New plant cooks up manufacturing flexibility with automation

JTM Food Group’s greenfield plant in Ohio features advanced automation to optimize its batch processing applications and meet changing consumer demands.

The food industry has been experiencing growth for years, but this prosperous period will also be known for its tremendous shift in consumer demands and how manufacturers adjust to meet changes. The next 20 years will be about scale, flexibility and future-proofing new food facilities to meet the proliferation of SKUs.

A growing foodservice player, JTM Food Group, recently built a 250,000-sq-ft greenfield manufacturing plant in Harrison, Ohio, with the objective of optimizing its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and operations systems to improve production capacity. An essential component of this goal was the ability to automate ERP work orders to the company’s batching engine, Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk Batch. Based on ISA-88 and ISA-95 standards, the batch platform provides a modular approach for its high-volume processing equipment and procedures.

JTM Food Group provides fully cooked menu solutions for government organizations, food distributors, schools and restaurants. The company relies on cooking and blending equipment to produce more than 96 million lb annually, with pack sizes ranging from 8 oz to 8 lb frozen pouches.

A key ingredient in connecting manufacturing levels at JTM Food’s new plant is Inductive Automation’s open-sourced Ignition supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software that provides a SQL bridge and interface to a batch processing platform while using standard templates and a web application programming interface (API). A core module with the SCADA platform is OPC UA and its ability to process large numbers of operational tags within a manufacturing application. Other core SCADA modules include tag historian, vision, alarm notification and enterprise administration modules.

“The HMI (human machine interface) integrates directly with our recipe and allows operators to view exactly how many pounds of a particular item should be weighed,” says Kevin Mass, plant manager and process engineer at JTM Food Group. “There’s a color-coded bar that turns green once in tolerance; operators hit a check mark and move on to the next step.” The recipe allows operators to make copies of work-in-progress (WIP) orders to allow the recipe author to continue to make changes and updates to a recipe.

ECS Solutions, a system integrator based in Evansville, Indiana, provided the automation programming and integration expertise for the processing equipment to the ERP solution via a SCADA-based platform, while Blentech Corporation supplied its food-grade processing equipment and expertise for JTM Food.

“At JTM’s new plant, we highlighted the equipment capabilities via the batch software by creating discrete modules for temperature, mixing, transferring and pressurizing control,” says John Parraga, a process specialist at ECS Solutions. ECS created a procedural and equipment view for JTM’s operators that also included the SCADA platform technology.

“Operations receives an order from the ERP system that clearly specifies the production requirements. Then, the batch system creates a WIP order and converts the order to the required number of batches, creation of individual recipes and starts automatically,” says Parraga. “From here, the recipes begin their execution and an operator follows the required instructions by the batch engine.” For example, an operator pre-weighs 25 lb of material into a bin and then offloads it into a specified cooker when prompted.

Another advanced automation feature at the new facility is the ability for managers and operators to view past batch processes via the digital video recorder (DVR) concept.

“The new DVR tool gives me the ability to look back on any step throughout an entire work day to find out where a mistake may have been made,” says Mass. The DVR concept works as a past historian (such as a temperature trend), but also views the entire process from an operator’s HMI perspective to see details with the rewind and forward features functionality.

“In our legacy plant, we have aspects of automation, but not from one end to the other,” says Jerry Maas, vice president of business development at JTM Food Group. “With this new plant, I could see us doing nothing but add more automation to this place.”

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