Time for transformation
A sound reputation can take years to build. It takes consistency, reliability and a commitment to the brand promise to win the trust of customers. For Danish producer Dragsbaek, that reputation has been refined and solidified for more than 100 years. Founded in 1923 in the town of Thisted, the company makes margarine products for both commercial and retail customers in Denmark and internationally. The companies it supplies to include large-scale bakeries, supermarkets and catering businesses, which each rely on dependable product distribution in order to satisfy their own customers.
The dependability of Dragsbaek’s supply is based on the robustness of its manufacturing and distribution operations. The packing machinery in its Thisted factory has been running 24 hours a day for 17 years, producing around 400 tonnes of margarine each week. This gives the company’s customers strong confidence their orders will be fulfilled promptly and accurately, which in turn helps them with their own inventory management and planning.
In the 17 years since Dragsbaek installed its production systems, a lot has changed. Manufacturers today aspire to become connected enterprises, benefitting from a host of innovations and new capabilities to increase the accuracy, cost efficiency and safety of equipment.
For the company’s production manager Karsten Rokkedahl, it was important that Dragsbaek kept up with the industry and positioned itself for the future of production.
While the existing packaging control system had served the business well, Karsten began to notice certain shortcomings. Line operators lacked visibility over the specifics of packaging operations, leading to inefficient use of resources, and the excessive size of the machine meant the factory floor was at times overcrowded which created safety risks. Many of the machine components were becoming outdated too and, in some cases, had been discontinued, making sourcing new parts and conducting thorough maintenance increasingly difficult.
“At times I was having to go to eBay to source parts – it wasn’t sustainable for the long run,” Karsten said.
Retrofit for Purpose
In late-2019, Karsten began serious discussions with his systems integrator, Picca Automation, about how the legacy control system could be modernised. Based on the conversations, Karsten was presented with two viable options. The first was to dismantle the existing machine and install a brand new production line. While desirable, this path posed significant costs that would test the factory’s budgets.
The second option proved more attractive. Rather than rip and replace, the company would work with Picca Automation and Rockwell Automation to completely renovate and refit the equipment. Using the existing machine as a basis, the team could add leading-edge components to bring the line up to modern standards, reduce space requirements and create the possibility for ongoing upgrades as new capabilities came to market.
The agreed approach involved taking the machine offline for several weeks, using a backup machine to continue factory output in the meantime. The main machine was taken to a separate, custom-fitted room where the new parts were installed. The installation involved a new integrated safety PLC with Logix controller, ISA 101 user interface (HMI) panels with intelligent manual operation, 24 new servo drives and CAM programming, new intelligent prescription system, new alarms that help operators and repairers and a built-in electrical installation.
Combined, the refitted machinery offered a total solution for control, safety and data collection in Dragsbaek’s packaging procedures, with a significant reduction in overall machine size. The solution also utilises intelligently programmed controls in order to help ensure a minimal need for software support should blockages or other issues emerge.
“Having a greater degree of control over packaging operations was very important to us when designing the system. We didn’t want to jeopardise our existing processes, but, instead, improve them so that we can offer a bulletproof service to our customers. It needed to be reliable, customisable and upgradable so that we can begin to look five or more years into the future,” Karsten said.
Commencing at the tail-end of 2019, the machine was out of operation for less than two months. The refitted machine went live in January 2020, with an onboarding period for staff to get to grips with the new interfaces and operating procedures.
According to Jan Skovsgaard Jørgensen, Project Lead at Picca Automation, taking the machine offline provided the opportunity for extensive testing. “When we first started scoping the project, the control cabinet was fixed to the factory wall with limited space for the operator working on it. We recommended taking the machine out of the facility so that we could rebuild it and implement the control cabinet directly on to the machine. This approach gave us the space we needed to test components and make sure the solution we provided could offer the high level of reliability and smaller footprint that Dragsbaek required.”
While the refitting project presented some risks, Karsten felt at ease due to the team he had supporting him. “Both Picca Automation and Rockwell Automation have extensive experience in conducting similar projects, so that gave us firm confidence that the project could be deployed smoothly and with minimised risk,” he added.
Gearing up for the future
More than six months since the installation was completed, the results have been more than encouraging. Dragsbaek is now able to cut margarine blocks with a far greater degree of precision, reducing the variation between blocks from 30 grams down to just three grams. The company estimates that the new solution is 10 times more effective than before, saving up to 2.1 tonnes of materials on a weekly basis. It is also now able to fulfil orders with greater quality and design control to keep the product fresh and presentable.
“While many of our customers are themselves businesses, rather than consumers of the margarine, presentation still matters a lot. The fully packed product really gives the impression we want to give to our customers.”
Dragsbaek has also noted improvements in uptime, which the company estimates at 6-8% above previous levels. Staff have also reacted well to the change, and are finding the new features help make their own lives easier. “The prescription system gives us the opportunity to make changes and small adjustments, which the system then remembers. Before, we wrote it down on a pad. It has been a great help in daily life.”
For Karsten, what’s even more important is being ready for the future. The equipment, at both a software and hardware level, can be modified and upgraded with far greater ease. Also, the process of replacing parts has improved, with far less risk of essential components being unavailable.
“It’s great to know that we’re able to continually improve the machinery to gain new capabilities so we won’t fall behind competitors. I also feel relieved that we’ve massively reduced the risk of unnecessary downtime,” he added.
“Securing the future is the biggest gain. At the same time, the update and stability mean that the uptime has also been increased and we have thus had a higher efficiency. The speed of starting up the machine alone has already made us a huge saving.”
The priority now is to plan for Industry 4.0 and harness the connectivity and IoT possibilities the new machine enables.
“Now, we have the opportunity for adjustments and so can make it run better. We could not even make small modifications before. We can now. We have a much more stable machine, uniform products and a higher efficiency. In addition, the machine's hardware is future-proof through restoration with new available standard components for a long service life,” he concluded.
“We’re ready for all the possibilities that lie ahead.”