made available to an individual user, a group of users or to every user, and can also be prevented from future usage if no longer available.

* Formulations database - As soon as ingredients have been entered into the system a recipe can be put together. This formulation can contain up to a specified number of ingredients selected from a list of subsets of the ingredient database.

Only the code numbers and amounts needed (phr) are stored, so that as soon as any information in the ingredient database has been changed the new information is immediately available in all recipes using the ingredients concerned. After


a mixing device and load factor have been added to a recipe, a compound can be made. Based on vulcanization conditions, properties of the resulting vulcanizates can be stored. These vulcanizates can be aged giving age vulucaniztes, whose properties can also be stored. This way of organizing information makes the system highly flexible and minimizes the amount of disk space needed.

At this point it is important to realize the difference between properties and test results. Properties are compiled from a set of test results. This can be done either automatically using, for example, statistical procedures or by hand. DSM leaves it to its experts, the rubber technologists, to carry out this important job. It is on the basis of the stored properties that selections can be made.

* Testing - Properties (Compound) as well as test results (Daisy and MiDac) are stored according to their definition (drawn up using the test procedure facility). Besides the specifications of the parameters to be stored, it is also possible to give an input minimum and maximum, the unit of the parameter, its accuracy and a short description of the procedure. A distinction can be made between conditions and results. The system can make use of limits and warn the operator if the material no longer conforms to specification.

* Work orders - The compiled formulations have to be transformed into real (aged) vulcanizates so that the proposed combination of ingredients can be checked for accuracy. With the work order facility the order can be generated for the processing and testing group using predefined procedures, only the conditions of which have to be specified. This job, too, has been relieved by introducing pick lists with subsets of available procedures. The work order module is becoming more and more important within the concept because it plays a major role in the traceability of samples and data within the laboratory and guides the operators in their various jobs.

* System management - Along with the level of integration, the system management of Compound is probably one of the most distinctive features of the software. It offers the possibility of making Compound a tailor-made facility. As part of the password system, access to almost every function can be controlled at four levels: view, add, change and delete for every user individually.

All this information is stored in a dBASE file, but may be stored in a scarmbled form depending on the name of the owner of the software license. Of all the other data only the recipe data - the key information - can be stored in a scrambled form in the same way.

How Compound is used

By selecting properties or ingredients from the existing recipe database, a new recipe can be created based on a selected one. In order to meet the acceptance criteria, the program had to be designed in such a way that selections are made exceptionally quickly and can be used as a filter for the working database, thus limiting the amount of records to be evaluated for subsequent selections.

Once the formulation is complete, a work order for the production and laboratory departments can be written to instruct mixing operators, to define the mixing procedure and conditions and to determine which of the predetermined tests should be carried out. Also, work progress can be planned and reviewed.

After the new recipe is mixed, the mixing parameters such as energy, temperatures and times can be reviewed to provide the rubber technologist with the mixing characteristics of the material being tested and to relate the test results to the results of the mixing process. When the first tests have been carried out, the technologist can review the validated test results from within the work order or related to the receipe code. Non-validated test results are screened from the technologist.

As a result of the analysis of the test results, the rubber technologist can decide to alter parts of the recipe and issue a network order, or he/she can release the recipe for production purposes by adding a mixer recipe for the production facility. Finally, reports of his/her work, consisting of the work order and an overview of the different stages of the development process can be generated.

The program is built using modules written in object-oriented Pascal. By using this programming technique, the program can be expanded from a small, stand-alone recipe formulation assistant to an allaround recipe management system using local area network (LAN). This is, in fact, how the program has evolved over a period of less than four years from its conception.

The program cann be integrated with testing (Daisy) and production (MiDac) departments because the databases are shared. The test results stored using Daisy can be viewed from within Compound. The mixing instructions and conditions are retrieved from the Compound databases by the mixer program; resulting mixing characteristics can be viewed from within Compound, etc.

Processing equipment: Control and data acquisition

For the development of software for mixing control, a link to industrial rubber compounders is particularly necessary. In this case, too, there was some software already available (refs. 30-34), but again the same objections were applicable as in the case of recipe management software with respect to integration possibilities. In addition, the known software did not have the ability produce on-line graphics of important parameters during the mixing procedure. Therefore DSM had a supplier of mixing software adapt and extend his program in order to fit them into the concept of the integrated system ELIMS.

The starting point for the automation of processing - as well as testing-equipment is the condition that every machine must be able to run on its own, be computer controlled and, last but not least, run in a PC-based network. This ensures the most versatile use of the equipment, even in case of a computer breakdown.

The solution was based on a module of an available system for automation of mixing operations. This xPC (expandable process control) system has components for weighing and dosage control, mixer and mill automation and data-acquisition tasks. The MPC (mixer process control) module was taken from this system and equipped with extra functions. A separate PC handles the on line graphics and forms the bridge between the process controller and the LAN. The resulting program for the PC is now called MiDac: mixer data acquisition and control.

Besides the well-known objectives such as an increase in compound quality, higher throughput and reduction of costs (refs. 35 and 36), an automation system for mixer control should at least meet the following requirements:

* Advantages for the operators - Using automation systems firmly rooted in practice, it is possible to increase operators' insight into the operatio nof a mill room. By letting the computer control the process, the operators are relieved of routine jobs. In this way they are able to concentrate on watching the process. Especially when the process is displayed on local terminals on-line, the operator has better control over the process. Should there be troubles, the system should provide the operator with error reports and on-line help.

The logic of the computer control is ideally a copy of manual operation. This makes it more comprehensive to the operators. It should always be possible to interrupt the automatic process by manual operation, e.g. for safety reasons, in which case this action should be recorded.

* Reproducibility of the process - The computer control data for weighing, mixing and milling should be stored in a computer. Using this data to control the mixing process guarantees a high reproductibility with constant quality and high reproduction speeds.

* Documentation of the process - The system should record the results of the total production process: weighing, mixing and milling, including the actions of the operator. It should also handle direct data-acquisition from the mixer and at a later stage preferably also from the two-roll mill. This makes it possible to display the analogue data on-line to the operators in the term of graphs.

The recorded data can be used in subsequent steps for many different purposes and also for statistical analysis. For that reason the data should be written to data bases.

* Modularity of the system - As far as organizational and financial considerations are concerned, in many production environments the implementation of automation systems is possible only if the automation can be carried out stepwise and if the specific conditions of the company can be dealt with. Therefore, modular and expandable systems are preferred.

* System integration and "open systems" - Because in many companies nowadays parts of the production have already been automated it is important that additional systems can be integrated and themselves allow integration of available systems. Suppliers of systems should not restrict themselves to their own automation area, but should consider their system as a part of the total open system.

With regard to mixter control software there is still a lot of development work to be done (refs. 37 and 38). Although many suppliers state that they are able to supply a closed-loop control, up to now such a facility has not been demonstrated. After concentrating on the on-line graphics shown in figure 2, DSM now hopes to be able to make a strong contribution in this crucial part of the rubber industry. This is the origin of reproducibly produced high quality compounds. In the control and further improvement of this quality, the links with other software packages such as Compound and Daisy have already been very helpful. For instance in the case of a mixing problem, the difference in mixing behavior of different grades of an elastomer could be recorded. The cause for this difference was traced and overcome and testing of the resulting compounds showed a constant high quality.

Testing equipment: control and data acquisition

Starting with Mooney viscometers and rheometers, test equipment has been linked to a computer. Here the same requirements are applicable as described from mixer control. The developed software called DAISY does not concentrate on one particular test machine; any make and type of machine can be connected if it can be equipped with signal outputs. The make and type of machine can be connected if it can be equipped with signal outputs.

The bottleneck has proved to be the performance of original interfaces supplied with the test equipment. In some cases this makes it necessary to use a dedicated computer, which most of the time just waits for data. In other cases these interfaces do not allow the computer to control the equipment.

Daisy program facilities are as follows:

* Test procedures can be defined, as with Compound, to store any test procedure and any variable. This allows the definition of many specific tests.

* Laboratory staff can review or be guided by work orders issued by the development engineer. This way, the correct tests using the correct conditions are carried out and the scope of testing is clear to the laboratory staff.

* Test procedures can be reviewed so that the test is carried out correctly.

* Test results can be input automatically by directly connecting this machine to the computer. This way, many error sources (readout errors, writing errors, interpretation errors, etc.) are removed, and on some machines test conditions can be downloaded to the test machine. Apart from this, manual input of these results not input automatically is possible alongside automatic input of test results.

* Test curves generated by the software if the test machine provides real-time data can be viewed and plotted (figure 3) These curves can also be stored and viewed using the Compound program. An intelligent data reduction procedure is used to reduce the amount of information. As in the case with MiDac the results and graphs datapoints are stored in separate databases.

* Because all data is stored in dBASE files, test results can be reviewed easily and test history can be analyzed. Moreover, overviews and reports can be produced. This can be done either using Daisy or with the help of standard software packages.

Connections to other facilities

A communication server makes it possible to access other networks. In this way it is possible to download customer data from the corporate database, to use the data on produced lots of elastomers and to send and receive telexes directly from any PC within the departmental network. Up to now the traditional way of sending and receiving facsimiles has been used because no facility could be found to transfer original WordPerfect and other files with graphics information. The introduction of the new generation of fax machines will probably provide this possibility. As part of the Corporate Identity program, standard fax forms, created with WordPerfect are produced by individual users.

All print jobs are handled by a printer server to which all printers and plotters are connected. This makes it possible to send any print job from any PC to any print facility within the network.

Although originally all PCs were equipped with a hard disk and a floppy drive, right from the start the backup facility has been available only for the network drives. In this way, the use of local drives for valuable data has been successfully discouraged.

Future possibilities

In the near future, DSM will further develop ELIMS, which it considers to be a competitive-edge application (ref. 39). This will result in extension of the present software facilities and connection to other hardware such as a tensometer, a hot air tunnel, etc. However, DSM does not intend to automate and connect every piece of equipment.

Furthermore, following a feasibility study, DSM research in now working on a prototype of an expert system based on the collected data stored within ELIMS. For this reason, right from the start a set of standard properties was specified within Compound (figure 4) for each and every vulcanizate.

The aim of this expert system for elastomers compound formulation development is to make the available knowledge more accessible and independent of individual persons, to gain more uniformity in the design of recipes and to function as a training aid for new rubber technologists. The resulting system should be more than a materials selection program (ref. 40) and go beyond similar systems known at present (ref. 41). The complexity of this goal, which goes beyond that of a diagnosis system (refs. 42 and 43), and the lack of available programming knowlege (ref. 44) will make this a long term project, but it is seen as the next significant step forward (ref. 45).

At present, discussions are being held about the possibility of an ingredient database for the rubber industry. This is probably more feasible than a formulation data base (ref. 46) because of the level of company knowledge put int formulations. DSM will continue these discussions with a software house and suppliers of rubbers and rubber chemicals. It believes it is in the interest of all its partners within the rubber industry that a standard be set soon.

In spite of all the developments mentioned above, in which the producers of synthetic rubber have played and still play a major role, a revolution has not take place and rubber compounding has not yet graduated from the category of an art to the status of a science, but the evolution continues. It may be accelerated by joint efforts of all participants in the rubber industry to improve the capacity of rubber testing methods (ref. 47) and software programs.


The development of an elastomers laboratory information management system has resulted in the integration of the administrative, production and testing tasks of the different groups within the research and application development department of a synthetic rubber producer through the sharing of the information in a set of relational databases. The system also contains all the elements of interest to rubber converters. It is a flexible, modular system with a high level of data security and many possibilities for further evolution.


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Author:Visser, Germ W.
Publication:Rubber World
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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