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Del Monte's Hanford, CA plant hosts a 1.2 megawatt SunPower solar installation. In the inset is a small section of the Kingsburg, CA 759 kw system. Source: Del Monte Foods. 

Harnessing the sun to the tune of 1.9 megawatts

Del Monte Foods and SunPower Corp. dedicated a newly installed 1.9-megawatt solar power system at two of Del Monte’s manufacturing plants, representing the largest solar rooftop system in California’s Central Valley. The system is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 95 million pounds over 30 years-equivalent to planting 9,800 acres of trees or not driving almost one billion miles on California roads, according to conversion tables from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Del Monte estimates the system will deliver approximately $500,000 in savings on electrical costs in the first year of operation, and $25 million over its expected 30-year lifetime.

The dedication took place at Del Monte’s Hanford, CA plant, which hosts a 1.2-megawatt SunPower solar installation. At the company’s Kingsburg plant, just 33 miles away, SunPower designed and built a 759-kilowatt installation.

“With this new solar power system at our Hanford and Kingsburg plants, we recognize Del Monte’s continuing commitment to environmental sustainability and the communities in which we work, a commitment that literally extends from the fields to the grocery shelf,” said Del Monte Foods Chairman and CEO Rick Wolford. “Since our beginning 150 years ago, the sun has fueled the growth of our fruit and tomato products. It will now help to power our California canneries as well.”

The new system features a combined 9,080 solar panels, covering nearly 200,000 square feet of rooftop. The system will produce enough energy to power approximately 7,500 homes over the next 30 years.

AS/RS: Next-gen lift trucks save energy

Automatic storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) automate much of the pallet moving and storage work of lift trucks, and they do it in a fraction of the space and without the damage to people and products. Global food companies intent on lowering labor costs have embraced AS/RS, but in North America, “It’s still a question of, ‘Can we justify the investment?’” laments John Hinchey, vice president-sales at York, PA-based Westfalia Technologies Inc.

The economics of AS/RS look best when frozen or refrigerated perishables are involved. High bays and narrow aisles can slash energy costs 20 percent or more, says Hinchey. One of Westfalia’s earliest US installations was at Hershey Creamery Co., a Middletown, PA, maker of ice cream novelties. Even with 500 pallets a day moving in and out, Hershey reports that the AS/RS has not endured a single day of downtime.

Energy savings are less dramatic in ambient environments. Space limitations pushed Premium Waters Inc., a co-packer and private-label bottler of drinking water, to consider an AS/RS at its Douglas, GA, facility in early 2008. The system resulted in “a marked improvement in safety due to significantly fewer forklifts being used,” notes Plant Manager Dave Bauereis who ranks this improved safety as the biggest system benefit followed by product quality issues (elimination of damage), efficiency and better space utilization.

During summer peak periods, the facility operates with four forklifts. Without the AS/RS, Bauereis estimates a fleet of 10-12 trucks would be needed. But that savings is dwarfed by quality issues. “When we go to ship, the system automatically pulls the oldest product first,” he says. Automatic FIFO ranks “near the top of the list” in his calculations of system payback.

In this Unitherm test kitchen sequence, red bell peppers enter a roaster (upper, left), pass over a flame (upper, right), exit the roaster with blackened outer skins (bottom, left) and leave the process with the outer skin removed (bottom, right). This process achieved a roasting rate of 7,000 lbs per hour within four hours of testing. Source: Unitherm.

Test kitchen equipment: Try before you buy

Food processors often find themselves purchasing big-ticket production line equipment (such as ovens, dryers, chillers, etc.) without having had a chance to run a product through the equipment. Equipment suppliers are responding with the creation of technology centers and test kitchens to let processors better match their product to the process.

The most complete examples of these test kitchens allow food processors to test cooking, freezing, slicing, breading and other options and to optimize the equipment and the process before they spend any money.

“The future of food process machinery processing is going this way, where the customer can demand to go into a kitchen and actually try out its product on the machinery,” says David Howard, CEO of Unitherm Food Services (Bristow, OK). “Only then can they feel confident that the equipment best serves their operational parameters and expected results.”

Unitherm recently joined the relatively small group of equipment manufacturers that feature fully-equipped test kitchens. These test kitchens should be set up to resemble a high-quality food factory, says Howard. Testers should change into a smock and boots and put on a hair net, then proceed to a hand wash station. The kitchen should include fully operational production equipment.

According to Dave Bertsch, manager of JBT FoodTech’s Processing Tech Center, the facility hosted 100 customers and 250 activities in 2008. The Tech Center’s kitchen (fully operational plant capabilities) is used by customers, suppliers/partners and internal departments to run equipment evaluations and product tests, for example, new food products and proof of concept processes. Food products tested come from all categories in the industry and include poultry, vegetables, seafood, dairy, packaged meals, beef, pork, Tex-Mex, Asian, etc.

The kitchen's staff can test products and ingredients for a customer without its presence and report back on the initial findings through video conferencing. When the process has been fine-tuned, the processor makes the trip to the kitchen to learn more, says Bertsch. Convenience foods and more efficient processes have been the focus for manufacturers, and Bertsch adds there is much interest in improving the sensory characteristics of existing products, primarily color and appearance.

Howard can be reached at 918-367-0197, and Bertsch can be reached at 419-627-4321.

Automation News

Pay as you go software lets users spend an affordable monthly amount rather than coming up with a large sum for hardware, software, implementation and maintenance costs.

SaaS: Pay as you go software

As the Internet becomes faster and more robust, software as a service (SaaS) is becoming a delivery medium of choice for certain applications. Already in use for online banking, the SaaS concept allows users to log on and dig into their bank accounts.

Borrowing a concept from the old mainframe days, SaaS pretends to be a new concept but really hearkens back to the lease or “pay as you go” concept. What’s different is the delivery vehicle-the Internet. According to John Chlopek, CEO – North America, CSB-System International, the SaaS model commands commitment from both vendor and client. The vendor must be comfortable with the transition away from the standard software licensing model in addition to budgeting for the investment in infrastructure and support that is required to host client solutions. The client has the potential to utilize an enterprise solution as a “utility,” thus reducing the initial capital expenditure (hardware/software) typically required for the system use. On the downside, says Chlopek, the client must cope with the fact that its data will be hosted at a remote facility in comparison to, for example, a locally hosted client/server environment. Fee-based training is required to properly use a SaaS solution just like a locally-hosted solution.

According to Johann Heydenrych, director of industry solutions at itelligence Group, SaaS is an absolute reality for the future. The revenue band of companies participating in ERP selections continues to get smaller, and those companies cannot pay a substantial amount of money up front for a software implementation plus hardware, hosting and long-term support. The trend is clear, and SAP has picked up on it with its Fast Start product. The customer pays a fixed, monthly fee that incorporates the initial software costs, implementation, hosting costs and the long-term support.

“SaaS is absolutely the future,” says Paul Hernandez-Cuebas, CEO, Integrated Management Solutions. “That’s because of the new economy. People don’t want to make capital investments on servers. Why do I want to buy something that needs to be babysat, fixed and played with?” adds Cuebas.

According to Joe Buzzanga, product manager for Elsevier’s illumin8 product, SaaS is an ideal solution for researchers looking to find information faster, especially when used as a tool for open innovation. Because this research tool has the ability to reach out into the Web, as well as other multiple proprietary sources, it frees innovators from the constraints of traditional software.

In illumin8’s case, SaaS is much more user-friendly for researchers because it reduces set up time. Instead of owning patent-specific software and multiple individual journal subscriptions, users can find actionable information immediately through an off-site accessible Web-interface. This is a huge plus in today’s mobile business environment, where people in different countries can be collaborating on a project. By having a research tool that resides on the Web, team members can collaborate and share findings in real-time, no matter where they are located.

According to Peter Brandt, VP industry solution marketing, SAP, the ability to offer SaaS is critically important to reach the lower end of the marketplace. But it’s even more important for global SAP customers. A global organization has subsidiaries that are really small companies, and they can’t necessarily take the big SAP platform and deploy it globally in every location, says Brandt. Therefore, SAP has to provide the abilities for a Nestlé company with limited IT capabilities in a country like Cambodia to be able to connect back to headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland. A SaaS platform over the Internet makes this happen.

Automation executives to meet at ISA EXPO

The International Society of Automation (ISA) will host its 3rd Annual Automation Executive Summit on October 7, 2009, at the Reliant Center in Houston, TX. The summit will take place during ISA Expo (Oct. 6-8) as part of an expanded set of offerings called Automation Week.

The 2009 Summit agenda will help facilitate discussions around advancing the course of the automation profession by promoting workforce development in multiple areas, including public advocacy and government relations.

More than a dozen corporate executives from around the world took part in last year’s Automation Executive Summit. The executives focused on workforce development issues, including the development of an automation engineering curriculum and public advocacy for the profession.

For more information, visit ISA.

ODVA chooses new leadership

Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA) has chosen its leadership for the upcoming term, including its board of directors, officers and representatives to its technical review board. ODVA’s new directors include Dave Dodds, vice-president of sales and marketing, Numatics; Michael Höing, vice-president of the electronics business unit at Weidmüller Interface; Frank Kulaszewicz, vice-president and general manager of the Logix-Netlinx business at Rockwell Automation; Chet Namboodri, global director of manufacturing and energy industry solutions at Cisco Systems; Cyril Perducat, senior vice-president of system consistency and innovation at Schneider Electric; and Yukio Tanaka, senior manager of business partnering and alliances at Omron.

Cyril Perducat, Schneider Electric, succeeds Douglas McEldowney, Rockwell Automation, as president of ODVA. Frank Kulaszewicz, Rockwell Automation, will serve as treasurer, and Rich Harwell, Eaton Electrical, will serve as chief technology officer. Katherine Voss will continue to serve as executive director and secretary of ODVA and is responsible for general management of the organization.

Representatives on ODVA’s Technical Review Board for the new term include Rudy Belliardi, Schneider Electric; Paul Didier, Cisco Systems; Jeff Jurs, Omron; Damien Leterrier, Molex; Jörgen Palmhager, HMS Industrial Networks; and Dave VanGompel, Rockwell Automation. Rich Harwell, CTO, will chair the TRB.

For more information visit ODVA.

SERCOS International to release encoder profile, open source driver library

In consultation with users and suppliers, SERCOS International (SI) is developing a specification for an encoder profile for the SERCOS III real-time Ethernet protocol. It is expected to be available in November 2009, along with a conformance test being developed in parallel to ensure interoperability of different devices.

In the first and second generation SERCOS interfaces, absolute and incremental encoders were connected to the servo drives or to the control system via a separate fieldbus, and not directly to the real-time bus. Because of the universal use of real-time Ethernet-based SERCOS III, there has been a demand to directly integrate encoders into a SERCOS III network. The new encoder profile ensures that the functions (absolute or relative) are made available via clearly defined vendor-independent interfaces. The profile defines the functions supported by a device and how these functions may be used by other devices, such as control systems or servo drives.

SI also will provide an open source software driver library for the SERCOS III real-time Ethernet communication system master implementation. The driver software will be available as source code, without any license fees or usage limitations.

SI is cooperating with the Open Source Automation Development Lab (OSADL) to disclose the SERCOS III master driver. The OSADL eG is an international cooperative that promotes and coordinates the usage of open-source software for machine and plant control systems.

Food Safety News

Food safety collaboration called for at all levels of government

Recent Salmonella outbreaks involving peanut butter and fresh produce underscore the need to repair gaps in state and local food safety programs and integrate them better with federal food safety efforts, according to a new report from the Department of Health Policy at The George Washington University (GWU) School of Public Health and Health Services. The report, Stronger Partnerships for Safer Food: An Agenda for Strengthening State and Local Roles in the Nation’s Food Safety System, was prepared with input from state and local officials including the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

The report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, calls for leadership by Congress and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to build an integrated national food safety system that effectively uses the best science and public resources to prevent foodborne illness.

“State and local agencies occupy the critical frontline in the nation’s food safety system,” said Michael R. Taylor, former FDA and USDA official, research professor of health policy at the GWU School of Public Health and Health Services and one of the report’s authors. “Food safety reform at the federal level will be incomplete and insufficient unless it strengthens state and local roles and builds true partnership across all levels of government.”

Although food products are regulated on the federal level by FDA and USDA, local and state health departments have long been the backbone of the nation’s food safety system, with primary responsibility for illness surveillance, response to outbreaks and regulation of food safety in restaurants, grocery stores and many food processing plants. At the local level alone, the report says, there are approximately 3,000 public health agencies involved in food safety. State-level departments of health and agriculture, as well as public health laboratories in most states, add to the complexity and fragmentation of the system, as does the important role of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which interacts with agencies at all levels.

“The report highlights how local health departments protect people every day by helping to keep their food supply safe, whether they purchase food in a restaurant or store,” said Robert M. Pestronk, executive director of NACCHO. “At the same time, the report reinforces the need for an effective partnership among, and a greater allocation of resources to, federal, state and local government agencies.”

In addition to outlining the current roles of federal, state and local agencies in protecting Americans against foodborne illness, the report makes detailed findings on the strengths and weaknesses in the current food safety system. For example, the authors note progress in how federal, state and local agencies collaborate to detect foodborne outbreaks, but also find that state and local agencies are hampered in their response to and prevention of outbreaks by lack of focused federal leadership.

The report also suggests the establishment of a network of regional, federally-funded foodborne outbreak response centers to ensure an integrated “systems” approach to investigations to prevent far-reaching foodborne illness outbreaks (such as this winter’s peanut butter outbreak or last summer’s pepper problems). Each center would be staffed with a multi-disciplinary team of federal, state, and local epidemiologists, environmental health officials, regulators and communications experts to mount an effective response to outbreaks and conduct follow-up investigations to improve future prevention efforts.

For more information, visit the Food Safety Research Consortium’s Web site.

FDA strengthens safeguards against "mad cow disease"

The FDA issued a final regulation barring certain cattle materials from all animal feed, including pet food. The final rule further protects animals and consumers against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as “mad cow disease”).

“This FDA action serves to further protect the US cattle population from the already low risk of BSE,” said Bernadette Dunham, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “The new rule strengthens existing safeguards.”

The measure builds on FDA’s 1997 feed regulation, which prohibited the use of certain mammalian proteins in ruminant feed.

The materials that can no longer be used in animal feed are the tissues that have the highest risk for carrying the agent thought to cause BSE. High risk cattle materials are the brains and spinal cords from cattle 30 months of age and older. The entire carcass of cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption also is prohibited, unless the cattle are less than 30 months of age, or the brains and spinal cords have been removed. The risk of BSE in cattle less than 30 months of age is considered to be exceedingly low.

The removal of high-risk materials from all animal feed will further protect against inadvertent transmission of BSE, which could occur through cross-contamination of ruminant feed with non-ruminant feed or feed ingredients during manufacture and transport, or through misfeeding of non-ruminant feed to ruminants on the farm. The added measure of excluding high-risk materials from all animal feed prevents any accidental feeding of it to cattle.

The regulation finalizes a proposed rule that FDA issued for public comment in October 2005. The final rule is effective in 12 months, which allows the livestock, meat, rendering and feed industries time to adapt their practices to comply with the new regulation. Under the new requirements of the final rule, renderers that process cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption must make available for FDA inspection their written protocols for determining the age of cattle and demonstrating that the brain and spinal cords of cattle have been effectively removed.

SCS auditing program achieves ANSI accreditation

Scientific Certifications Systems’ (SCS) independent food safety auditing and assessment services conducted on behalf of Safe Quality Foods standards (SQF 1000 and SQF 2000) have been accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to ISO/IEC Guide 65, an internationally recognized performance standard for third-party certification bodies. SCS’s approach is focused on risk prevention-incorporating risk assessment to determine which products and processes represent the greatest risks. The assessments provide adequate time to conduct audits to prevent shortcuts from being taken and ask the right questions about potential vectors of contamination and security breaches. In addition, SCS provides verification through lab testing services.