Case Study

Recent ActivityRecent Activity

State-Of-The-Art Automation Processes Helps More Malnourished Children

Main Image


  • Nonprofit maker of life-saving food packets for malnourished children needed a larger, more efficient factory to help feed more children.


  • PlantPAx Modern DCS -
    • Fully automates production from raw-ingredient handling to case packing.
    • Delivers production information to workers for performance tracking and fast-issue response.


  • Increased Production -
    • Larger, more automated factory has more than doubled annual production capacity – from 9,000 metric tons to more than 22,000 metric tons of food packets.
  • Improved Efficiencies -
    • Automating manual jobs and other efficiencies has helped lower production costs to make more food packets for children in need.
  • A New Purpose for Workers -
    • Workers who once hand-poured ingredients and packed cases are now experts in operating state-of-the-art production equipment.

A Lifeline for Children

The 2-year-old girl sat still and quiet as a small tape measure was gently wrapped around her skinny bicep.

Nine centimeters. That’s about two-thirds the size of what a child’s arm should measure. It only confirmed what was already clear to the human eye: She was extremely malnourished.

The girl was just one of many children being seen at a clinic in the central-African country of Chad. By mid-morning, nearly 200 children had already had their arms measured and been weighed before being put into one of two groups – the moderately and the severely malnourished. And several more children were still sitting with their mothers on the dirt ground, waiting their turn.

Seeing all this unfold was Navyn Salem, who founded the nonprofit organization Edesia to help children like these who are in a fight for their lives to get the energy and vital nutrients their bodies need.

“Children shouldn’t be dying because they are malnourished, this is something we know how to fix,” Salem said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Worldwide, nutrition-related factors contribute to about 45% of deaths in children ages 5 years and younger, according to the World Health Organization [1].

Edesia is working to change that. It makes “miracle packets” – ready-to-use packaged foods for children ages 6 months to 5 years old. The packets have playful names, like Plumpy’Nutâ, Plumpy’Supä and Plumpy’Dozä, but the purpose of these therapeutic and supplementary foods is entirely serious: To save lives.

Which is why Salem and others at Edesia want to make as many of them as possible.

Running at Capacity

Edesia ships its food packets to what Salem calls “the most troubled places on earth” – wherever crises like conflicts, droughts and political instability leave children undernourished.

She has traveled to many of these places herself and seen firsthand how Edesia’s food packets change lives.

“I was at a clinic in Sierra Leone, and on one side were moms who had walked who knows how far to bring in their children,” she said. “Some of their children didn’t even have the energy to cry. They were conserving every ounce of strength to keep their heart beating. And on the other side of the clinic were children running around like typical toddlers, because they had been receiving our food packets.”

But scenes like this are only possible if Edesia keeps production of its food packets flowing.

The organization’s original factory in Rhode Island was built in 2010 and small by most standards. It had a warehouse, a production floor and a single loading dock all packed into a 15,000-square-foot location – or about one-fourth the size of a football field.

“We were making more than 9,000 metric tons of product per year, and trying to get all that material in and out of one dock door was slightly crazy,” Salem said. “We wanted to make more product, and we knew we needed more room.”

In addition to more space, Edesia needed better efficiencies. Its factory only used limited automation in its processes and required a lot of manual labor from workers – many of whom are former refugees themselves.

“Our workers hauled in 50-pound bags of dry ingredients and hand poured them into the hoppers,” said Ron Yanku, director of engineering at Edesia. “Then, after packaging, they had to carry 32-pound cases of finished product out to our loading dock – sometimes lifting them over their heads or carrying them up a ladder to load a pallet. It was a lot of busy bees doing a lot of really hard work.”

Ready to Grow

Getting more food packets to children around the world required a bigger, better and smarter factory, and Yanku and his small team of engineers were tasked with creating it.

“I had a simple mandate from Navyn: Make a state-of-the-art facility that is more efficient and can make more lifesaving foods for more kids,” Yanku said.

Yanku and his team identified the new production equipment they wanted and worked with system integrator Hallam-ICS to design it into a new factory. Using the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx modern DCS for batch process control, Hallam-ICS then integrated and automated all the production processes in the new 85,000-square-foot facility beginning with the raw-ingredient supplying.

“We explained our vision to Hallam, and we benefited from their expertise,” Yanku said. “They are in factories all over the world, and they helped us make sure our system would be completely customized for what we do.”

Now, instead of workers lifting and pouring 50-pound bags, they use a forklift to transport bags that weigh up to 2,200 pounds onto a loading cell. The cell then adds the ingredients into the hopper. Likewise, on the back end, the feeding of packets into cases has also been automated.

Workers in the new facility also now have better production information to help them monitor batches and make better decisions in their jobs.

“We have so much information at our fingertips now,” Yanku said. “From my desktop, I can see hundreds of motors, control points, temperatures – everything that’s happening and whatever shouldn’t be happening. Some of us also get hourly notifications on our smartphones, with basic metrics about how we’re doing.”

Shift supervisors are using production tracking and trending data to better coordinate activities in the factory. For example, if they see production is ahead of schedule, they can shut down a line to complete preventative maintenance ahead of schedule, and production-floor operators can see how they’re performing by the second and compare their shift’s output against others.

“All three shifts are displayed side by side for the day,” Yanku said. “Workers come in for their shift and see how many cases the other shifts filled. It creates some healthy competition between the shifts and motivates to them to do even better.”

Moving Fast and Smart

The new factory has more than tripled Edesia’s annual production capacity to about 25,000 metric tons.

“With help from this new factory, we’ve now reached 10 million children in more than 50 countries since 2010, far more children than we would have reached running our old facility.” Salem said.

And with a load literally off their backs, production workers have found not only new roles but also renewed purpose thanks to the new factory’s modern manufacturing technologies. For example, one woman who used to be a box packer has become the resident expert on the facility’s state-of-the-art packaging equipment.

“She started by operating the robotic cell and now she’s a trainer,” Yanku said. “She knows every single function in this factory and understands all the equipment. If a machine isn’t working correctly, she’s a first point of contact. And there are at least a dozen others like her who have made a similar transition.”

The larger, more efficient factory has also helped Edesia lower its price of production every quarter.

“We are obsessed with efficiencies, with reducing waste and with having our processes constantly reviewed,” Salem said. “We know what the ROI is on every piece of equipment we have and how to capitalize on that ROI. That allows us to make decisions to add technology, creating a more efficient process and lowering our costs, all so we can reach more malnourished children.”

Edesia has also used the larger facility to add a commercial production line to its operations. Its first commercial product, MeWe, was developed for the U.S. market to help introduce peanuts to children at an early age to help ward off peanut allergies for many. What’s more, all the profits from this new product go back to Edesia’s efforts to help reach more malnourished children.

“We’re a strange combination of advanced manufacturing and nonprofit,” Salem said. “We’re trying to move as fast and smart as we can to bring nutritional solutions to as many people as possible.”

To learn more about Edesia and how you can help their mission to help treat and prevent malnutrition in the world's most vulnerable populations, visit https://www.edesianutrition.org/.

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

[1] Children: Reducing Mortality, World Health Organization, Sept. 19, 2018

Trademark Information:
PlantPAx® is a trademark of Rockwell Automation Inc.


Subscribe to Rockwell Automation and receive the latest news, thought leadership and information directly to your inbox.

Recommended For You