A Taste of Chocolate Manufacturing

April 3, 2012
Visitors to the Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction at The Hershey Company’s corporate headquarters in Hershey, Pa. can become custom candy makers and get a taste of the complexity inherent in confection manufacturing.

Designed to immerse guests in the chocolate-crafting process, the interactive experience allows guests to create their own recipe for a souvenir candy bar, (type of chocolate, choice of three toppings from six ever-changing options). The final product comes wrapped up in distinctive packaging that visitors also can design after watching their concoction come together on the production line.

Each step in the process is visible and virtually seamless. “If something goes wrong in a typical manufacturing plant, only a few employees see it,” said Herman Rhoads, senior staff engineer. [This] attraction, on the other hand, gives everyone an inside look at our operations, and really intensifies the need for smooth, streamlined production.”

When the production line was developed, the initial concern was ensuring that every guest received the bar they customized. The production system also needed the ability to process orders from the retail system, which included kiosks where guests place their orders. Rhoads and his team also had specific metrics to reach regarding budget, timelines and performance.

Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation (www.rockwell.com), Hershey’s automation vendor for nearly 25 years, provided the controllers, servo drives, networking technology, software and support needed for the attraction’s production system.

The Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system brings together all aspects of the production line. A variety of Allen-Bradley CompactLogix and ControlLogix controllers provide the right level of performance, along with tight integration between the programming software, controller and input/output (I/O).

An SQL server acts as the hub of the process, interfacing with both the production and retail sides. Software in the guest kiosks modifies the retail system’s order to create a custom production order. Then, FactoryTalk Transaction Manager software extracts the guest name and barcode from the SQL server for the production line.

“Marrying the IT-managed, retail system to the production system was a first for us, and a rarity for most manufacturing environments,” Rhoads said. “The key to facilitating this real-time flow of information between the two environments is the ability of Rockwell Automation products to interact with the SQL server.”

Rhoads and the team worked closely with their information technology (IT) department to make sure orders correctly correlate with each guest. They chose EtherNet/IP as the link between the two worlds, following the IT department’s lead to implement a secure system that protects the integrity of the retail data. Using procedures and firewalls, Hershey’s IT team controls who has access to the process. For example, users can’t go from the process network to the retail system.

On the manufacturing line, the candy bar production process begins with the bar de-stacker, which picks plain bars of chocolate out of a magazine and puts them onto the manufacturing line. At the heart of this pick-and-place application is a Kinetix Integrated Motion solution, which uses an Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controller, Allen-Bradley Kinetix 6000 multiaxis servo drives and Allen-Bradley MP-Series servo motors. Kinetix Integrated Motion provides a single, integrated solution for multiple disciplines, without additional robot and safety controllers, software and special custom-function blocks that are typically needed when incorporating a robot into an application.

As each candy bar moves down the line, its creator watches it on a display screen. The extra ingredients are added before the bar goes through the enrober, which blankets it with more chocolate. The conveyor then whisks it into a cooling tunnel to set the chocolate and finally to a cartoner that completes the process.

Using a common architecture allows Hershey to easily integrate the enrober, the cartoner and other machines into this platform. Operators can easily take the programming and Allen-Bradley PanelView human-machine interface (HMI) screens from these machines, and bring them into the line’s overarching programming environment; in this case, it’s FactoryTalk View Site Edition HMI software.

Hershey’s Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction successfully opened on May 26, 2010.  “We completed the project on time and within budget, while hitting the performance goals initially set for this project,” Rhoads said.

Hershey and Rockwell Automation made the tight timeline work, teaming up to install and wire everything in under two months. The Rockwell Automation Global Solutions team acted as the primary system integrator, programming the HMI system, bar de-stacker and the custom-made smart belt. They simulated all parts of the equipment, and Hershey’s Chocolate World went from I/O check to production in just two days. GES Technologies, a local system integrator, designed and built the panels, as well as helped with installation.

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