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New Microsoft SQL Server helps Conair gather material-use data

The Microsoft SQL Server is a database management and analysis system that is oftentimes used in general business applications such as e-commerce and line-of-business. It can also be used to help plastics processors track how much resin, regrind, color and additives they are using.

The Microsoft SQL Server is a database management and analysis system that is oftentimes used in general business applications such as e-commerce and line-of-business. It can also be used to help plastics processors track how much resin, regrind, color and additives they are using.

Auxiliary equipment producer Conair says that its gravimetric blender products - including TrueBlend batch blenders, TrueWeigh continuous blenders and TrueWeigh extrusion controls - have always had extensive data-gathering capabilities. The company is now using the Microsoft SQL Server to collect and store material-usage information from Conair gravimetric blenders.

"Material-use reporting software has been available with Conair blenders for years," said Alan Landers, blending product manager, "but it has been limited to generating reports on what a given blender is doing over a specific period of time. In the new SQL-Server-based system, however, all data generated by all blenders goes into the same database. A well-written query can mine that data for information that help you run your plant more efficiently and more profitably."

The Conair blender reporting capabilities can also be used with SAP Sybase SQL Anywhere.

The process

Each TrueBlend SB2 touch-panel control (Version 1.08.0 and newer) has the ability to communicate directly with a computer hard drive using SQL Server software and a standard Ethernet TCP network. When the control is first connected with the new database in the SQL Server, it will automatically create all of the data tables and data relationships required. Then, as the blender operates, it will periodically add data to the tables in the database. How often the data is written to the server is programmable depending on user requirements. Once set up, the system operates automatically, continually adding to the data base.

To make use of the data, users can implement Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services and write a "query" that generates the desired report. A query might look for information on something as general as how much polyethylene has been used plant-wide in the past three months. Or, a query could seek very specific data such as how much colorant was processed in Molding Cell #5 during second shift last Monday. Companies with experienced SQL users may choose to write their own queries, or Conair provides standard query templates in system documentation, which then can be installed into SQL Server Reporting Services.

Processors who want to take advantage of the SQL Server reporting capabilities built into their Conair blenders receive a pass code to unlock the data-export port on each blender. An Installation Guide leads the user through the installation of SQL Server software if it is not already installed within the organization. As noted, this system is commonly used for finance, inventory control and other applications in many companies. If it does not already exist, however, Microsoft SQL Server Express software is a free download. A Conair User's Manual explains step-by-step how data tables are created and how to use a standard Internet browser to use pre-installed report templates.

"There are lots of ways to get material usage data," Landers said. Bbut they tend to be manual, time-consuming and not always accurate. Since every gram of material going through a blender is weighed and recorded, the blender is a great source of usage data. Now, using an existing business software solution like SQL Server, plastics processor can gather valuable data and put it into a universal format automatically, it becomes much easier to make good use of the information."     

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