Fruit supplier elevates production data on the plant floor

A recent report from PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, shows that new equipment and automation investment sentiment is strong this year. The report, “2017 Trends in Food Processing Operations,” reveals that half of the companies interviewed need processing equipment and three out of four companies will be looking for packaging equipment.

Linden, Califorina-based Prima Frutta is a company that fits nicely in that category. The fruit producer recently invested in a cherry production line that has seen a 50 percent production increase, without having to add labor. The new equipment on this packaging line includes two bin dumps and cluster cutters, a primary sorter, nineteen pack stations, three mini chillers, and one clam shell pack. 

To achieve production increases for the “largest cherry production line” in the world, according to Prima Frutta, the company also relies on Inductive Automation’s Ignition SCADA platform to provide better plant data visibility. The web-based SCADA platform at Prima Frutta includes unlimited tags, historian capabilities, alarm notifications, a SQL bridge and data reporting capabilities. 

Besides the main production line — named number 2 — the fruit supplier also has three other cherry production lines, four apple, and two walnut packaging lines that use the SCADA platform at this location. 

With so much production data, the company looked to scale the SCADA platform to increase production and keep HMI hardware costs down. “We wanted a larger HMI footprint and were able to leverage the Ignition server platform,” says Tom Augello, production manager at Prima Frutta. It was a great HMI solution that fit our production needs perfectly.” 

The control and monitoring equipment for the production lines include existing HMI monitors, but also 120 production screens and ten tablets that control the production lines. The fruit supplier uses Dell tablets and relies on four Moxa Inc. wireless access points to implement communication on the plant floor.  

“Prima Frutta opted for less expensive, consumer-grade monitoring tablets due to the lower cost replacement perspective,” says Jason Kieffer, project manager at Industrial Automation Group. The system integration company integrated the production line and SCADA update at Prima Frutta’s facility.

The cherry production line capital additions also include Rockwell Automation’s CompactLogix L43 with multiple Flex input/output (I/O) drops and multiple PowerFlex 525 variable frequency drives (VFDs). The SCADA infrastructure also allows the fruit supplier to integrate and display production data from the other lines with different control platforms at the facility. 

A crucial ingredient to the production increase for the cherry line number 2 is the fruit-grading system. Prima Frutta uses a New-Zealand-based Compac sorter and a proprietary vision system to grade the fruit upstream. 

“The vision system — which includes the sorter — rotates the fruit on a conveyor and takes multiple pictures of the fruit,” says Joe Stacher, production manager at Prima Frutta. Then, the system determines the size, color breaks and defects.” 

This quality control information, along with the production rate information, packaging data and scheduling, can be shown to the 900 plant floor workers. 

“It’s important to provide this production data to our employees on the plant floor,” says Augello. “As fast as we run, every second counts. If a change is coming — whether it’s in size, quality, or variety — our people have a very short time to react.”

The technology also includes a virtual production environment created by AIG during its previous work at the cherry plant. “When we implement new or significant changes to customers’ existing applications, we’re able to create a ‘digital twin’ of our customers’ conditions and speed up development time for any new upgrades,” says Kieffer.