Case Study

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New Ag Terminal With Process Automation Opens New Markets for Midwest Farmers Cooperative

PlantPAx distributed control system provides production insights and centralized control

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  • Build a fully automated, greenfield ag terminal with rail access to grow customer base


  • PlantPAx Distributed Control System - PlantPAx DCS enables faster design and commissioning, and detailed process monitoring
  • Visualization enables operators to control all areas of terminal
  • EtherNet/IP network helps integrate machines from inbound to outbound
  • System Design and Delivery - Wachter Inc., a Solution Partner within the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program, designed and deployed solution


  • Grew Customer Base - Reaching more customers outside Midwestern U.S. with rail access
  • Increased Production Insights - Designed and delivered fully automated terminal with centralized controls
  • Reduced Maintenance Costs - Connected system allows remote monitoring and predictive maintenance

Finding the Right Location

After operating for decades, the Midwest Farmers Cooperative (MFC) faced limited opportunities to expand their global market reach. With most transportation of their grain occurring by truck, the co-op decided the best way to grow would be to build a new rail terminal. The terminal would need to have rail service and highway access for inbound trucks, and be strategically located with respect to MFC’s current operating facilities.

Once MFC found a location that met those requirements, they worked with system integrator Wachter Inc. to design an automated facility, based on the PlantPAx® distributed control system (DCS) from Rockwell Automation. Now up and running, the terminal helps MFC bring their corn and other grains to new markets.

Need for Train Transportation

MFC, a full service cooperative, brings together 4,100 farmer patrons in Nebraska to negotiate higher prices as a group and reach customers they may not have immediate access to otherwise. The co-op operates 28 facilities in Nebraska, where farmers truck in grains to be dried, conditioned and stored until purchased and transported out. However, only a few terminals had access to trains to carry the grain to market. That meant trucks were the primary means of transit. This fact limited the co-op’s customer base to those companies operating in the Midwest.

The co-op efficiency also was limited because most of its terminals were not automated. Operators needed to manually keep processes moving forward.

MFC knew a greenfield facility would be crucial to growing their business, providing a larger customer market to their patrons and keep operating costs low. They decided to build a fully automated, central hub terminal with access to both major U.S. rail lines.

Centralizing Controls for Success

Co-op management found a location in Syracuse, in southeastern Nebraska, that met their requirements for rail-line access. The co-op secured the land and moved forward with planning.

MFC decided to partner with Wachter to design and automate the new ag terminal. Watcher knew that the Rockwell Automation Solution Partner could provide the automated controls solution that was needed.

To lay the foundation for a fully automated terminal, Wachter and MFC decided to deploy a centralized, scalable PlantPAx DCS. “This was the first time MFC was deploying a centralized, DCS in a terminal,” said Daniel Alvarez, automation software systems consultant at Wachter and a lead on the project. “We knew that the PlantPAx modern DCS would be easy to design and deploy quickly, helping to get the terminal operating sooner.”

When designing the control system, Wachter leveraged the Rockwell Automation Library of Process Objects. The pre-built, pre-engineered and tested process objects allowed Wachter to quickly design and deploy the system. The Rockwell Software® Studio 5000® Logix Emulate software application enabled the Wachter team to validate, test and optimize code without hardware. This reduced design time by around 25 percent, and allowed the team to gather buy-in from MFC stakeholders and train operators.

With an EtherNet/IP backbone, the modern DCS integrates smoothly with the plant’s new machines – such as conveyors and dryer systems – to efficiently monitor and visualize the terminal from inbound to outbound. This comprehensive view enables operators to control all areas of the terminal through only three workstations located at receiving, weighing and loadout. Typically, older terminals would require multiple operators to manually manage the process.

The new system also smoothly manages enterprise-level monitoring, data storage and alarming. The system’s connectivity to the enterprise-level monitoring also enables remote access. If an issue arises, Wachter can remotely access the control system for maintenance and troubleshooting, reducing costs and time for both.

Automation Brings Higher Margins

The greenfield terminal is operating with no major downtime events to date. The rail-line access allows MFC to bring their corn and other grains to more national and global markets, from California and Mexico to the East Coast, at higher profit margins.

In addition, MFC is reaping benefits across the board from their first centralized DCS and fully automated terminal. Production moves more quickly and efficiently compared to older terminals, and remote monitoring reduces downtime and saves MFC thousands of dollars on any maintenance issue.

The biggest benefit to MFC? Rapid project development and expedited commissioning. MFC began building the terminal in December 2015. Wachter began designing the upfront engineering and design in March 2016. By the end of October, the system was deployed and began validating processes in less than two weeks.

“Our operations, management and leadership teams have varying levels of automation experience, from little or none, to full-on, wholly automated facilities,” said Eric Werth, manager for the MFC Syracuse terminal. “With the PlantPAx system, Wachter helped us go from design to operations at the same location, within a year – helping our patrons reach a bigger customer base faster than expected.”

The new terminal has a capacity of 2.75 million bushel, which could more than double if warranted. The receiving end has the capacity to take in 1,000 bushels every two minutes, and receives an average of 300 trucks per day.

MFC plans to standardize on the PlantPAx system across facilities, as the co-op builds future terminals and upgrades existing ones.

The results mentioned above are specific to Midwest Farmers Cooperative’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

Logix Emulate, PartnerNetwork, PlantPAx, Rockwell Software and Studio 5000 are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.

EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA Inc.


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