Photo by Keith Larson
“No department wanted to be the reason why the project was delayed.” ICL’s David Kaltwasser shared details of his operation’s deadline-driven implementation during Rockwell Automation’s Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) in the run up to Automation Fair 2022 in Chicago.

PlantPAx teamed with iPads eliminates control room for food processor ICL

Nov. 21, 2022
Design requirements focused on ease of integration.

Based in Israel, ICL is an essential part of the global food supply chain. Its plant site in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis operates continuously, with yearly production of about 100 million pounds. “We’re mainly a phosphate salts facility. Quality assurance plays a big part,” explained David Kaltwasser, engineering manager at ICL.

The site originated in 1876, when the first product was monocalcium phosphate made from bone black, sulfuric acid and lime. It’s had quite a few owners over the years, notably Monsanto for a few decades beginning in the 1930s.

“We do some batch. We do continuous,” explained Kaltwasser. “We use drum dryers, rotary dryers, crystallization. A lot of what we do is acid-based chemistry. You eat what we make several times a day. We had this opportunity to get into an alternate-protein process. When we got the project approved in 2020, it needed to be started in 12 months.”

The 10,000-sq-ft facility was constructed on ICL’s 19-acre production campus in St. Louis. At full capacity, the plant is expected to produce more than 15 million pounds of product annually. The facility currently operates two shifts as it ramps up.

“It’s not an overly complicated process,” explained Kaltwasser. “We bring in materials and cut them into an emulsion. This emulsion is very thick, like a pancake batter. We pump that up and form the fiber, and then we cure it and then rinse it. It goes down some conveyors, and then we pack it. Then it’s sold to other manufacturers who use it to make nuggets or other products.”

Design requirements focused around one core need. “We wanted ease of integration,” said Kaltwasser. “We knew we were going to buy a lot of package systems, so we wanted to be able to dictate what we wanted. We were time- and schedule-driven, so we had to figure out how we were going to make this work, and we wanted to keep the number of operators down.” Possibly the most important requirement was that Kaltwasser wanted no control room. “We wanted the operators on the plant floor with iPads to control the process,” he explained.

“For the architecture, we used PlantPAx 5.0,” explained Andrew Romine, automation engineer, Gray Solutions, the integrator that steered the design and implementation, dropping in a ControlLogix add-on profile (AOP), defining assemblies for programming and enabling a quick and easy integration. One of the issues with using the iPad was its 1680x1180 resolution, which could create a hurdle going forward, converting to a control-room display. There are also some minor adjustments, such as changing batteries and licenses when switching iPads.

“The architecture was sound,” said Brad Downen, senior project manager, Gray Solutions. “The iPad was pretty challenging, but we reaped the benefits of not having a control room.” PlantPAx also ensured standards similar to other departments. “We put that in 2012,” explained Downen. “That was 2.0, but it has been updated to 3.5 and 3.6. We accelerated development with PlantPAx, so we were able to go as things came in.”

Delays, as expected, became a part of the process. “Things were delayed left and right,” admitted Kaltwasser. “But no department wanted to be the reason why the project was delayed. When that last piece came in, we wanted to start up, and that’s basically what we did. It takes six to eight months to get final certification.”

Visibility and mobility then took center stage. “We were able to debug things remotely,” said Downen. “And ControlLogix does help with expanded I/O trees, and we were able to do that quickly. We were able to keep the automation deadline; we didn’t miss a beat.”

Thus far, the operators are very engaged, explained Kaltwasser, who noted a 25% reduction in labor by eliminating the control room, as well. “The iPads are going well, except we don’t have an audible alarm. That’s something to watch out for if you go with iPads. We built it so we could ramp up. We’re working two shifts four days a week now.”

The strong Wi-Fi in the building made the iPad implementation easy. “But taking it outside was challenging to troubleshoot a valve or a pump,” said Kaltwasser. “Fortunately, 90% of the I/O is inside the building.”

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