1660244520461 Autofair2017

Food & Beverage Forum: Modern controls, more French fries

Nov. 15, 2017
Kraft Heinz plant moves beyond outdated controllers and surpasses project goals

“We’re thinking our payback will be less than 2 years, and our throughput increase will be 10.4%, more than double the project goal of 5%.” Kraft Heinz’s Danny Branson explained the ROI of control upgrades at the Food & Beverage Industry Forum at Automation Fair this week in Houston. 

At the Ore-Ida plant in Ontario, Oregon, downtime was affecting production capacity due to network latency issues and legacy control system reliability. “We had pretty old PLC systems,” explained Danny Branson, project engineer at Kraft Heinz, which owns the Ore-Ida brand. “There were problems getting spares because they were rapidly becoming obsolete. Justifying the capital investment to modernize control structures was difficult because we needed to define the return on investment of upgrading the aging control systems.” Branson shared the Kraft Heinz story of successful automation modernization at today’s Food & Beverage Industry Forum at Automation Fair in Houston.

Rather than merely replace its obsolete control systems, Kraft Heinz decided to modernize the architecture and incorporate new technologies that would help to optimize production capacity and reduce quality variability.

Sitting along the Snake River, which divides Oregon and Idaho, the plant was determined to increase yield, while reducing variation and scrap.

“Most potato processing plants have at least one co-product, lower-volume production line, usually for formed fried products,” said Branson. “Co-product lines allow a plant to obtain higher yields of the raw crop.”

The Ontario plant, which runs 24/7 for between 270 and 310 days each year, has seven production lines, two of which are dedicated to French fry cuts. About 450 hourly employees work production across four shifts. More than a billion pounds of potatoes are used for 150 SKUs producing about 700 million pounds of product.

“Potato processing is a series of processes, some are batching in nature, but many are continuous process control,” explained Branson. At the Ore-Ida plant, the entire process, from unloading potatoes at the dock to packaged/cased product heading for cold storage palletizing and logistics takes about 65 minutes.

Rolling up the sleeves

To address Ore-Ida’s unique needs, the Rockwell Automation team identified an innovative solution to identify process improvements and maximize production using data analytics. The idea was to increase throughput enough for the return on investment (ROI) to cover the cost of the upgrade.

“Our primary goal was to increase production year over year by 5%,” said Branson. “We chose the highest-production-volume fry line to meet the project ROI and ensure project justification.”

Rockwell Automation conducted a front-end engineering design (FEED) study to define the scope and ROI for the control system and network infrastructure modernization, as well as model predictive control (MPC) implementation. Rockwell Software Pavilion8 MPC software was used, and it now assesses current and predicted operational data, compares it to the desired result and optimizes process control, explained Branson. “Because it knows what’s coming at it, MPC can predict where it will need to drive the target,” he said. “It knows all of the constraints in our processes—frying, freezing, packaging. MPC looks at the constraints and determines if it can increase throughput.”

MPC is a software package that sits on top of the control system, whether it’s PLCs or DCS, and utilizes cross-feedback from the process. Lab data also can be fed into virtual online analyzers. The software can change the setpoints, which frees up the operators to do other things.

Over the course of the project, because executive and corporate management changed three times due to acquisitions, the objectives of increasing capacity, reducing quality variability, improving the use of people and equipment, and modernizing controls and networking were reevaluated each time.

“We committed to a 2.5-year payback based on an estimated production increase year over year for both the controls upgrade and MPC solution,” said Branson. “We first went after the capital in early 2014 and didn’t implement until 2015.”

Paying for itself

The Ore-Ida plant is tracking toward an annual cost savings of 11%, Branson explained. “We’re thinking our payback will be less than 2 years, and our throughput increase will be 10.4%, more than double the project goal of 5%,” he said. “The ROI provided the opportunity to upgrade the aging control system and modernize plant automation.”

Ore-Ida did suffer some setbacks and delays in the project. “Make sure you are keeping the equipment in a state of working order,” emphasized Branson. “Preparing systems and equipment is crucial. Repair equipment ASAP. Education about the project to the broader management team and operators is key to ensuring early adoption. Factory management and maintenance also must be committed to maintaining full equipment functionality.”

Ore-Ida experiences a lot of operator turnover, and there is no MPC implementation team on-site. “We have to spend a lot of one-on-one time with the operators and develop specific training,” said Branson. “But, because we have been successful, we are now allocating funding to modify two additional production lines.”

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