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Brand owner insights highlight the Automation Conference & Expo

Brand owners Chobani, Land O’Lakes, and Pinnacle Foods will headline the program at this don’t-miss conference on all things automation and controls.

Automation Conference & Expo logo
Automation Conference & Expo logo

A wide variety of controls and automation platforms will be on display in the presentations scheduled to take place May 24-25 during The Automation Conference & Expo (AC&E). This is the fifth edition of this annual conference, which has grown each year and now stands as one of the premier educational and networking events of the year when it comes to manufacturing, automation, controls, and packaging.

Three AC&E presentations look especially promising from a packaging standpoint since they come from these three manufacturers of well known consumer packaged goods products: Chobani, Land O’Lakes, and Pinnacle Foods. Presented here is a sneak preview of what will be presented in much fuller detail at the Chicago conference in May.

Extending plant monitoring and control capabilities with mobile technologies at Chobani
Hugh Roddy, Head of Global Engineering, Chobani

Though a relatively new company at approximately ten years old, Chobani has ridden the Greek yogurt craze as successfully as any. In addition to operations in Norwich, NY, and Australia, the firm recently opened a 1.4 million square foot facility in Twin Falls, ID—it’s the largest yogurt plant in the world. All manufacturing activities can be simply and efficiently monitored in real time at all plants thanks to Ignition, an industrial application platform from Inductive Automation. Inductive Automation refers to Ignition as “the new SCADA” because unlike SCADA software of the past, which tends to be built on technology sold under restrictive licensing arrangements, Ignition is modular, Web-based, and scalable. According to Inductive Automation, while old SCADA offerings might lock an enterprise into an expensive cycle of replacing obsolete technology, Ignition lets an enterprise expand its use of new technologies to increase innovation. From tracking downtime, to scheduling production runs, to track and trace, there’s something for just about everyone in the suite of modules that Ignition comprises.

“We were introduced to Ignition a couple of years ago, and we’ve now implemented it extensively across our plants from a mobile and KPI monitoring efficiency perspective,” says Chobani’s Hugh Roddy. “We’ve also integrated it with our ERP systems, our Purchase Order databases, and our MOC [Management of Change] processes. It’s a one-source tool to access all these things no matter where you are in the plant. The opportunities for what this system can do are endless. What’s even bigger and better for companies like ours is the pricing structure they offer. We bought a license for Ignition at each one of our facilities which gives us unlimited clients, and unlimited mobile stations, with no need to buy more licensing. We currently have anywhere from 50 to 100 people accessing the Ignition system at any given time.”

Predictably enough, the new Twin Falls plant has some pretty sophisticated packaging technology in it. A good example of this is the Chobani pouch line, where an SN machine produces 3.5-oz Chobani Kids pouches from rollstock, fills them with a squeezable yogurt , and caps them.

“In order to eliminate multiple HMIs on the filler room plant floor we implemented a mobile solution in order to allow ease of access and monitoring of our main process. Now our operators can see process states easily from their plant mobile devices.” Roddy explains. “No more wasted time and effort running back and forth to check on processing conditions. Because Ignition is Java based, there was no need to install additional software on these clients. With some other SCADA offerings, software installation can be necessary, or one would have had to arrange for remote desktop access to another server or VM and give the operator access to that.”

With passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the ability to trace all the steps of ingredient sourcing, product processing, and product packaging becomes a high priority for a food manufacturer like Chobani. Ignition offers a very good potential and cost effective solution to this.

The data being captured, by the way—which comes from a nearly unlimited number of devices, sensors, and PLCs on the plant floor--is conveyed via the industrial machine-to-machine communications protocol for interoperability that was developed by the OPC Foundation. Connectivity flows up to the enterprise, not down from enterprise or IT technologies. “We believe that’s the right way to go, because if it doesn’t work for the guy in the field, it doesn’t work at all,” says Inductive Automation’s Travis Cox.

“We’ve implemented plant floor KPI monitoring with Ignition on large flat screens on each packaging line,” says Roddy. “We have empowered our operators to drive results while also linking realtime data from our ERP system. We see the batch as it is running in real time.”

Another area that Roddy will expand upon in his TAC&E presentation has to do with how the real-time visibility into operational efficiency empowers operators to compete, in a positive and good-natured way, to be the best. “The information visible to everyone on the screens brings a positive energy to the plant floor. And all that information is just as visible to our people at headquarters in New York at the same time. All they need is the link and the security access codes and it’s as if they’re right there on the plant floor,” says Roddy.

One last comment from Roddy on what he’ll be discussing at AC&E.

“These days you can’t rely on just one source when it comes to controls and automation. Picking the best from multiple vendors is the way to go. So, for example, we’re also implementing trial projects with the latest software systems from Zarpac, Rockwell, and Wonderware, and all of these can integrate right into our Ignition dashboard. Again, great visibility in real time from the plant floor right up to the top allows much more efficient communication on all levels.”

The OEE starter tool and OEE benefit calculator: prioritizing improvements that deliver measurable results
Mark Hanley, Senior Asset Reliability Manager, Land O’Lakes

Another dairy industry representative scheduled for the AC&E is Mark Hanley of Land O’Lakes. Chair of the Operational Reliability Solutions Group of PMMI’s OpX—a community of manufacturing, engineering, and operations professionals dedicated to sharing and collaborating their way to operational excellence—Hanley has been deeply involved in developing the OEE Benefit Calculator and the OEE Starter Tool. His presentation at AC&E will highlight key benefits of both.

The OEE Starter Tool, says Hanley, is all about quickly calculating the size of the prize. He explains: “Suppose you’re not perfectly clear on what kind of savings you expect to gain by implementing the OEE Benefit Calculator. By entering minimal information into the Starter Tool spread sheet, you get a fix on the size of the prize if you improve OEE by X percent. You can apply the Starter Tool on a plant-wide basis or on a single packaging line. What it amounts to is it’s an inexpensive and convenient way to be able to go to top management and say with some certainty that this is the savings we can expect to achieve. If management likes what they see, you can move right into the actual OEE Benefit Tool, which is an OEE tracking and improvement program that provides a much richer and detailed look.”

Hanley is a big believer in the pervasively beneficial impact that improved OEE can bring to the enterprise. Its value extends to areas such as customer service and delivery, quality variation and defect loss, raw material scrap reduction, labor efficiency, and equipment repair and maintenance cost reduction. Figure 1 illustrates this pervasive impact, which extends from the plant floor right on up into shareholder value at the top.

“Everybody talks about being able to accurately know the savings you’ll get from a project rather than guessing,” says Hanley. “Here’s a tool that brings you the answers. Any Consumer Packaged Goods company out there that sees this should jump right on it.”

Those interested in taking a good look at either the OEE Starter Tool or the OEE Benefit Calculator should visit “Just enter company name, your name, and your email,” says Hanley.

Inside the convergence of information and operations technology at pinnacle foods
Matt Rung, Corporate Controls Engineer, Pinnacle Foods

Last but not least among the prominent speakers scheduled for presentations at the AC&E is Matt Rung of Parsippany, NJ-based Pinnacle Foods, owner of such iconic brands as Wishbone, Log Cabin, Duncan Hines, and Birds Eye to name just a few. When Pinnacle acquired the Wish-Bone brand from Unilever, the whole idea was to greatly automate the processing and packaging operations behind the well known brand. What that meant on the packaging side of things is two new PET filling and packaging lines engineered by Sidel. What it meant from a controls and automation perspective is a uniquely successful virtualized infrastructure where three host servers run multiple virtual machines. Essentially it’s a gateway-type concept that bridges the gap between Operations Technology and Information Technology.

Playing a key role in creating this gateway approach was ECS Solutions. What they and Rung came up with is an SQL server-based solution that is integrated with Pinnacle’s ERP system in such a way that production orders migrate electronically from ERP out to the processing and packaging lines. So the packaging lines know the formula and batch ID coming to them from the kitchen. And the packaging line operators know which bottles, labels, and caps need to be made ready. Once a pallet (packaging) or batch (processing) is completed , the system collects data on raw goods consumed so that the ERP system can be updated in real time This networked connectivity extends to the forklift operators who move pallets from the packaging lines to the warehouse, and a warehouse management application tells the driver where to put the pallet. The overall system was designed from the forefront for lot traceability.

System Engineer Erik Gross of ECS Solutions says he’s never seen anything quite like what Pinnacle has come up with. “We controls guys know all about data and how to collect and drive it,” he says. “But securing it in a place where corporate officers like the CEO or CFO can securely access it through one firewall while operators and manufacturing people can also securely access it on the plant floor through another firewall, that is quite unusual. Keep in mind, too, that we’re talking about a WAN here. It’s not a VPN, which lets corporate executives tunnel into one plant at a time. Those executives can see at once real-time data from all the plants.”

Rung describes the server and network architecture as something that makes it possible to converge plant-wide control systems with corporate data systems. Most important, he adds, “It was done with security foremost in mind, incorporating a defense in layers philosophy.”

Among the many benefits that accrue to the company is a reduction in errors. “It used to be that ERP would generate a production order for the day identifying X pounds of product,” explains Rung. “So you’d go down to the plant floor and manually enter that information. Now we are more error proof because we only have to enter that information once and it gets sent out through the control system instead of having to manually enter the information at different points in the control system.”

Like Chobani’s Roddy, Rung will also describe how Inductive Automation’s Ignition software fits into the overall scheme of automation. “Salad dressings have a lot of ingredients,” says Rung. “When a pallet of ingredients is brought into the kitchen, we scan the pallet tag so that the information about that pallet—ingredients, weight, lot number, etc.—is sent from the ERP system down to a database that the Ignition software reads and is able to track. You get so much information now on your control system that you just can’t leave it on a PLC anymore. It’s got to be taken back to a data base. Ignition is especially good at enabling you to extract that data without it just being a reporting tool. It’s highly interactive and is easy to program and show actionable information.”

For detailed information about the Automation Conference & Expo, including registration information, visit

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