What began as a quiet vacation to Noosa – a small, coastal town in Queensland, Australia – fueled one big idea that turned into the fastest growing yoghurt company in the United States.
While vacationing in Noosa, Koel Thomae fell in love with uniquely decadent, aussie-style yoghurt – borrowing the common Australian spelling of the word – produced and sold locally by Paul and Grant Mathewson. Without any entrepreneurial background, Thomae convinced the Mathewson brothers to launch their family recipe for yoghurt in the United States and establish what is now known as Noosa Finest Yoghurt, located in Bellvue, Colorado.
Producing what is described as indulgent, artisan yoghurt, Noosa officially launched in 2010 focusing on local Colorado consumers. But, the original taste and distinct sweetness of the yoghurt quickly powered growth and drove demand. In less than four years after launching, Noosa has expanded its market and can be found in all 50 states.
When it first launched, Noosa produced all of its yoghurt manually – beginning at the dairy farm. The facility is conveniently located on-site at Morning Fresh Dairy, which allows Noosa to receive fresh raw milk directly from the farm.
Next steps involved blending cream and manually measuring and metering the signature ingredients – such as honey and fruit – into the mixing tank. Operators were challenged with monitoring critical processes, but also had the intensive job of setting up valve transfer paths, dialing-in mixer and pump speeds and adjusting crucial temperature control valves. Not only was each step conducted manually, but all data was tracked, monitored and charted by hand, as well.
If something were to go wrong, Noosa would spend hours troubleshooting, and often times employees were only able to hypothesize what the issue could be – there was no way to track data back and pinpoint where, when, or why the issue occurred. “We needed a way to track data for our own quality assurance, and also for the different regulatory reports required by the FDA,” explained Wade Groetsch, COO, Noosa Finest Yoghurt.
Noosa needed a way to track data and monitor the process without increasing human capital. As demand for the yoghurt grew, there was only one option for Noosa to meet production without increasing resources – the process needed to be automated.
“We had no expectations that our product would take off so quickly,” said Groetsch. “When we picked up some large retail customers, it became a reality that we needed to expand our facility – and expand quickly to fulfill orders. The only way we could increase capacity and keep up with demand was to automate. Not only that, but we foresaw demand increasing well into the future, so in order to meet our production goals, we needed a system that would monitor the process, collect data and allow for easy future expansion.”
In 2012, Noosa chose to build an entirely new 25,000- square-foot yoghurt facility located less than 50 meters away from its existing facility. Noosa collaborated with Malisko Engineering – a Solution Partner within the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork program – to design and implement a fully-automated control system for yoghurt production, clean-in-place (CIP) and utilities.
Malisko implemented a PlantPAx process automation system from Rockwell Automation – a scalable, plantwide control system that helped increase efficiency and access to real-time information.
“Malisko already had an understanding of the system architecture from past process implementation projects and was able to demonstrate the predefined system library and how the components worked together. Being able to help speed up the development time made PlantPAx our obvious choice,” said Groetsch. “We wanted a proven solution that would allow for future growth, and we found that in the process system from Rockwell Automation.”
The new system leverages EtherNet/IP as its communications backbone to deliver real-time information throughout the facility. The Malisko team deployed the PlantPAx server components on a VMware virtualized host and deployed thin-client technology for the plant floor HMIs. A Microsoft Active Directory domain controller for integrated user security was implemented, incorporating Cisco VPN firewall technology for remote access. This allows plant engineers to remotely troubleshoot and provides the option to deploy various system changes from anywhere with Internet access.
“Our plant runs 24/7. In the past, when we would get a call at two in the morning where something wasn't operating normally, one of us would have to get out of bed and drive to the plant,” said Groetsch. “Now, with our remote monitoring capabilities, we are able to securely login from home and assess issues off-site.”
A byproduct of the PlantPAx automation system is a wealth of data. The new system implementation provides manufacturing intelligence solutions, allowing the Noosa staff to easily capture material tracking data, such as raw milk/cream receiving information, critical temperature at specific points in the process, ingredient amounts, batch cycle times, CIP tracking, etc. Data can now be retrieved to investigate process excursions, saving valuable time and money when troubleshooting. Most importantly, employees no longer need to hypothesize.
The new system is also readily equipped for future growth. “We planned ahead during the system sizing phase of the project,” said Dan Malyszko, lead systems engineer, Malisko Engineering. “The PlantPAx system is the ideal automation platform for a rapidly growing operation given its built-in scalability. As new equipment and process units are needed to support demand, Noosa has the ability to add additional I/O, PAC controllers, and servers without adversely affecting the base PlantPAx characterized architecture.”
Noosa's new, fully-automated yoghurt control system was developed and deployed in an unprecedented six months. The company's increased visibility into the production process has improved operations and made the overall yoghurt process more efficient.
“Our new facility allows us to produce more yoghurt, but also produce it more consistently,” said Groetsch. “Our manual process had many inconsistencies and many times resulted in lost batches of yoghurt. With the PlantPAx system, we've decreased lost batches by 95 percent.”
Since opening the new facility, Noosa has increased production capacity by 300 percent without the addition of more employees and resources. Filling only one cup of yoghurt at a time when first opening in 2010, the two lines can now fill approximately 100 cups per minute.
Demand for Noosa's yoghurt continues to grow at a staggering rate – leveraging the scalability of the PlantPAx solution from Rockwell Automation, the company is currently working on another expansion project.
The results mentioned above are specific to Noosa Finest Yoghurt's use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.