You may be able to use a spreadsheet or home accounting program to get your household finances in order. But, there are so many places for cash to evaporate in a food or beverage plant, that unless you are using an integrated software system to track and focus every process, you may never know if leaks exist. But an integrated software system that covers from the “top floor to the shop floor” is somewhat elusive for many processors, especially those running several disparate software systems that contain their own data (data silos) and are not interconnected.

A recent ARC survey, “Automation Expenditures for Food & Beverage Industry Global Market Research Study,” found the major areas of focus in food and beverage manufacturing are margin protection and cost containment, followed by innovation and time to profitability, food safety, more sustainable manufacturing focused on energy usage and waste reduction and minimizing brand risk.

Almost all the opportunities and challenges the study listed revolve around containing costs. Some of these include:

• Addressing the fluctuating prices and availabilities of commodities

• Reducing energy/utility costs

• Finding and evaluating new technology to support innovation and speed time to market

• Finding and evaluating technology to improve manufacturing efficiency and effectiveness

• Reducing changeover time

• Reducing manufacturing cycle time

• Supporting future manufacturing requirements

• Supporting ever-expanding manufacturing and business automation systems and networks.

“The highest costs our customers deal with—especially on the processing side of the business—are [raw] material variance and base price,” says Brandon Henning, Rockwell Automation MES product manager. “Yield is a critical analytic every customer of ours is looking for. The other is run-to-order, the supply chain metric showing how efficiently you’re running your orders.” This metric lets processors understand how to create a make-to-demand supply chain that shows in details how orders are proceeding and what lines can run the orders most efficiently without overproducing or missing order targets, adds Henning.

Harris Ranch, located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, distributes its products to retail and foodservice markets in the US and around the world, but it needed to determine the proper balance of product types to avoid production shortfalls and overages. To do this, the beef processor began to look for ways to optimize the use of raw materials, cut costs,  increase current production levels at a decreased cost per unit and implement software modules that would fit into an already existing system.

It installed Infor’s Advanced Planning and Demand Planning modules, which integrated with the Infor Adage already in place. Now, Harris Ranch has real-time data-driven statistical forecasts that determine how many raw materials are needed and how many of each product needs to be packaged to maximize profits. The new system enhances trim/cut optimization, improving production plan adherence and reducing waste.

“Infor solutions have enabled Harris Ranch to significantly reduce costs through accurate materials projections,” says Randall Dehart, Harris Ranch IT director. “Harris Ranch now saves at least three cents per pound by optimizing the usage of raw beef for grinding, which creates a substantial expenditure reduction when dealing with millions of pounds each month.”

“I believe the major drivers for containing costs are process efficiency and recipe optimization,” says Mike Edgett, Infor industry & solutions strategy director—food and beverage. “Process efficiency is more than simply yield, though. For a manufacturer with multiple SKUs, it also comes down to the daily schedule to decrease downtime, changeover time and expense.”

Most top-tier manufacturers have embraced advanced scheduling tools specifically designed for the unique requirements of food processing. In other words, they consider variables such as shelf life, tank scheduling and catch weight, says Edgett. “Recipe [or formula] optimization means continually revising your formulas to take advantage of the lowest-cost ingredient of comparable quality. To expedite this, companies with multiple SKUs and complicated recipes have adopted specialized PLM [product lifecycle management] software.”


The right tools improve efficiency, hold down costs

There are many aspects to getting control of costs while improving process efficiency, sustainability and food safety. “Process control, instrumentation and data collection provide foundational visibility and real-time deviation awareness,” says Bill Schiel, Invensys director, global technical sales. Isolating the key performance indicators (KPIs) from this “big data” is another aspect and requires two things: First is a means of putting the data into the context of the operation. For example, a temperature trend is useless if it’s not associated with an operation to give it context. “Was the temperature trend the result of a heat phase, or was it the result of hot water entering the vessel for cleaning? Each is valid in its context,” says Schiel. “The second aspect of controlling costs while improving efficiency is having the automated means of making people aware of deviations [or leading indicators] and a workflow to prevent or resolve the resulting problems.”

“In terms of containing costs, food and beverage manufacturers can improve equipment efficiencies, minimize disruptions and reduce waste in their production processes without sacrificing quality and food safety,” says Katie Moore, GE Intelligent Platforms global industry manager. Increasing production and equipment reliability with automation and driving continuous improvements through the use of the right system tools help minimize process interruptions and improve product quality. The very same data captured and reported for quality improvements can also be linked to efficiency data. Manufacturers can then use that data to drive improvements in equipment, line and plant efficiencies while monitoring their effect on quality. In addition, processors can gain insight into their processes by automating real-time data collection for visualization. Enabling operators to make decisions based on this improved data visibility empowers them to address small issues before they escalate into bigger problems, and even predict problems before they occur, according to Moore.

Model predictive control (MPC), a form of advanced process control (APC), can help streamline operations when a variety of products must be produced on the same equipment. “MPC reduces process variability and inefficiency, improves product consistency and allows operations to push constraints to the limits,” says John Genovesi, vice president, general manager, Rockwell Automation Information Software and Process Business. Using hybrid modeling, Rockwell’s MPC solution incorporates all available knowledge about the process to deliver broadly accurate, robust models.

MPC software also can be combined with other information software solutions, including Rockwell’s CPGSuite MES and FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI to establish connectivity from the production floor throughout the enterprise. This improves control over scheduling work orders, tracking material and leveraging improved process visibility to identify unnecessary waste or inefficient work cells. While MPC may not be necessary for every application, it is a proven tool for some. Genovesi lists them:

• Spray dryer control: When converting liquids to powders, MPC helps tightly control the evaporation process based on actual, local conditions to improve yield, throughput, capacity and energy efficiency.

• Standardization control: Direct quality control of product composition can reduce giveaway of more expensive ingredients while maintaining tight, consistent product quality.

• Software continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS): MPC software provides a cost-effective alternative to hardware-based CEMS. A software CEMS cuts down on maintenance and consumable costs associated with hardware sensors and lab calibration. It can also maximize monitor uptime while reducing false alerts and periods of non-reporting of emissions data.

• Ammonia compressor optimization: A multiunit MPC system can optimize dispatching, loading and process set points for multiple ammonia compressors to reduce energy consumption and improve overall temperature consistency.


MPC software curbs energy costs on whey drying operation

Valio, one of the largest whey powder production plants in Finland, recently increased its production by more than 10 percent—without investing in any hardware or using more energy in the process. The production of whey powder is a complex and energy-intensive process, and it’s particularly important to control the moisture content precisely.

“[One one hand], too high water content causes stickiness of the whey powder that can disrupt or even stop the production,” says Antero Ylitalo, Valio production manager. “On the other hand, if the powder is too dry, it generates dust and uses excess energy.” The moisture content of the product is set within a spray dryer in the final stage of the production line.

“The critical thing is controlling the spray dryer’s load and the hot air streams in an optimal way,” says Ylitalo. “We needed to keep the moisture content of the final whey powder product very close to its target regardless of the process conditions, while taking into account the dynamically changing multiple process constraints.”

An advanced process control (APC) solution was implemented at the production plant. It consists of two tools included in Neste Jacobs NAPCON Suite. The NAPCON indicator calculates the material and energy balance information and sends it to the NAPCON controller, the multivariable model predictive control (MPC) software package, which is optimized for controlling processes with cross-dependencies.

Once installed, the APC solution automatically controlled the process, significantly increasing the factory’s production. At the same time, the risk for system downtime due to bag filter clogging was reduced.

“We considered several APC providers but became convinced of Neste Jacobs’ expertise and the features of the NAPCON Suite technology,” says Ylitalo. “We are currently planning to implement APC technology in other production plants.”

For more information:
Jaakko Nauha, +358 50 458 7534,

Start at the controls level

“It is rare to find a food processor with a homogeneous control architecture,” says Maryanne Steidinger, director, software product marketing, Invensys. “Normally, they have a mix of automation suppliers, OEM providers and some homegrown applications thrown in from various departments that are purpose built for MES [manufacturing execution systems], reporting, etc.”

One way to simplify controls hardware is to combine the functionality found in several specialized controllers (e.g., PLCs, PID loops, motion control, etc.) into a single device in a box or rack. Depending on the supplier, there are many different names for this approach, which often is simply known as an automation controller.

Beckhoff refers to its approach as the “Power of One.” “This multi-core-enabled industrial PC can handle most or all of a process, including process control, PLC, motion control, HMI and even robotics on one device,” says Joe Martin, packaging and converting manager, Beckhoff Automation. “This eliminates the need for additional controls hardware, which naturally will bring down costs and result in fewer potential points of failure.” In addition, this hardware connects to shop floor and MES systems through standard, vendor-neutral connection technology such as OPC-UA (OLE for process control, unified architecture).

Without a single, unified architecture, it’s not uncommon for data and information that can be used to make cost improvements to reside in multiple, varied locations or silos (PLCs on different machines, spreadsheets at operator stations, disparate systems like LIMS, etc.) from different vendors with varied adherence to standards like OPC-UA, ISA-95 and/or ISA-88, says Moore. Integration tools that bring a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to the factory floor have reduced the impact of this problem. For instance, GE’s Proficy SOA platform enables disparate data sources to be mapped through virtual ISA-95- or ISA-88-based data models, eliminating the need to develop multiple integration points from factory systems to a single master quality system as an intermediate step to sharing data, according to Moore. This open, layered approach allows processors to take advantage of the collected data from the shop floor and move it into upper level systems such as MES and ERP.

The path to driving incremental value and achieving cost-containment goals begins with building a foundation. Manufacturers need to collect the right data and be able to store it. Plus, they must have a way to visualize the data in context and be able to deliver it to the right people at the right time. A data historian, according to Moore, is the foundation for all operational excellence strategies. In many cases, this functionality can reside close to the shop floor in an MES since most of this data is considered real time. But that is not to say some ERP systems are not capable of presenting this data the same way.

Many machine makers have already done their homework and provide connectivity to shop floor and higher-level systems. For example, Allpax provides complete, ready-to-go retort systems that include the software tools required for validation and operation. “We can provide sophisticated software that simulates critical food safety deviations for ongoing validation at a defined frequency,” says Greg Jacob, Allpax Products general manager.

More importantly, a retort doesn’t have to be a disconnected information silo. “Over Ethernet, we can write to most common databases for the collection of production efficiency data and as a management aid for plant visibility,” adds Jacob. “Since we already log information from the process for batch records [automated batch recordkeeping per 21 CFR Part 11 is recommended], alarm logs, process trends, etc., this information is readily available to historians and common repositories.”

Automating a manual retort operation cuts costs in many ways. Taking a plant out of a manual retort operating scenario and implementing automated material handling, retort control and recordkeeping save energy and can eliminate the need for up to 20 or more employees, while improving production efficiency, product output and food safety, says Jacob.


ERP or shop floor level?

ERP systems are known for their ability to handle accounting and inventory, but they can also handle other metrics that are especially important in the food and beverage industry. Examples include following up on employee training and certifications, making sure key employees are trained and certified in the appropriate areas of food safety, and managing asset and equipment operation, according to Webjorn Bergmann, senior client manager, IFS North America. Some ERP systems can also consume the data stored in shop floor historians and use it to manage overall equipment efficiency and asset management, adds Bergmann.

From the same process control system data collected from the Rockwells and ABBs of the world, an ERP system tuned to the food industry can track quality and throughput, and determine if there is a maintenance or operator issue. It also can perform a cost analysis and determine the right course of action. For example, is there an equipment issue? Is the equipment obsolete, or does it need to be replaced? Or, could it be a training issue? Do operators need to be better trained on managing a line?

“When you’re talking about integrating an environment, you have to be cautious of where the separation of data is, and what KPIs you’re trying to produce and at what level of the operation,” says Rockwell’s Henning. Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is an example of what Henning thinks should remain within the confines of the plant floor automation system. The reason he cites is that real-time data comes off the process control equipment, and passing it up to an ERP and having it do all the analytics is not an effective use of either the shop floor or ERP system. Processing this OEE data is more efficient at the shop floor/MES level.

However, where an ERP system becomes invaluable to an operation, says Henning, is when analytics concerning material consumption and raw material variances are concerns at a much higher level than just a data perspective. “Here an integrated environment is key because the ERP generally has the understanding of the cost recipe, the amount of material to be used and the variance analytics.”

“If a company has a [existing shop floor] system, a natural progression would be to integrate the plant production and operations systems with the business system,” says Invensys’ Steidinger. In a successful integration, the processor can track work orders, material consumption, product quality and shipping information—then feed it back into the ERP and understand some of the ripple effects that could occur from instances such as line stoppages, quality issues, material shortages, etc. when it comes to order fulfillment (order to cash flows). “It is a straightforward [integration] task, which most competent system integrators and automation firms can easily implement, either with the tools they have created or those from third parties,” adds Steidinger. The complexity depends on the age of the ERP, the availability of interfaces and the amount of integration desired.

Heaven Hill Distilleries was in need of a new ERP system to manage costs and automatically track raw materials. “We found that we were using more structures, routing and shop orders instead of recipes and process-related functions,” says Allan Latts, director of corporate planning. Latts also realized his company needed a batch-oriented system to fit in with the methods used to produce spirits. The distiller chose IFS because it had the modules currently needed, and more could be added later as the company grew. Since installing the system, its finished goods inventory has gone down as much as 20 percent.

“We have reduced the required order lead time by up to 30 percent as a result of the improved planning and operational capabilities the new system provides us,” says Latts. “Our problem is a matter of making time on the line—balancing inventory, changeovers and the capacity our lines have so we get everything done on time.” 


For more information:

Maryanne Steidinger, Invensys, 949-639-8713,
Bill Schiel, Invensys, 949-727-3200,
Brandon Henning, Rockwell Automation, 440-646-3434,
Mike Edgett, Infor, 678-319-8000,
Katie Moore, GE Intelligent Platforms, 800-433-2682,
John Genovesi, Rockwell Automation, 330-486-6000,
Joe Martin, Beckhoff Automation, 952-890-0000,
Greg Jacob, Allpax Products, 985-893-9277,
Webjorn Bergmann, IFS America, 888-437-4968,