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A technological approach to a classic sauce

June 13, 2016
Employing FactoryTalk Batch software, the century-old Ragu sauce gets a boost from modern technology
About the author
Chris McNamara is content director of Smart Industry. He has spent 20 years in the corporate-communications/digital-marketing world, while authoring features for a host of newspapers, magazines and websites.  Steve Christian remembers the days—not too long ago—when production schedules were printed on sheets of paper and distributed to operators at his plant, who would manually twist valve handles to send the Ragu sauce tomato slurry from one kettle to another.

“Our infrastructure was hodge-podge,” summarized Christian during his presentation at the 2016 Rockwell Automation TechED conference. “As we were growing more and more, we had to connect all the PLCs talking to one another. And to gather that information we had to hunt for it online rather than going local to the site. We used to run something until it was completely broken and obsolete. Then we’d have to upgrade just to stay current with the software.”

Lost in the sauce 

These days, the plant technician at Owensboro, Kentucky-based Mizkan Americas is happy to report that the sauce-production process is decidedly more modern, thanks to upgrading to FactoryTalk Batch software, implementing a virtualized server and standardizing kitchens on the new software. “Now we’re doing a much better job keeping current with technology,” said Christian, with a hint of relief in his voice. 

“If we don’t look at the entire process in a plant we end up with islands of automation.”  Randy Otto of ECS Solutions on the importance of a big picture view when undertaking an automation system modernization.

ECS Solutions, Inc. is guiding Mizkan through that evolution, resulting in boosted data-storage and network speed along with widened internal accessibility to the entire system. ECS recommended a redundant star architecture, which enables quicker convergence and greater expandability with less intrusion. Otto, together with Steve Christian, related the story of Mizkan’s journey this week at Rockwell Automation TechED in Orlando.

“We made these changes in phases,” explained Randy Otto, vice president of ECS Solutions, Inc. Phase 1, which was completed in November 2015, entailed upgrading servers and software. Phase 2 focuses on an overhaul of the plant-wide manufacturing network.  

Implementing a FactoryTalk Batch network enables the processing plant to be compliant with the ISA-88 standard, making the process more flexible, enabling switching between some 200 recipes without having to know PLC programming or enlisting the services of engineers for programming support. Added Otto, “We also wanted to bring management visibility into the process and support the convergence of IT and OT.”  

Throughout the TechED presentation, Otto stressed the importance of prioritizing and clarifying ownership of the IT role during an initiative like this. “The people who were in place for engineering, maintenance and tech support didn’t have the knowledge required to do the backup and maintenance on servers and the database,” he explained. Without this oversight, servers fill to capacity and data is overwritten.

Likewise, Otto stressed the need for a clear strategy when launching upgrades of this magnitude. “If we don’t look at the entire process in a plant, we end up with islands of automation,” he explained. “Developing a Connected Enterprise makes you step back and look at the entire plant strategically. How much data do you want to collect? How much bandwidth will this take up? Where do we need switches throughout the plant? How are we going to support everything? These are the types of things that need to go into a plan. If you don’t start with a clear strategy, you end up with a crashing, daisy-chain network.” 

The results at Mizkan speak volumes. Otto and Christian boast comprehensive, real-time reporting from the floor and package areas, full time-series data in the CIP systems as required by the FDA, speedy ingredient-analysis reports, and data-storage reports available upon request within seconds. There have been no occurrences of downtime in 2016.

The production, the technology, the sauce and the profits keep flowing.

“The sauce has the same great taste,” said Christian, who’s had a hand in producing the century-old Ragu for nearly three decades. “The way we make it is just a lot easier.”

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