The automation value proposition for today’s manufacturer is a healthy one, with enterprises targeting more connected plants and tighter supply chain integration. Global spirits producer Edrington is no different.
The company began expanding beyond its Scotch whisky roots in 2008 when it acquired a leading producer of rum. Then in 2010, the Cutty Sark brand and numerous vodka spirits were added to the portfolio. The exponential growth in spirit offerings has led to high-volume production challenges at its Great Western Road facility in Glasgow, Scotland, and also a desire for better efficiencies.
To find that efficiency, the company upgraded its SCADA platform to better manage its large tank farm that holds spirits ready for final mixing.
Edrington enlisted Elite Control Systems, which provides integration services for numerous industries, to modernize its SCADA control platform at the bottling plant. The objective was to redesign the company’s liquid handling system that uses Siemens hardware and software to reduce operator time on routing batches for blending and preparation.
The new platform includes four programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and safety controllers, and supports all whisky operations in the four main areas of the plant: two whisky supply sections, a tank farm and vat room. Each of those four blending areas has a dedicated PLC that controls valves, motors and pumps.
“Different routes and recipes are generated by master blenders for each spirit, which means thousands of possible routing combinations from many different tanks,” says Juan Carlos DiBella, engineering manager at Elite Control Systems. “However, the main concern for the system is to transfer the spirits safely and accurately.”
Operators rely on the liquid handling system to mix different spirits, select batch recipes, and implement the right amount of filtering, caramel additions or demineralized water for each vessel. This process includes the ability to measure the correct color and strength for different batches.
Two whisky supply areas—blend areas 1 and 2—contain products from casks and tankers that are the most valuable products at the plant, according to Elite Controls Systems. The tank farm section holds high-demand spirits, mostly for The Famous Grouse whisky.
Each tank throughout the Great Western Road plant has temperature and level sensors that communicate to each PLC via Profibus. The plant uses 12 WinCC PC clients to monitor and control these processes.
One reason for the SCADA plant upgrade was to remove manual routing from the process. Before the upgrade, routing product to a production line used to mean manually adjusting a series of valves and pumps that could require up to several days.
“Operators can now select a certain amount of product from multiple vessels and the SCADA platform, via the SQL database, will select the proper valves for that route,” DiBella says. “The entire routing can be done in one execution, with operators simply selecting a source, destination and the amount of spirit to transfer. Operators can execute more than 5,000 types of transfers.”
Elite Controls also provides ongoing support for Edrington and assists in the creation of new routes for operators. “If we have to create a new route, we do that only in the database,” DiBella says. “We don’t have to touch the SCADA platform or the PLC.”
In addition to automated routing complexities, the SCADA investment has led to better enterprise reporting and thorough safety monitoring for the entire process.
Edrington produces highly flammable spirits, so valve control is closely monitored with low-power solenoid valves to meet European Union (EU) explosion prevention standards. “If the system detects a level change in a vessel due to a valve being open or failing, the system highlights it and stops the process, avoiding any loss of product or any contamination,” DiBella says.
With the exponential growth in products, enterprise monitoring is vital. This new platform allows for real-time monitoring via an internal web portal so management can also view tank levels, transfers, final product and routes.
The SCADA upgrade was the first component of the plant modernization project at the Great Western Road facility. Other components include optimization in enterprise reporting and overall processes.