Data: It Does a Milk Producer Good

Transforming raw materials into a variety of milks and ice cream mixes, Agropur lacked the data needed to improve its operations. An integrated control and information system from Rockwell Automation provided the needed visibility.

The dairy industry has long been at the forefront of using Big Data to breed the best cows for milk production. But when it comes to turning that milk into other products, like cheese or butter or ice cream, the data needed to optimize production can be lacking.

That was the case not long ago at the Agropur Dairy Cooperative, which works with more than 3,000 dairy farmers to transform some 1.5 billion gallons of milk each year into a variety of dairy products. Agropur’s largest facility in Don Mills, Ontario, turns raw ingredients into various types of milk and ice cream mixes, pasteurizing, processing, and packaging enough dairy products to fill at least 30 trucks each day.

Though machines and controls kept production running, the Don Mills facility struggled to turn data into the information needed to continuously improve operations. “All the requests from operators and managers throughout the year required 2,500 hours of manual, post-shift data entry,” says Headley Hamilton, industrial process manager at Agropur, describing the labor-intensive process. “And demand was growing. When I considered the future of the facility, I knew we needed modern technology.”

With some of the automation systems nearing obsolescence, Hamilton was spending too much of his time putting out fires—dealing with nearly daily reports of equipment issues or downtime—rather than turning his focus to automation improvements.

If the system did crash, it was difficult to know where the latest backup was. “With seven maintenance laptops across the facility, there was no way to know whether or not you were rebooting with the most recently modified program,” he explains, also noting that the old system was backed up only once per quarter. “You can’t optimize a plant when playing catchup.”

New control system and OEE deployments enabled Agropur Cooperative to benchmark production capacity for its process lines. Source: Rockwell AutomationNew control system and OEE deployments enabled Agropur Cooperative to benchmark production capacity for its process lines. Source: Rockwell Automation

Planning for the future
Hamilton knew he needed a standardized, plantwide platform—one that could seamlessly share intelligence and learnings across facilities. Agropur opted for an integrated control and information system from Rockwell Automation, deployed by Grantek, a solution partner in Rockwell’s PartnerNetwork program. “We saw it as the best solution for modernizing our facility from the receipt of ingredients to the moment end product heads out the door,” Hamilton says.

The platform included Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controllers, PowerFlex drives, and PanelView human-machine interface (HMI) hardware from Rockwell. Each HMI ran Rockwell’s FactoryTalk View Site Edition software on a virtualized server, establishing the standard for all additional software. This created the foundation for converting Agropur’s data into actionable information.

To get the most out of the new control platform implemented as part of the project, FactoryTalk Metrics software measured overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which could be used to benchmark production capacity for the process lines. The system collected performance data that could help determine whether another processing line was needed to increase capacity or current equipment still had capacity.

An aggregation and analysis system would then help operators visualize data from the various sources across the facility and provide reports as needed. But Agropur first reduced the growing complexity of the new control system by installing FactoryTalk AssetCentre software to manage automation assets, ensure version control, and keep up-to-date documentation. The seven maintenance laptops spread across the plant were also reduced down to one.

“The initial control and OEE deployments laid the foundation at Don Mills. FactoryTalk VantagePoint software from Rockwell Automation then provided a new level of access to all data from disparate systems across the entire facility,” Hamilton says. “The software exposed what occurred on the plant floor to the employees in charge of making continuous improvements.”

Supervisors were also able to check status updates and see how production was running, and email reports were automatically sent for each shift, with updates about the process.

Continuous improvements
Various teams at Agropur have been able to use the new intelligence for making continuous improvements to their production processes. For example, by creating benchmark reports and estimating the benefits of new hardware, one team was able to achieve a 30% reduction in lube consumption for the lines.

“Having data at hand becomes the route to insight for any facility, and it’s recognized by everyone,” Hamilton says, emphasizing the benefits of information to make decisions. “On one filler alone, we’ve improved efficiency by 25% over a three-month period.”

Visibility was also the key to reducing downtime. Before making equipment investments for production lines to increase processing, supervisors could identify opportunities for increasing capacity. One discovery was that lunches, breaks, and meetings caused more than 33 hours of downtime. Changes to scheduling made employees’ time more productive.

Hamilton is looking to make access to the data even easier through mobile capabilities. “Information-based collaboration and decision-making have quickly been adopted, and now we want to take our common platform further,” he says. “Exposure to information throughout the facility on mobile devices is the future of real-time manufacturing intelligence.”

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