Manufacturing News

Automated batching the recipe for product consistency

March 29, 2003
/ Print / Reprints /
ShareMore
/ Text Size+
In an effort to promote recipe consistency and speed production of its products, ice cream maker Blue Bell Creameries recently employed automation software from National Instruments to control the batching system in its Brenham, Texas, plant.

The software Lookout employs object-based architecture to control the mixing of flavors and ingredients for ice cream maker Blue Bell Creameries.

In the past, Blue Bell mixed much of its ice cream recipe manually, creating potential for human error. The new automation software, named Lookout, has virtually eliminated such problems by removing mechanical switches and counters from the system. Because the software automates the batching system, Blue Bell can concentrate its efforts on maintaining product quality.

Featuring object-based architecture, Lookout allows Blue Bell to control the exact percentages of fat, butter fat, milk and other ingredients the company uses to create its products. Once Lookout appropriates the correct ingredients from the control room interface to mixing tanks located on the floor, the initial mixture is blended. Using the automated production system and Lookout, Blue Bell produces three mixes at a time and can make 10 to 12 different flavors year round.

Replacing ineffective automation has also boosted Blue Bell's production.
Blue Bell uses a Pentium computer running Windows NT that connects to a TCP/IP Ethernet hub. The Lookout PC communicates over TCP/IP to Siemens TI545 controllers to call up recipes for different ice cream flavors. The application currently has 171 preset I/Os, two screens and two programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Lookout has a driver for the Ethernet card and interfaces with Visual Basic to couple with PLCs from the TI545 that control valves, pumps and mixers.

Lookout connects be-tween the Visual Basic package and PLCs for three blend room units, which draw and mix ingredients. Unit one has a single blending operation with one pasteurizing section, while the second unit controls two blending and one pasteurizing section. The third unit is a processing sequence run in manual. The PLCs are polled every three seconds, and the system responds rapidly to commands. Blue Bell can input a command in Lookout and then watch while the system responds.

While the system is running, Lookout communicates with unit one or two, directing how to adjust preset counts for meters that tie directly into PLCs. The data is then logged to a material usage database so Blue Bell can keep the proper amount of seasonal inventory. In addition, Lookout's graphic interface allows the lab to monitor all three blending operations at once. Operators use a human machine interface (HMI) to begin the process of drawing raw ingredients and mixing.

When the process is complete, operators push a confirm signal in Lookout to verify that the batch has been made. Once Lookout stamps a batch as complete, it then informs Visual Basic that the batch is made, marks the batch as complete, and queues the next batch. Blue Bell sends the interface I/O to a Visual Basic application via a dynamic data exchange (DDE) link. Visual Basic, having had mixes input by lab personnel, then prepares batches that are loaded into I/O. Next, Lookout notifies Visual Basic when batches are completed, and Visual Basic records raw material usage and completion times data for the inventory system.

Blue Bell has found that Lookout helps minimize modification to internal information systems and keeps costs low because it integrates well with other applications. With this flexibility, Blue Bell can import material usage and completion times data into an internal inventory system for easy bookkeeping updates.

On the basis of its success with Lookout in its Brenham plant, Blue Bell has begun implementing the system in its Broken Arrow, Okla., and Sylacauga, Ala., plants.

National Instruments, 11500 N. Mopac, Austin, TX 78759. Tel. (512) 794-0100.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.

Multimedia

Videos

Image Galleries

Plant of the Year 2014

Blue Diamond Growers was chosen as Food Engineering's 2014 Plant of the Year. The Sacramento-based company is the world’s largest producer of almonds and almond ingredients.

Podcasts

Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts

FSMA Audit

What is the is most important step you have taken to become ready for a FSMA audit?
View Results Poll Archive

Food Engineering

FE September 2014

2014 September

The September 2014 issue of Food Engineering explores how lean manufacturing, quality improvements and increased automation helps processors meet rapidly changing demands. Also, read how robotics, advanced machine controls, software and OEE are just a few of the tools that can boost productivity on packaging lines.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

THE FOOD ENGINEERING STORE

Food-Authentication-Flyer-(.gif
Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!

Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit www.foodmaster.com to learn more.

STAY CONNECTED

FE recent tweets

facebook_40.pngtwitter_40px.pngyoutube_40px.png linkedin_40px.pngGoogle +