The H.P. Hood plant at Oneida, NY, shifted from a batch to a continuous process for standardizing non-dairy creamer production with a skid-mounted Digital In-Line Blending system designed and installed by JCS Controls, Inc. (Rochester, NY). The new system boosts production by 30% in only 43% of the original batch-process time, reduces non-dairy production labor by 60%, reduces energy consumption by 20%, and eliminates rework.

Non-dairy creamer demand formerly exceeded the plant's ability to batch and process. Although the plant was producing non-dairy creamers seven days per week, production fell behind whenever maintenance was required on process equipment. JCS Controls conducted an engineering study to determine how the plant could change its batching process to increase production, and/or accommodate the large family of H.P. Hood products (including heavy cream, light cream, whipping cream, half-and-half and at least 20 products co-packed for others.) JCS then proposed a three-phase retrofit project which would ultimately resolve all processing and product conflicts for both dairy and non-dairy products. The first phase, completed this year, removed non-dairy production from the batch process and applied continuous Digital In-Line Blending to non-dairy products.

In the former process, product components were batched in either of two tanks, then the batch was heated, homogenized, cooled and stored prior to UHT processing. The homogenizer and plate heat exchanger were the factors limiting production. JCS recognized that the existing equipment could be better used in conjunction with a Digital In-Line Blending skid. After presenting the proposed system to Hood and one of its major customers, JCS conducted a successful pilot run, then built and commissioned the new system in a five-week fast-track project.

Pre-blends of concentrated solids are batched in two pre-blend tanks and used for extended production runs, reducing the load on batch-room operators. The pre-blend stream is then blended in-line with water, soybean oil, corn, sucrose and/or HFCS to make that portion of the product which requires homogenizing. This blend is heated to desired homogenizing temperature, homogenized, and additional water for the finished product added downstream of the homogenizer.

Because the sugars, syrup and oil in the unhomogenized blend are hot, the small plate heat exchanger preceding the homogenizer is retained, maintaining an economical level of added heat. Because the water added downstream of the homogenizer is maintained at cool temperatures, product cooling requirements are reduced.

Production rates increased from 356 gpm to between 456 and 1,000 gpm (averaging 656 gpm, depending on product). Overall energy consumption was reduced, since production is now completed in three days rather than seven, and product quality is maintained to Hood specifications.

Digital In-Line Blending is defined by JCS Controls President Philip R. Frechette as a mathmatical algorithm-based control scheme which integrates the demand and measured values of components and sub-components within an ingredient stream, and manipulates component flows which have the greatest effect on each other.

Digital In-Line Blending utilizes currently available instrumentation technology, such as flow meters, to accurately measure process parameters. The system then couples these measurements with the floating-point math capabilities of PLCs executing advanced algorithms refined by JCS Controls to produce the desired tight-quality results.