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Vintner Saves with Distributed Architecture

Aug. 12, 2009
Automation In Wine Making. Winemakers Are Given the Necessary Tools to Properly Manage the End Product Flow. From Grape Growing to Bottling
This article was printed in CONTROL's August 2009 edition.
Jeremy Pollard, CET, Columnist

The Bronco Wine Co., a joint venture of two brothers and a cousin, has over 30,000 acres of active vineyards and harvests an additional 30,000 acres. In 2007, Bronco produced 70 million gallons of wine during the harvest, 50% of which is destined to be wine for one of its many co-pack partners. The vintner may be best known for its "Two-Buck Chuck" wine, the Charles Shaw label sold exclusively by Trader Joe's stores. Bronco sells 72 million bottles of Charles Shaw label wine every year. "Two-Buck Chuck was started in early 2000. We had the brand, and the other growers had a huge supply of high-quality wine. And, we had the storage for the wine that they couldn't sell," says Paul Franzia, Bronco's engineering and environmental affairs manager.

The company has grown substantially because of the success of the Charles Shaw brand. Franzia adds, "We're growing all the time. We have wineries and packaging facilitates in Ceres, Escalon, Napa and Sonoma, all in Calif. During crush—this is getting the grapes from the vines to the crushers and tank presses—we will process up to 6,000 tons per 22-hour day. We pick at night to keep the grapes cool, truck them to Ceres, and process them.”

Understandably, Bronco is passionate about producing its wines with a consistent color, flavor, and "mouth-feel." A single mistake could cost the company millions of dollars.

[pullquote]Here's where process automation comes in. The winemakers are given all the tools necessary to properly manage the end product flow from grape growing to final bottling.

Given the need for product consistency, communication across multiple operations and an elderly infrastructure—parts of the wineries are over 100 years old—the management of the process and information was becoming a big problem.

"We were using a SCADA product that was a leader in its field," says Franzia. "We were using it for environmental controls and we were interfacing it with the PLCs that were doing the control. Winemakers and maintenance would use the interface to monitor and control the storage temperature of the wine barrels.”

The existing HMI system also had issues. "The communication was sporadic and was frequently non-responsive," says Franzia. "We needed to upgrade. The current structure could not support the needs of the business for compliance or company growth.”

The Franzias were also less than thrilled with their software vendor's current finance arrangements. "Besides having to buy the new development software, they wanted big dough to re-license each existing client. I didn't like the cost per user licensing model that everyone was using," lamented Franzia.

The Solution

Bronco realized that to grow with its process and its markets, it had to leave the mule-and-plow mentality behind and get on with technology. All of the automated equipment at the winery is controlled by Rockwell PLCs (www.rockwellautomation.com). The distance between the various parts of the system in a single location wasn't a big deal, but with the many parts of the process strewn over miles of rolling hills, connectivity became another matter.

Since more and more people wanted access to information, Bronco's long-time system integrator, Cal Metrix of Sacramento, Calif., got involved in the problem, and suggested Factory PMI  and Factory SQL from Inductive Automation (IA, www.inductiveautomation.com), also in Sacramento, to solve Bronco's initial problem of accessibility.

FactorySQL is a server-based data collection product that resides on Windows-based computers. It uses OPC device communication drivers that are readily available for various controllers. Factory PMI is a database-driven SCADA/HMI product that directly interfaces with the data that FactorySQL has retrieved and logged.

The software platform uses standard technologies such as SQL, Java, Ethernet and server-based technologies.
One of IA's attractive selling points for the Franzias was IA and Factory PMI's unique licensing policy that was "music" to their ears.

"With this licensing model, I can put the process data onto anyone's desktop simply by creating a user login for them. If they're remote to the servers, we just create a VPN to the server," explains Paul Fallgren, Cal Metrix's project manager.

"There's no ‘FactoryPMI' cost associated with adding a client to the Bronco network. None. As long as they have a computer on their desk, they can get connected." says Fallgren.

"Now that FactoryPMI is in place, and our production people and supervisors are using it, there is a constant question—‘Can it do this?'" says John Franzia, Bronco's co-owner. "Our winemakers are very comfortable with the technology.

"We get instant support from IA. They log in and help us with our processes, and can solve any issues instantly. We're dealing with the vendor, not someone in India."

Bronco produces over 60 brands of wine which requires a ton of information flow. It's a complex route between incoming truck receiving, the winemakers' requirements, the grape sugar content and the multiple crushers, presses and tanks involved in a decision to make a certain type of wine.

"Our business is blending wine. We can't screw up! So we put in smart technology," says John Franzia.

The benefits that FactoryPMI have given Bronco due to the unlimited client licensing policy are almost immeasurable. It had more than 150 clients connected during the past year. These clients range from heavy to light users. However, the people using the system need that information at the right time and in the right place.

"I can be in Napa and see what's going on in Ceres," Paul Franzia maintains. "It allows the supervisor there to know I'm looking. It makes me a better manager.”

The extensibility of using standards-based SCADA is allowing Bronco Wines to continue to expand its multi-winery network and the information traveling on that network. Costs are controlled due to the product licensing. The company's requirements for having its production information available anywhere, anytime have been met.

"And, we bought locally," concludes  John Franzia.

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