By Alison Weiss
Cabo Frio, on the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a popular vacation destination—tourists are drawn to its gorgeous white-sand beaches and bright-blue ocean water. It is also one of the most ideal locales in Brazil for salt production, because it boasts little rainfall, ever-present winds, a flat landscape, abundant sunshine, and the Araruama Lagoon, the world’s largest hypersaline lake with a salinity index greater than that of the ocean.
The region has been known for salt as far back as the 16th century, when salt was produced naturally in the recesses of the lagoon. By 1824 the first salt-producing company was established at the behest of Emperor Dom Pedro I, the first ruler of the Empire of Brazil. In the 1930s, the region supported approximately 120 salt operations, or “salinas,” dedicated to producing salt from the lagoon’s salt marshes, where wind and sun cause the water to evaporate and leave behind salt to be harvested, cleaned, and refined.
Building on this rich history, the Refinaria Nacional de Sal S.A. was founded in 1949 to produce salt from Ponta do Costa, a salt flat in the region. From the very beginning, the privately held company, headquartered in São Paolo, boasted a ground-breaking technological vision: to harvest brine water and then refine salt from the brine, using forced evaporation vacuum equipment. This method made it possible to manufacture salt with a higher degree of purity for human and industrial uses, including producing cosmetics, paints, and fabric dyes.
Today Refinaria Nacional de Sal has 3,000 retail and industrial customers in Latin America and employs approximately 600 people. It has the capacity to produce 20,000 tons of salt each month and generated 116,000 tons in 2018, contributing to Brazil’s position as the seventh-largest producer of salt globally. “We can develop customized products to meet the specialized needs of customers,” says Wilker Costa, IT manager at Refinaria Nacional de Sal. “Salt is a commodity product, so to be a leader in the Brazilian market, you need to have a strong brand, have high product quality, and deliver excellent service.”
Costa notes that several years ago, Refinaria Nacional de Sal leaders recognized that in order to maintain the company’s success in the market, they needed to embrace digital transformation by adopting an integrated ERP system. Today, Refinaria Nacional de Sal has standardized and integrated financial, production, and distribution processes with Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.2 solutions. In addition, one of the most innovative technologies that Costa’s IT team has embraced as part of the ERP system is JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator to completely modernize production. The solution creates processes called orchestrations that automatically glean and process raw IoT data from production line machines in real time. The data is then transformed into valuable, actionable information in JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. Further, the Refinaria Nacional de Sal’s ERP system is integrated with Oracle Transportation Management Cloud Service to manage logistics and Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service to streamline financial planning.
In Brazil salt is considered a food product, so Refinaria Nacional de Sal is required to precisely trace the production process end to end—from raw materials to delivery of products to customer stores. Throughout, they must gather, control, and verify the data related to every aspect of that process. But the company’s legacy systems were disconnected from one another and required the manual input of data, making it difficult to get an accurate overall picture of production and finances.
IoT and Orchestrator changed our company. All the steps from the time a work order is opened to the time it is completed are now automated.”–Wilker Costa, IT Manager, Refinaria Nacional de Sal
When Costa joined Refinaria Nacional de Sal eight years ago, some of the information management systems he was responsible for had been in use for 30 years. By 2012 decision-makers at Refinaria Nacional de Sal agreed to adopt a new ERP system with the goal of improving the management of integrated operational data. “I knew the project would be a challenge, because it would be more than a technology change,” says Costa. “It would be a change in culture.”
Six companies were invited to present proposals. Along with IT experts, individuals from different business areas across Refinaria Nacional de Sal were asked to participate to select the best solution to support the business long-term. JD Edwards EnterpriseOne emerged as the top choice because it offered a complete footprint of integrated modules built using powerful Oracle software that could be easily extended as the company’s needs changed.
Before implementation began in 2013, IT professionals worked closely with employees in different areas of the business to educate them about the new software. Then, employees were asked to review all their business processes and to adapt them as closely as possible to match JD Edwards EnterpriseOne’s out-of-the-box functionality. After decades of doing things one way, some users were initially resistant. However, Costa and his team held fast to the goal of implementing JD Edwards EnterpriseOne with as little customization as possible, to benefit from best practices and to minimize total cost of ownership.
Ultimately, implementation took only 13 months, with just 10% of the JD Edwards environment customized. The initial JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.1 footprint included financial, manufacturing, and distribution modules. Almost immediately Refinaria Nacional de Sal achieved more transparency into business processes and controls across all company operations. For example, updating the accounting ledger was automated, requiring very little human interaction, and it was much easier to obtain accurate details about costs and share this information with different business areas.
Because JD Edwards EnterpriseOne immediately enabled faster and more-accurate data flow across the company, the IT team could devote more time to tackling new projects. So when Refinaria Nacional de Sal considered buying a new logistics solution that could be integrated with JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, the IT team championed an Oracle offering, Oracle Transportation Management Cloud Service.
Number of industrial and retail Refinaria Nacional de Sal customers
“We learned that Oracle offers a native integration between Oracle Transportation Management Cloud Service and JD Edwards EnterpriseOne,” says Luciana Bonadio, systems development coordinator at Refinaria Nacional de Sal. “We had to make a few adjustments because of Brazil’s tax environment, but two months later, the integration worked perfectly.”
Next, Refinaria Nacional de Sal looked into options to improve planning and budgeting and to automate the generation of managerial reports. The company selected Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service because it could also be natively integrated with JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. Refinaria Nacional de Sal Applications Coordinator Eduardo Galhardi and his staff managed the bulk of the project internally with some guidance from an outside Oracle partner, an effort that took just 360 hours to complete.
“The project was successful because the partner showed us the possibilities and the best practices of the Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service solution,” Galhardi says. “And we worked together with key users to understand the business scenarios to implement the integration.”
Now it’s easier to access planning and budgeting data, and simulating scenarios and results projections can be accomplished quickly. As a result, business users can put more focus on analytics rather than just managing operational data.
By 2016, with back-office operations running smoothly, Refinaria Nacional de Sal’s IT team had the bandwidth to look at options to improve the company’s production process control to ensure compliance with Brazilian regulations. Too many production processes were still managed manually, leading to human errors. At times it was difficult to determine how many salt products were produced, because the finished goods inventory was not accurate.
Brazil’s position in the global salt production market
Fortunately, Costa learned that Oracle had introduced JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator. He believed the solution would be a good fit for Refinaria Nacional de Sal’s operations because it would automatically capture data generated from the manufacturing machines about products and feed the data into JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. It would also provide the ability to control machines and devices in real time from the production line.
Because some of Refinaria Nacional de Sal’s production machines are 25 years old, to enable them to work with the modern software, Bonadio and her staff created a key intermediary piece. They use Java to first securely gather, preserve, and store data from the machines in real time and transfer the data to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator. Then, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator can feed the data automatically in real time into JD Edwards EnterpriseOne to provide valuable production insights.
From start to finish, the entire production process involves almost no human intervention. So, when a customer places an order for a particular type of salt, a work order is created in JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. Next, the work order, which includes details about which machines will be involved to produce the salt, is sent through JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator. Then, the work order data is translated via Java into machine language for manufacturing to begin. As salt is produced, it is packaged and labeled with a smart machine–readable barcode that includes the work order number, product lot, package ID, and date and time information. This barcode is read automatically by the production system to keep track of all salt packages as they are moved off the production line onto pallets and then stored in the warehouse. When an order is finished, the production system reads the barcode data and transmits the information to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator. Finally, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator transmits the data to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, where the work order is marked complete.
There was some pushback from production employees initially, because many had worked at Refinaria Nacional de Sal for 40 years with few production changes—but today it is much easier to track how many of a certain product are being produced, when, and where, and the traceability of finished goods is much improved.
“IoT and Orchestrator changed our company,” Costa says. “All the steps from the time a work order is opened to the time it is completed are now automated. To check on work, we only need to open a work order, and the process to scan the production machines and to read the finished goods produced is all automatic.”
Because Refinaria Nacional de Sal’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne environment is standardized, it is easy to update—something the company has done once a year. Most recently, in June 2018, the company moved to new servers and migrated to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.2.
Today, Costa, his IT team, and with guidance from Oracle partner VMAX SYSTEMS, are investigating a whole host of possible new improvements to the ERP system under the auspices of a companywide digital transformation project, because they understand that JD Edwards EnterpriseOne continues to evolve, offering many more capabilities than what Refinaria Nacional de Sal originally went live with five years ago. They are talking to different business areas to learn what can be streamlined using new features in JD Edwards EnterpriseOne.
Number of tons of salt Refinaria Nacional de Sal can produce in a month
In the near future, the team hopes to create a logistics process in JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator to confirm when salt products are loaded onto a truck before an invoice is processed and the truck leaves the plant. Another project is focused on giving mechanics the ability to use a mobile device communicating through JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Orchestrator to automatically issue an alert when a machine has a problem, request a part in the warehouse, and indicate how long the repair will take.
Further out on the horizon, Costa is interested in the potential of robotic process automation working with machine learning. “We’re very excited to use this technology in business areas,” he says.
Whatever system innovations lie ahead, Costa and his team always keep in mind that any technology changes need to serve Refinaria Nacional de Sal’s business: to be a leader in the Brazilian salt industry. “IT is part of the business, not just a provider to the business,” he says. “When we work together to understand the business, we can provide the best solutions to the business.”
Photography by Paulo Fridman and Refinaria Nacional de Sal