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Food and Beverage Plant Gains Insights and Cuts Waste by $500,000 With DCS Upgrade

Corn-milling plant partners with Rockwell Automation for scalable process control system with visualization capabilities

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  • Reduce frequent hardware breakdowns resulting from outdated DCS



  • Minimized hardware breakdowns and need for frequent replacement parts
  • Replace-in-place migration achieved without plant downtime and rapid design time with PlantPAx library process of objects
  • Improved insight into control processes and loops reduced ingredient and chemical waste by $500,000 in first year

When you sip a perfectly sweetened soft drink or sprinkle a no-calorie sweetener in your tea, you may have just enjoyed the fruit – or the kernel – of one British company’s labors. The company provides sweeteners, starches and other ingredients to food, beverage and other industries worldwide.

The company’s corn wet-milling process uses every part of the corn kernel to create byproducts, from animal feed to high-fructose corn syrups. But extracting sugar from corn kernels – the sweet spot for one of the company’s plants in the U.S. Midwest – requires a complex series of steps. And that multiplies the need for efficiency and flexible controls.

Outdated DCS, Lacks Efficiency

The ingredient producer acquired the Midwestern plant during a business acquisition more than 20 years ago. While the plant’s end products evolved to reflect changing consumer tastes and trends, its original process control system did not change and was showing its age.

“Runtime failures were steadily increasing,” said a principal process control engineer for the company. “At the rate we were going, we could not guarantee acceptable plant uptime in five or six years.” 

When control components failed, it was increasingly difficult and expensive to locate replacement parts, putting plant productivity in jeopardy. The risk came to light a few years ago when a membrane filter on a skid line failed, forcing the entire production line to shut down.

Operators also had to rely on single-screen stations that lacked visualization capabilities, making timely troubleshooting nearly impossible. Without visibility into system devices, programmers needed to identify the programmable logic controller (PLC) code in order to identify a failed device.

“Anytime an I/O point failed, we had to shut down the entire production line because we had no easy way of identifying the problem, and it wasn’t worth the risk of running blindly,” the engineer said.

The plant’s reliance on obsolete parts – and the system’s inability to easily pinpoint problems – made it clear that the site urgently needed a new process control system.

Modern DCS ‘Sweetens’ Control, Visualization

The plant’s project team presented a recommendation to management for the PlantPAx® modern DCS from Rockwell Automation. The scalable, plantwide control system offered the reliability, flexibility and production insights that the plant needed to maintain peak productivity.

The team was familiar with Rockwell Automation® equipment and had evaluated the PlantPAx system at the company’s annual Automation Fair® event.

“I knew it had the features and architecture we wanted for the entire company,” the engineer said.

Before implementing the new system, the team wanted to confirm that the system’s common EtherNet/IP backbone would mesh with the company’s IT systems. The company’s legacy system hardware did not communicate well with other plants, creating business challenges.

“We used the PlantPAx system estimator to research networking scenarios for connecting servers to PLCs,” the engineer said.

The review confirmed that the Ethernet network was the right choice and helped the team develop project timelines.

While all the plant’s controls are local, the PlantPAx system can transmit production data through a gateway to the business network. This would allow managers to see production and trending across the company’s different plants.

“The PlantPAx system had the flexibility we were looking for,” the engineer said. “All the pieces tied together with our established legacy controls, and we really liked the robustness and reliability of the Logix control platform.”

To minimize production disruption during migration, the team kept the legacy system running and built the PlantPAx system on top of it. They temporarily created a CLX chassis in place, moved I/O, and used 3-D fittings and prototypes to accomplish the replacement.

At system transition time, the team took the legacy DCS offline, secured the chassis and brought the new PlantPAx modern DCS online. The replace-in-place method minimized space requirements and achieved a virtually seamless transition.

During implementation, the project team found great advantage in the PlantPAx library of process objects. Its modular programming tools, including virtual image templates, simplified system setup. The system library also helped the project team embed best practices into the system, including rules for system access, alarm management and more. The templates deliver core system elements such as pre-configured, drop-in templates, providing systemwide consistency.

The PlantPAx system had the flexibility we were looking for. All the pieces tied together with our established legacy controls, and we really liked the robustness and reliability of the Logix control platform.

The system’s access guides made it easy for the project team to create and assign different access levels, achieving the right balance of security and accessibility.

“Now we can assign each job function – operators, main technicians, controls engineers – with the needed access levels across the plant,” the engineer said.

The company can also easily limit system access to operations personnel with system expertise, and grant maintenance access and delegate responsibility across teams and shifts. Machine operators will always have the ability to override maintenance controls and authorize continued operations when it would be counterproductive to halt a production line.

The PlantPAx system incorporates the visualization capabilities of FactoryTalk® View Site Edition HMI software from Rockwell Automation, which monitors and controls distributed-server/multi-user applications. It provides critical visibility when and where operators and other employees need it.

“We were confident that employees of many skill levels would find it easy to use, and that it would ease their concerns over a new system,” the engineer said.

The company also uses the system’s process historian, allowing operators to view production trends.

Unsavory Waste and Downtime Minimized

Today, plant workers worry less about production downtime and obsolete hardware. The plant can produce its own hardware spares and even prevented an extensive production outage at a sister plant by providing spares when 15 of its modules failed.

“The PlantPAx solution gives us fast access to more data, so I can tell what’s happening throughout the system almost instantly,” the engineer said.

The system rapidly processes the plant’s control strategies and loops, giving operators ongoing insight into ingredient flow, pressure, temperature and other elements critical to quality, capacity and production line flow.

With precise loop control, the plant is significantly reducing waste. “We’ve easily saved $500,000 a year because we have tighter controls on the ingredients and chemicals we use,” the engineer said.

Workers are also appreciating the time-saving benefits of improved visualization.

“You can see modes of operation right from the HMI, as well as visualization of design functions,” the engineer said. “When it comes to troubleshooting a device problem, it probably saves 15 minutes per device because operators don’t have to find the device’s PLC codes.”

With about 3,000 devices and 4,800 I/O points, the potential time-savings are vast.

The scalability of the PlantPAx system also complements the company’s vision for the future.

“I have to plan on the future growth of our company,” the engineer said. “With the PlantPAx platform, we can add new functionality and scale the system as needed. It will be our control system for the next 20 years.”

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

Rockwell Automation, Automation Fair, FactoryTalk and PlantPAx are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.

EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA Inc.


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