Helping a Food Manufacturer Grow Production Volume With Automation

Our engineers used Rockwell Automation technology to program process automation controllers, perform troubleshooting and upgrade support for a manufacturing expansion.

The Project: Accommodate and Integrate Processes for a Warehouse Expansion

E Tech Group completed a fast-track project for a 110,000-square-foot addition to an existing food processing facility for the company, a hummus and dip producer. The expansion included warehouse space, additional and renovated employee amenities and offices, as well as the installation of new processing, packaging and utility generation equipment.

E Tech Group was brought under contract to provide the programming of the Process Automation Controllers (PACs), HMI, Historian, and Recipe Management systems. The engineering team provided a solution consistent with the existing facility automation, which our engineers previously implemented, while improving I/O communications with the use of Ethernet/IP and valves with an AS-Interface.

The Solution: A Recipe for Scalable, Automated Success

Phase 2 of the project included automation and monitoring of the utilities, clean-in-place (CIP), cooking, ingredient preparation, garnish, mixing, and filling systems. This was a fast-track project, with the order being placed in December for on-site commissioning of the first systems to start in April the following year. All of the systems were designed, developed, and commissioned on time.

How we expanded production abilities with a scalable automation solution:

  • The system was implemented using a redundant Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk View SE distributed HMI with six servers and fifteen clients.
  • ACP ThinManager was used to provide the thin client solution.
  • Seven Rockwell Automation ControlLogix PACs were used for providing monitoring and control of the equipment.
  • The combined systems included approximately 1,500 I/O points with 136 drives.

Food and beverage automation, much like pharmaceutical automation, requires control systems that improve production speed and reduce failures and downtime. E Tech Group has continued to work closely with the client on many additional projects to give the company flexibility in its control system for batching of products.

Identified Challenges: Flexibility, Fine-Tuning and Further Integration

After Phase 2 was complete, E Tech Group automation engineers continued to work heavily with the client on general support requests or running certain equipment. If the client wanted to fine tune the process system with tasks such as changing the sequence, relocating equipment, or adding some functionality, they would typically call in, and we would quickly complete those tasks.

In the most recently-completed project, E Tech Group incorporated a new modified mixing system (MMS). A new pasteurization line was also added, which the client previously didn’t have on site. This MMS is connected to a pasteurization line which allows for some modifications and improvements to their production that couldn’t be done before.

The product coming out of the mixer is then heated to high temperatures for a certain amount of hold time and then it is rapidly cooled back down right before it goes into the fillers that package the hummus into a cup. This is done to eliminate pathogens and increase the shelf life of the product. This specifically helps with their organic products due to the restrictions around preservatives and additives for organic products by still allowing for a healthy shelf life.

The client is working to add flexibility into their production equipment, with the goal of eventually having this line dedicated to organic products. A current project we are working with the client on is to replace a manually-involved process for adding organic tahini to the mixing system. Currently it involves a manually-wheeled-around tote with non-permanent connections. It is being replaced with a dedicated tank, removing the need for manual actions with automation technology that also provides the ingredient at a larger scale.

The Results: Ongoing Growth Requires further Automation and Integration

In terms of technology on the more recent projects, they’re building off of most of the same hardware and software stacks that they were using in the previous effort.

The team at E Tech Group has worked with vendor prepackaged systems to ensure that they communicate with the existing control system and operate properly after installation. The vendor prepackaged systems will be expecting input from our systems, whether it is ingredients, water, chickpea paste, etc., then it will likely be sent to one of our pieces of equipment.

To have better data to maintain the highest quality control, the client has implemented FactoryTalk Historian and VantagePoint, allowing the company to monitor and report on process conditions such as pressure, temperature, status of hardware such as valves, and also process specific step and phase data. Having this information available allows the client to more easily troubleshoot situations when they arise as well as having a deeper insight as to what areas may be best to next upgrade or make modifications to further improve efficiency.

E Tech Group is proud to have been a part of helping the client grow production volume and product diversity while allowing the manufacturing line to retain flexibility. The food and beverage industry requires automated processes that ensure precision, consistency and scalability. E Tech Group’s breadth of experience in this industry keeps us poised to help industrial food producers stay competitive by increasing production capacity and quality with integrated control systems that provide end-to-end coverage for your processes.