How Plant-Floor Communications Help Cut Downtime

How Plant-Floor Communications Help Cut Downtime

A dairy firm retained existing operating systems during a huge expansion by creating a software bridge from its HMI/SCADA environment and two-way radios.

By Mike Tuohy, Business Development Manager, Wylie Stevens, Solution Integrator, and Cailey Peirce, Marketing Communications Manager, SeQent

Founded in 1929 by Swiss immigrants Alfred Nef and Alfred Gozenbach, Valley Queen is a dairy manufacturer in Milbank, South Dakota. Valley Queen can produce 200 million lbs. of cheese from 2 billion lbs. of milk annually into a variety of natural cheeses, dried lactose, WPC80 and anhydrous milk fat, which are marketed and used by private-label and nationally branded food companies.

As one of the largest cheese producers in South Dakota and the largest employer in Milbank, Valley Queen gets milk from roughly 40 area farms, which supports the production of 500,000 lbs. of cheese per day.

In 2018, the company announced a $52-million expansion plan to increase processing capacity by 25% to more than 5 million lbs. of milk per day. The expansion project took place within Valley Queen’s existing footprint at the Milbank facility. By upgrading capital equipment and infrastructure, the company could maximize the existing operating systems and fund new technologies.

As part of this investment, the company hired more than 25 employees to handle the increase in manufacturing capacity, and currently has more than 300 associates.

As Valley Queen invested in its expansion, the need for efficient processes and effective communication became clear.

Before updating the plant-floor communication process, control room operators would view human-machine interface (HMI) screens from Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk® View Site Edition (SE) HMI and manually contact maintenance and operations via PTT on their Motorola analog two-way radios whenever an alarm occurred. Manually processing data was inefficient, and it caused unresolved alarms and unplanned downtime, which negatively affected overall production.

Discovery at the Automation Fair Event

In 2017, several Valley Queen automation and IT staff attended the Automation Fair® event hosted by Rockwell Automation, looking for an innovative communication solution that would maximize their investment in Rockwell Automation hardware and software.

After attending numerous technical sessions, including the joint presentation by Rockwell Automation Encompass™ Product Partners Motorola Solutions and our company SeQent, Valley Queen asked SeQent to update its plant-floor communication process. Valley Queen uses our notification platform to build a software bridge between their Rockwell Automation HMI/SCADA environment and Motorola Solutions MOTOTRBO™ two-way radios.

Figure 1. In phase 1 of Valley Queen’s expansion, the company used a centralized architecture for deploying the software that allowed the company to implement one instance of the core notification server software. SeQent provided the Industrial Automated Messaging and Alarm Notification Software product lines. [CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE]

After the Automation Fair® event, Allen-Bradley® authorized distributor Border States Electric contacted SeQent to architect a solution for Valley Queen. At the same time, Valley Queen worked with its Motorola Solutions dealer, Electronic Engineering, to upgrade its radio system from conventional analog to a single-site digital trunking Capacity Plus system.

After seeing the value of the communication system, Valley Queen allocated capital for our software in early 2018. Electronic Engineering installed and continues to support the new Capacity Plus trunking system and programmed the repeaters and new XPR 7550e subscriber radios to receive automated text messages.

Implementations in Phase 1

Using a centralized architecture for deploying the software allowed Valley Queen to implement one instance of the core notification server software, despite having multiple HMI servers with alarms requiring dispatch. We provided our Industrial Automated Messaging and Alarm Notification Software product lines FirstPAGE and FirstPAGE Alarm Manager (see Figure 1).

We installed the FirstPAGE Alarm Manager Gateway for FactoryTalk View SE HMI on each primary HMI server, so that Valley Queen could bridge alarms requiring dispatch into the single instance of the alarm-management software. A copy of the gateway was also installed on each secondary HMI server to support FactoryTalk redundancy, ensuring that alarms will be communicated in the event of a failure.

Our professional services initially deployed a train-the-trainer program, and then on their own, Valley Queen was able to, with the click of one button, browse to any HMI alarm and configure it to notify a Motorola XPR 7550e radio when required. The radio communication application installed was the FirstPAGE Link for MOTOTRBO, and this application let Valley Queen discreetly notify any individual radio of an alarm condition as part of their MOTOTRBO Capacity Plus system.

Communication occurred from the Link application over a network connection to the radio MOTOTRBO™ Master Repeater. This provided the dairy manufacturer with a robust data-notification solution that could send messages to multiple destinations at one time.

Phase 2: System Upgrade

In early 2020, working with a Rockwell Automation Solution Provider, Cybertrol Engineering, Valley Queen embarked upon a major HMI/SCADA upgrade to FactoryTalk View SE Alarms & Events (see Figure 2).

SeQent provided an upgrade path to support the update from FactoryTalk View SE v.8 to v.11, which required conversion from HMI alarms to FactoryTalk Alarms & Events. SeQent replaced the FirstPAGE Alarm Manager Gateway for FactoryTalk View SE HMI with the FirstPAGE Alarm Manager Gateway for FactoryTalk View SE Alarms & Events. Unlike the HMI environment, only one instance of the gateway was required to access the alarms due to the nature of an A&E environment.

Figure 2. In phase 2 of the upgrade in early 2020, Valley Queen implemented a major HMI/SCADA upgrade to FactoryTalk View SE Alarms & Events with the new SeQent Alarm & Event Gateway and redundancy. [CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE]

To support Valley Queen’s redundant environment, we updated the architecture to include the installation of a second instance of FirstPAGE, FirstPAGE Alarm Manager, and Gateway for FactoryTalk View SE Alarms & Events to be fully fault tolerant. FirstPAGE Alarm Manager provided the dairy company with an import/export utility tool that supported efficient migration of alarms out of the initial configuration (HMI alarms) into the new configuration (FactoryTalk Alarms & Events).

In addition, we provided an application called Sync Server, which automatically synchronizes the configuration from the primary instance to the secondary instance, removing the need to maintain two environments.

Improved Communication and Efficiency

As a result of these communication improvements, Valley Queen transformed its plant-floor communication and improved overall efficiency. Our strategic partnership with Rockwell Automation and Motorola Solutions has provided the dairy manufacturer with a reliable manufacturing software solution that supports future growth.

Without having to process data manually, alarms are sent automatically to a variety of communication devices, allowing operators to resolve issues in real time without compromising production or product quality.

With real-time notifications and insight into its operations, Valley Queen can prevent costly incidents such as plant shutdowns and product waste. They’ve been able to improve alarm response time and increase employee safety and productivity by assuring notifications get sent to the right people at the right time with its fully redundant environment.

The new solution provided fast installation and implementation and produced immediate improvements through a user-friendly platform. The dairy manufacturer has maximized its return on their investment, experienced improved decision-making, and increased productivity, profitability and quality.

SeQent, based in London, Ontario, Canada, is a participating EncompassProduct Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program. The software provider’s Alarm Notification Software, Andon-Visual Display Management, Industrial Automated Messaging, and Industrial Wi-Fi SMS Messaging Solutions build a bridge between industrial automation systems and communication devices.





The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.

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