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Capturing data from a single ready-mix plant is no problem, but it becomes a challenge for producers that operate several facilities.

Heidelberg has taken a different tack. “The only reason to take the ‘rip-and-replace' approach,” says Cameron, “is when you have no option other than to make the investment—such as with an obsolete system. So you shut down the plant for a month or longer and tear out the control system and other bits and pieces and put in the system you've selected.”

But Cameron is against this approach unless it's absolutely necessary. He views it as a waste of money because “as soon as someone decides to put in one system, someone else decides there's a better one.”

The objective then is to be able to capture data from any control system to have consistent, reliable, real-time data. “The ability to take what you already have and make it fit your infrastructure is very powerful,” says Cameron. “There is the cost savings, but it's even more powerful when you look at all the benefits of data capture. I don't want to standardize the plants, I want them to have the systems that they are comfortable and familiar with.”

Cameron wants standard reporting. He says the best way to do that is to take the real data from the control systems and migrate it into the ERP systems, and make it meaningful at that level.

One solution

iCrete offers an innovative alternative solution. The company has developed a link—literally a black box—that can capture data from any of the major batch control systems and generate a standardized data stream.

This feeds directly into a web-based portal that offers real-time dashboards, ad-hoc reporting, and alerts to get visibility into each business process across an entire company. The iCrete Link can even send data directly to SAP's ERP software, providing complete and consistent data, to optimize and automate key business processes. With a minimal investment, almost every ready-mix plant will become an integral part of the entire operation.

“The iCrete system fixes many of our problems,” says Cameron. Heidelberg has been working with an iCrete Link for several plants on a beta test. “I don't have to alter any of my control systems—I can just plug and play and see the same numbers for every single plant within the grid. And it's in the same format, so I'm not wondering what does that number mean or what does that column mean.”

With such transparency throughout a complex ready-mixed concrete operation, concrete quality will increase and profits will accumulate. And decisions will be based on solid information rather than on guesswork.

Visitwww.icrete.comfor more.

The author runs Complete Construction Consultants and is the former editor-in-chief of Concrete Construction. E-mailwpalmer@cee3.com.