Automation has its perks

Web-based plant architecture improves rework and variance rates for coffee producer.

Staff in the Realcafe control room can review real-time and historical data with its new automation system. The system was installed without shutting down the production process. Source: Emerson.
"Justifying investment in automation has been difficult due to perceived cost/benefit ratios, the historically low profitability of the Brazilian coffee producers and the complexity of the automation equipment," says Raimundo de Paula Soares Filho, executive vice president of Realcafe soluvel do brasil, based in Vitoria, Espirito Santo, Brazil. "Some coffee producers have invested in automation by focusing on controlling a few unit operations, such as packaging. However, plant-wide automation and information technology infrastructure have been missing. As a result, automation investment is primarily occurring, if at all, on a piecemeal basis."

Realcafe is part of the Tristao Group of Companies, one of the largest conglomerates in the Brazilian coffee industry. During an instrumentation and control tradeshow in Sao Paulo, Realcafe came up with the idea of installing a plant-wide automation system. Company executives had three critical considerations: cost, simplicity and ease of use. Any new equipment purchases had to be affordable due to budget constraints. And, the system had to be simple and easy to use. "We had a 30-year-old plant operating on manual control," says Soares, "so the level of in-house expertise available to engineer a highly sophisticated automation system was almost non-existent."

After considering several systems, Realcafe selected PlantWeb digital plant architecture provided by Emerson Process Management Systems. The new architecture included an all-digital DeltaV automation system with embedded data historian software. The system is based on an intuitive personal computer/Windows platform and automatically acquires data from the process or externally, stores the data in a database and makes it available to users via the web. Process measurements, such as temperatures, pressures, flows and levels are acquired using the Foundation fieldbus standard for field instrumentation.

Realcafe was further interested in the system's predictive technologies such as predictive control and maintenance. For example, predictive maintenance software allows communication with intelligent field devices using Foundation fieldbus protocol, which enables the system to predict potential process problems before they cause a production shutdown.

"We can also answer queries from customers. For example, as part of his audit, one customer wanted to know the exact values of a certain temperature of a certain process during his coffee production. We were able to provide them with the data and they were impressed with our quality control procedures," says Artur Jacbonia, Realcafe's IT manager.

Currently, 90 percent of the plant is under control of the new system and Realcafe intends to bring the remaining 10 percent under the same infrastructure. Able to reduce its rework by 60 percent and dramatically reduce process variance, the plant has become a powerful sales tool. "I simply go to my control room when I receive visitors from other industrialized countries such as Japan, Germany and America. I show them a few display screens and everybody leaves here super-impressed. It has become so easy to sell the plant today, thanks to our new system," says Soares.

For more information:

David Holmes, Emerson, 512-418-7536

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