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Modern batch platform prepares bread maker for growth

With a favorable manufacturing investment climate and the rise of advanced automation solutions over the past decade, food companies have been reaching into their pockets to modernize plant platforms. Automation World has reported on several modernization projects in recent years, such as plantwide SCADA software additions, more powerful controller platforms, virtualization, and middleware applications to measure line efficiencies.

Tolleson, Ariz.-based Southwest Baking Co. can identify with this trend, as it recently added FactoryTalk Batch software and updated ControlLogix controls from Rockwell Automation for its bread-making process platform. This high-volume food producer needed an efficient batch process to meet customer demand for more than 2 million cases of bread annually.

Southwest Baking’s bread-making process begins in raw material receiving with ingredients such as flour, yeast and salt. The batch process includes storing these ingredients in holding bins until transferred into the batching system. The batching system draws raw materials from holding containers into an industrial mixer and combines these ingredients. From there, the dough is processed, frozen, packaged and stored prior to distribution.

Before the installation of the new batch process system, the outdated proprietary batch platform created many efficiency challenges. For example, Southwest Baking didn’t have full OEM support for its batch equipment, requiring a complicated solution to reduce batch processing cycle time. Plus, the company needed a consistent output of 8.5 batches per hour, but they were recording five to six hours of downtime per month at the cost of thousands of dollars per hour.

On some occassions, a downtime event would last up to a full day or more while a lone programmer tried to fix the problem. “When the OEM programmer left the software company, knowledge of the system left with him,” says Robert Wroblewski, plant engineer for Southwest Baking. “Our employees could not troubleshoot or repair the system, leaving us to wait hours for outside support.”

Southwest Baking also couldn’t expand its process lines for future growth. “Beyond scalability, we’d continuously run into situations when new equipment needed to be added or the procedures in our batch process had changed,” Wroblewski says. “This increased downtime with reprogramming, starting up and testing before run time.”

Southwest Baking brought in ECS Solutions for the system integration and helped design the new batch process platform based on ISA-88 standards, providing more decision-making capabilities to the plant-floor operators. “The upgrade to ISA-88 was done in two stages and completely changed our HMI setup,” Wroblewski says. “We now gave the operator full control of the batch system. They can see what is wrong and resolve issues without calling engineering to fix the situation.”

In general, better monitoring for the entire plant at Southwest Baking has been an enterprise initiative. Automation World wrote about a remote monitoring upgrade in 2015 at this same plant that employed Kepware Technologies’ KEPwareEX server with OPC UA capability and Opto 22’s groov mobile control and monitoring platform.

The overall theme for this upgrade is empowering operators to make changes as needed in the batch processing area.

“Recipe changes for production and engineering are completely different,” Wroblewski says. “For production, there is no change in the recipe structure—just modifications in the amounts of an ingredient.” Recipe changes for engineering involve changing the main structure of the recipe—such as the order—adding or subtracting ingredients, and timing. Operators can only make these types of changes in the plant’s control room.

For production changes, operators use the batch software’s Campaign Manager component at the main HMI station on the plant floor. “Operators input these changes into batch view, and changes to a recipe in batch view are only for the single batch entered,” Wroblewski says. The company uses RSView SE software on a Hope Industrial HMI for this plant-floor station.

Another important “ingredient” with the supervisory batch software is better monitoring of raw ingredients via Material Manager. The Material Manager module tracks material consumption in batch recipes and consists of a material server and editor. The Material Editor provides an interface to help you create the material database, which consists of material, lot, sublot, container and storage location data. The Material Server provides the communication between the material database and the FactoryTalk Batch Server.

Southwest Baking also relies on FactoryTalk Historian to gather data from both the production and process areas of the plant. “We pull temperature, mixing power and mix times from the mixing system,” Wroblewski explains. “We also monitor if the mixer stops, how long, operator, why and how.” The company also monitors run rates, critical machine settings, case weights and lengths via a daily report.

A key driver with the ISA-88 batch software is adding new equipment more easily and inexpensively. “The batch system allows for the reassignment of equipment without having to reprogram the entire ladder logic,” Wroblewski says.

Recently, the food producer needed to change the operation of one of its existing silos from white to whole-wheat flour. “By using the batch system based on ISA-88, we were able to change the use of the silo for a fraction of the cost,” Wroblewski says. “The whole project took place remotely, and it went smoothly.”

Smooth is always a welcome word for plants, as is speed. Now bread products are being made in under six minutes—as much as a 90-second gain in some batches. With these types of results, the company is now planning to add a second batch production line.