Case Study

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Faribault Foods Upgrades Automation Infrastructure

Food producer overhauls production infrastructure for increased efficiency, quality and customer service

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  • Plantfloor Control System - Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® programmable automation controllers monitor the entire production process and provide WAGES consumption information
  • Optimum field instrumentation achieved through Rockwell Automation partnership with Endress+Hauser
  • Integrated intelligent motor control provides access to motor health information



  • Increased Quality, Regulatory Compliance - Secured Safe Quality Food accreditation with improved access to production data
  • Increased Throughput - Improved production reliability and reduced speed to produce from seven days to five
  • Eased Maintenance and Reduced Costs - Services and support minimized overall maintenance costs, reduced spare parts inventory and provided a single point of contact
  • Support of Sustainability Programs - New system reduces energy consumption, controls award-winning heat and energy-recovery system


For all manufacturers, regardless of industry, sustainable production practices are no longer nice-to-have – they are a business imperative. And for food and beverage companies in particular – which the U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks as one of the top five most energy-intensive types of manufacturing – implementing efficient manufacturing practices can mean both improving the quality of life for customers and driving savings to their own bottom line.

Indeed, Minnesota-based Faribault Foods is no stranger to the importance of sustainability in food production. As a producer of many foods including a wide variety of beans, chili, organic soup, juices and canned pasta, Faribault Foods is a member of the Sustainability Initiative Team (SIT), a part of the Foundation for Strategic Sourcing. The group is comprised of executives from major consumer packaged goods, contract manufacturing and packaging supplier companies that work together to create industry standards to promote sustainability.

“Our customers are definitely paying more attention to sustainability,” explained Scott King, executive vice president of operations, Faribault Foods. “Our participation in groups like SIT helps us understand the importance – both financially and in terms of responsible corporate citizenship – of greening the entire food supply chain.”


While business drivers may have progressed in recent years, the bean production process hasn’t changed much in the company’s 115-year history. Beans are brought into the primary production facility from all over the Midwest. They are placed into a soaking and rehydration system, then blanched and transferred to a canning line, where a broth, sauce or brine is added to the beans for flavor. The cans are then sealed and sent to the cooking system, where they are brought up to a required temperature and held there to create a commercially sterile product. Finally, the cans are cooled, packed on pallets and shipped out to thousands of retail locations across the country.

A Need for Modernization

“The Faribault bean plant was designed as a seasonal vegetable canning facility,” explained Phil Hines, director of engineering, Faribault Foods. “When I joined the company in 2005, it was being operated year-round as a rehydrated bean canning facility. We needed to modernize our production infrastructure to meet long-term business goals and deliver the high-quality, sustainable products our customers expect.”

Indeed, with several hundred varieties of product being produced each year, the facility simply wasn’t designed to keep pace with company’s growing business. In addition to producing several of its own product brands, such as Butter Kernel, Kuner’s, S&W Beans and Chilliman, the company also produces private-label brands for many large grocery retailers, and provides copacking, or contract manufacturing services as well.

“We needed to demonstrate and document reliable, repeatable production practices to our customers – particularly to those working with us on copack products,” explained Hines. “Our existing production infrastructure didn’t allow the necessary level of data collection and insight; plus, it was simply less efficient to run in terms of water, air, gas, electric and steam (WAGES) resource consumption.”

Partnering for Success

Once the company decided to invest in a complete facility overhaul, Hines and his team designed a comprehensive plan to identify opportunities for improvement, documentation requirements, and an ongoing timeline for implementation. “We knew this wasn’t going to be a one-time effort,” explained Hines. “We wanted to work with an automation vendor who understood our goals and would commit to our long-term success. That’s why we chose Rockwell Automation.”

Hines and his team selected a process solution based on the Rockwell Automation
Integrated Architecture® system, featuring eight Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® programmable automation controllers (PAC). Each PAC communicates via a ControlNet network to intelligent field devices and twelve human-machine interface stations comprised of Allen-Bradley PanelView Plus terminals and industrial computers running Factory Talk® View SE software. The control system monitors the entire production infrastructure in real-time, including WAGES consumption information, so Hines and his team can quickly identify opportunities for improvement and document each critical step of the process.

Faribault Foods implemented instrumentation from Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork member Endress+Hauser for seamless integration with the Rockwell Automation equipment used in the application. “The benefit of working with a Rockwell Automation partner company is that the two companies have already discussed maintenance, communications and technology issues prior to solution implementation,” said Hines. “Rockwell Automation and Endress+Hauser had those details and resources worked out, which helped us simplify implementation.”

The solution also includes more than 60 Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® variable frequency drives for more intelligent motor control throughout the plant. The drives improve equipment efficiency by adjusting cycle speeds, as needed, rather than running at full capacity at all times. In addition, the drives feed critical motor data back to the central control system for improved maintenance capabilities.

Creating Best Practices

During implementation, the Faribault Foods team participated in an Installed Base Evaluation™ from Rockwell Automation to determine a baseline of current parts in use on the plant floor, as well as critical spares necessary to protect uptime and production goals. After completing the evaluation, the company decided to leverage Rockwell Automation Asset Management Services for parts management and 24/7 remote support. With a Parts Management Agreement, Rockwell Automation regularly audits and manages Faribault Foods’ spare-parts needs to help lower maintenance costs. The TechConnectSM remote support contract gives Hines and his team nonstop access to trained Rockwell Automation specialists who are available to help troubleshoot plant-floor issues and identify best practices for ongoing improvements to the control infrastructure.

To ensure a smooth transition, Hines wanted to train his staff on the new technology as soon as the system was online. “Previously, one or two staff members possessed 90 percent of the control system knowledge,” he said. “With the new system, we wanted to make sure everyone understood how it worked.” By partnering with Rockwell Automation, Werner Electric (a local authorized Allen-Bradley distributor) and Alexandria Technical College, plant-floor staff receive training on everything from basic maintenance and troubleshooting, to servo control, to the company’s latest software implementation.


Faribault Foods has been very pleased with how the new control system and support have helped it meet wider business goals. “Whether it’s our sustainability goals or our documentation goals, the Rockwell Automation solution helps us reach both,” said Hines.

State-of-the-Art System

For example, the Allen-Bradley controls are running the company’s state-of-the-art heat and energy-recovery system, which reuses 100 percent of the can cooling-process heat to warm city water for the soaking, blanching and cooking procedures. The result: a 38.2 percent decrease in natural gas usage, which won the company Xcel Energy’s 2009 award for the largest natural gas reduction among all industrial customers in the state of Minnesota. In addition, the system reuses cooled water to reduce the temperature of the cans in the cooking process, which cuts down on the company’s overall water usage by over 100 million gallons each year.

Reduced Waste

Tighter control of the process also allows for reduced waste in the manufacturing process. To accommodate the cooking process, the company leaves “head space” in each can – essentially an air pocket between the lid of the can and the beans. Previously, at the end of the manufacturing line, the head space would be pushed out along with a few ounces of canning fluid, which would be flushed down the drain. Now, thanks to the increased accuracy and reliability of the process, the plantfloor team can fill to exact levels, ensuring that no fluid is wasted when the head space is forced out of the can.

Improved Documentation

The new system also provides the company with an unprecedented level of process documentation, which has helped the company achieve Safe Quality Food (SQF) accreditation at all three of its plants. According to the SQF website, SQF accreditation is a voluntary program designed to address heightened consumer demand for increased food safety. To comply with SQF standards, companies like Faribault Foods must provide verifiable proof that robust food-safety control systems have been effectively implemented, properly validated and leverage continuous monitoring procedures. “Without the Rockwell Automation control system, we simply wouldn’t have possessed the documentation necessary to achieve SQF validation, which many of our customers today require,” explained Hines.

As Faribault Foods moves to a more strategic, predictive maintenance strategy, the asset management and training support also are proving useful. “With the parts management program we can maintain the proper amount of spare parts, which helps keep our maintenance costs down,” said Hines. “By bringing in Rockwell Automation to help with remote support and training, our team can focus on optimizing existing production processes and improving productivity.”

Increased Throughput and Product Quality

In fact, Faribault Foods is now producing the same amount of product in five days that previously used to take seven. When Hines first started the upgrade process, the plant was typically running at 75 percent of its maximum throughput, or max-T. Now, the facility runs at 90 percent max-T, with a better product quality, as well.

“We are constantly improving our production processes, not only at our Faribault location but also at our Elk River and Cokato plants,” said Hines. “We’ve selected Rockwell Automation as our control partner on each project because its technology, support and solution designs help support our business goals.”

Echoed Faribault Foods President Reid MacDonald, “We are consistently innovating our products and manufacturing practices to be as efficient as possible, in every sense of the word. Faribault Foods is committed to being a sustainable partner for all of our customers, both now and for years to come.”

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

Allen-Bradley, ControlLogix, FactoryTalk, Installed Base Evaluation, Integrated Architecture, PanelView, PartnerNetwork, PowerFlex and TechConnect are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc.
ControlNet is a trademark of ControlNet International, Ltd. Trademarks not belonging to Rockwell Automation are property of their respective companies.


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