Jolly ol’ Santa Claus has quite a job coming up this month. Assuming an estimate of 650 million Christian children worldwide, manufacturing one toy for each would mean his factory would need to spit out just over 20 toys a second, every second, all year round. A factory manager could sure learn some tips from this impressive feat. Here, Sean Robinson, service leader at industrial control system specialist Novotek UK and Ireland, picks out some ideal industrial stocking-fillers to help you in competition with this seasonal manufacturing juggernaut.

Admittedly, not all those children will have been nice, so 650 million can be interpreted as a liberal estimate. No matter how you fudge the numbers, though, constructing thousands of products a minute is unfeasible for manual labourers alone.

Therefore, Santa’s factory no-doubt employs the cutting edge in industrial automation technology. From planing wood for dollhouses and painting red noses on nutcrackers to tying bow ribbons, everything will be automated to both ensure the required incredible throughput, and the safety of factory-floor elves.

This may be speculation, there are some systems we can be certain would feature prominently in this festive factory. These very systems should be on the Christmas list of plant managers looking to bolster their own production speed, reliability and effectiveness in the new year.

For example, we can be relatively confident there would be several supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems in place to govern plant processes. They provide the information required to optimise processes, catch systematic errors and limit unplanned downtime by catching errors and faults before they cause a problem. Unplanned downtime correlates directly with lost profits, wasted material and potentially damage to other nearby devices.

The data detour

Because the consequences of downtime at the polar workshop are so very dire, Santa will likely have contingencies in the inevitable case that a failure occurs.

Well functioning SCADA systems are reliant on data. It’s possible for every aspect of a production line to be monitored, from temperature to conveyor speed, but to achieve this requires a well implemented, thoroughly integrated system — with backup redundancies.

A factory manufacturing product for 650 million customers would no doubt employ data acquisition systems with built-in redundancy management, similar to Kepware’s RedundancyMaster, as supplied by Novotek UK and Ireland.

Systems such as these intelligently switch between data collection servers in the case they hang or fail. By doing this, uninterrupted flow of the data, crucial to the efficacy of governing systems, is ensured.

In this way, Santa can sit in his control room with a mince pie and his feet up by a roaring fire, confident in the information and results generated by the SCADA system.

Built to fit

Another admirable industrial aspect of Santa’s workshop is its incredible flexibility and modularity. Whether it’s a jigsaw puzzle, a rocking horse or a games console, everything comes out of the same factory.

Achieving this kind of flexibility year on year, with no downtime, is probably a bit of a stretch for most companies lacking that certain magical touch. Adjusting production to meet trends and demands, though, is far from industrial make-believe. It’s a requirement in many sectors, especially in food and beverage production.

A natural consequence of flexible production lines is that their designs are often bespoke. There’s no one-size-fits-all industrial automation solution, because automated industries are particularly diverse, ranging from food production, to petrochemical processing and, of course, toy making.

The same applies to the control software infrastructure.  The previously mentioned SCADA and redundancy software depends on thorough data acquisition, to spot faults and switch servers respectively, making the smooth flow of data from the sensors to the mainframe absolutely vital.

It’s for this purpose that Novotek UK and Ireland offers Kepware’s ClientAce. By implementing systems such as this, engineers can design the data acquisition infrastructure from the ground up, adjusting each parameter to meet the needs of the plant in question.

There are many reasons that industries struggle to compete with the manufacturing powerhouse of Santa and his workshop. An insular elf-workforce, remote location and possibly not actually existing, all make emulating his success difficult.

It doesn’t have to all come down to magic, though. As with most manufacturers, much of the success comes from choosing the right tools for the job. So, what will be on your industrial wish list this Christmas?