Raising the bar on batch processing

Automation software increases blending efficiency for flour processor.

Small quantities of specific seasonings are added by hand. Operators monitor and verify these hand additions right on the InBatch workstation screens. Source: Wonderware.
A company whose flour and cake mix business is definitely on the rise, Washington Quality Foods' production is about 95 percent flour-based. Located in Halethorpe, MD, the company consumes approximately five million bushels of wheat a year to make its flour and flour-based products. That volume is expected to increase as the company transforms a former brewery building into a new plant facility.

When Washington Quality Foods purchased the building, management installed all new equipment, including 25 silos for storing ingredients. Six of these silos contain more than one million pounds of flour while the others store ingredients such as sugar, salt and dextrose. "In designing this facility, our production and research people went through two years of production history to see what we use and how we use it," says Tony Murray, director of information technologies for Washington Quality Foods. "We came up with about 16 ingredients other than flour, and we built a tank farm to house those ingredients so they can be conveyed to the mixers automatically."

In fact, when Washington Quality Foods started to install its new mixing and packaging equipment, it selected the FactorySuite automation software from Wonderware Corp. (a unit of Invensys Software Systems) for more effective management of its complex batch process for ingredient blending. "We deployed these systems because we wanted software and equipment that would allow us to significantly increase our production capacity while continuing to guarantee quality, consistency and reliability in our production processes," says Michael Everett, Washington Quality Foods' vice president and chief operating officer.

The InTouch human-machine interface system helps operators run the plant while the InBatch batch management system automates processing custom-ordered product batches and maintains genealogy records on every batch produced. Washington Quality Foods also uses an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from the Baan ERP unit of Invensys to handle customer orders and create production schedules to fill them.

For Washington Quality Foods, a typical batch is about 5,000 lbs. Pre-mixed formulation additions are stored in large tubs, each labeled with a precise content ID for the particular batch it holds. Flour is transferred via air conveyor pipes into the mixing tank, but tub additions are poured in manually. Once the automatic mix cycle is completed, the batch is discharged into a tote bin for transfer to the appropriate packaging line.

Quality control tests are run on every batch prior to packaging. Once a product tote has been approved for packaging, it's elevated two levels to the plant mezzanine area where it's gravity-fed to the packaging lines below. Throughout the process, everything is tracked-from incoming ingredients to outgoing finished goods.

"With our new automation system, our development engineers can work closely with customers to help them develop new products that can be produced cost-efficiently," says Everett. "If a product uses dry ingredients that can be blended in a dry mixer, we can do it for our customers."

For more information:

Eric Talbott, Wonderware Corp.,

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