Company simplifies, optimizes animal feed production using controller-based batch and sequencing at its new milk replacer production facility.
By Sheila Kennedy, Contributing Writer
In the United States, animal feed and its ingredients are regulated within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) much the same way as human food. It must be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled, among other requirements. Grober Nutrition USA goes a step further with its milk replacers (powdered baby animal formula). They are produced using food-grade raw materials and processed in a plant built to human food standards.
Since its founding in the early 1970s, Grober Nutrition has committed to providing consistent, clean, safe products that optimize the growth and health of young animals. The family-owned, Canada-based company has grown into an international agribusiness.
Grober Nutrition USA is a recent addition to the business. The company expanded into the U.S. market in 2017 with a brand new, state-of-the-art milk replacer production facility. The $12 million, 60,000-sq.-ft. plant in Auburn, New York, supplies high-quality feed for young animals such as calves, lambs, kids, pets and zoological animals.
The plant is designed to accommodate surplus whey from a local skim milk manufacturer. The whey, a liquid dairy byproduct, is evaporated to a specific concentration and then mixed with oils and fats in a slurry, which is fed into a large dryer to produce a fat-filled powder. Finally, the powder is dry-blended with other ingredients to formulate milk-replacer products that are easy to mix, highly palatable and digestible, and provide balanced nutrition.
The entire process is designed for flexibility and efficiency. It’s facilitated by a modern distributed batch management solution with plant-wide control capabilities and integrated control system technologies from Rockwell Automation.
Grober conceived a feedstock production process designed for low-cost batching and equipped for three main capabilities: evaporation, drying and dry blending. Certain conditions added to the project’s complexity. For example, all the equipment and necessary utilities had to meet FDA requirements and sanitary codes, and Grober required an x-ray inspection of 10% of the welds.
An additional challenge was incorporating some previously-used equipment without the benefit of detailed installation drawings. Instead, the work would have to be completed using only preliminary engineering drawings.
Grober Nutrition decided early to use Rockwell Automation products at its new facility, but needed a turnkey supplier to support the integration and installation of the electrical and mechanical systems and software.
Following a formal bidding process, Grober chose Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator Optimation Technology to support the system’s engineering, design and build. While Optimation had no previous experience working with Grober Nutrition, its 30-plus years of relevant industry experience, its relationship with Rockwell Automation, and the fact that it’s certified by the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) and uses ISO 9001 and CSIA Best Practices contributed to the company’s selection.
Advanced Technology and Systems
Work on the multidiscipline project began in Auburn in July 2016, after the building construction was already underway. Optimation provided skilled trades for installation services including mechanical, electrical and construction management support, as well as control panel, pipe supports and frame fabrication.
Optimation also conducted interviews to better understand what processes Grober wanted to control, and then provided the software and controls engineering. Comprehensive project management assured close collaboration with the Grober team and other contributing service providers.
Process equipment installed included a liquefier, mix tanks, a surge tank, homogenizer and process filtering equipment, a large dryer, and all pipe and electrical between the process equipment. About 10,000 ft. of stainless-steel pipe, some large-diameter, were installed as a part of this project.
Grober specified a modern distributed control system (DCS) consisting of Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® 1756-L71 and L72 controllers and FactoryTalk® View Site Edition (SE) human-machine interface (HMI) software for monitoring the distributed applications. FactoryTalk View SE thin clients would be used for all operator terminals, both in the control room and locally in the production areas.
The use of the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx® Library of Process Objects on the FactoryTalk View SE application reduced software development time, because it allowed the programmable logic controller (PLC) code to be modular. Using objects and standard faceplates from Rockwell Automation allowed a consistent look and feel of the HMI and enhanced functionality for the users.
SequenceManager™ software was from Rockwell Automation provides batch sequencing and reporting for the ControlLogix controllers. Configuring the recipe system using this software allowed architecture flexibility and sequence modularity. Optimation wrote custom PLC code to allow different recipes to be run, all of which are editable by the end user. The recipes execute on the controller with unique sequence IDs; no batch server is required.
A Stratus 4800 ftServer system from Stratus Technologies, a Rockwell Automation Encompass™ Product Partner, runs the system software. The fault-tolerant redundant system, installed with a redundant star network topology, supports resiliency and continuous availability.
Process Efficiencies in Action
The project stayed on budget and was completed ahead of schedule. The new milk replacer plant went live in July 2017 after all the equipment and utilities were installed according to Grober’s specification, and with Grober’s active involvement.
The system architecture includes three manageable ControlLogix PLCs, each chosen due to their I/O requirements:
- Evaporator/tank farm PLC.
- Homogenizer/dryer PLC.
- Batching/mixing/clean-in-place PLC (where the recipes are executed).
The cutting-edge evaporator is integral to the production process. It concentrates the liquid dairy ingredients into a product that is between 40 and 50% solids. Whey is trucked in and evaporated back to one of the tanks.
Grober Nutrition’s overall recipe system has three unique subsystems — whey, fat, and wet blend — and each one runs recipes. Each system feeds the next in line, and after the mix is complete, the product is homogenized, fed into a continuous dryer, and then fed into large supersacks. These are later blended with other dry materials and packaged for sale.
The SequenceManager batching system makes the same product repeatedly during a run. Each recipe’s materials and parameters are selected in advance and the system is set up to automatically restart the recipes. Grober’s four independent, repeating recipes include:
- Liquefier recipe (adds powder).
- Oil/fat recipe (adds up to three oils).
- Dairy mix recipe (adds concentrate).
- Mix tank recipe (adds liquefier, oil and dairy).
With its event and reporting tools, SequenceManager produces batch reports and procedural analysis. Since it uses the same data structure and reports as FactoryTalk Batch, they easily are integrated. Operators can enter batch-related items in ActiveX, including Batch ID, Product Code, Product Description, Area Name, Engineering Units and Process Cell.
Today, the plant is running around the clock in two shifts, five days per week, thereby optimizing production and revenue. “Operators can concentrate on tasks at hand, while easily monitoring system status through the FactoryTalk View SE operator interfaces,” says Dan Hayden, senior software engineer at Optimation Technology.
Grober recently added two additional monitors by using FactoryTalk View SE thin clients with three display ports. It continues to rely on Optimation for troubleshooting and support for the plant, such as improving reports and analyses.
Hayden attributes the project’s success to quality skilled trades installation by all parties involved, overall installation management and coordination of the subcontractors involved, as well as a thorough equipment and I/O checkout plan. “These practices are crucial to any successful project,” he says.
Optimation Technology, a Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator, provides turnkey services from concept to completion, including engineering, automation, fabrication and maintenance capabilities. The firm holds expertise in process, batch and media conveyance/coating processes across North America.
Stratus Technologies, based in Maynard, Massachusetts, is an Encompass Product Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetworkTM program. The company provides high availability and fault tolerant solutions to keep applications up and running.
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