Rice Mill Upgrades Operations With Modern SCADA

Aug. 14, 2018
California Family Foods responded to the ever-changing food and beverage landscape by adding a new SCADA platform from Inductive Automation as part of a comprehensive plant upgrade at its northern California processing facility.

The transition to real-time visibility of production data in a food manufacturing environment can be an arduous task. But a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) platform is laying the foundation for this kind of visibility and future growth for one such enterprise: California Family Foods (CFF), a rice mill and storage facility that dries and stores more than 200 million lbs of paddy rice each year.

Based in northern California, the food manufacturer manages about 10 percent of the state’s rice crop each year, and has many moving parts at its facility, including receiving, mill operations and packaging. To provide better plant data recognition in real time and a foundation for future enterprise software integration, CFF selected Inductive Automation’s SQL-based Ignition SCADA platform.

“We’re going through a multi-year process of upgrading all our equipment and automation systems, and Ignition is a big part of that,” says Dave Volkman, engineering and safety manager for CFF. “It’ll allow us to control everything from receiving through the packaging and out the shipping door—all with one system.”

Modesto, Calif.-based system integrator Industrial Automation Group is helping CFF to implement Inductive Automation’s SCADA platform and enable additional software modules for a more extensive monitoring stack that includes vision, alarm, reporting and historian modules, and a SQL bridge. Inductive Automation’s platform also provides footing for better integration to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

“Before the plant monitoring platform, only operators had visibility into the equipment and production numbers,” says Austin Bartholomaus, controls engineer at Industrial Automation Group. CFF wanted more visibility with weigh scales and motor diagnostics, and to also gain the ability to view what conditions caused alarms and downtime, he adds.

The SQL bridge module, for example, provides programmable logic controller (PLC) synchronization with databases through bi-directional mirroring, and notes any value change in the PLC or database. The bridge modules enable this functionality via standard web technologies and other database-compatible front ends.

Combining Inductive Automation’s historian engine with its SQL database-based platform enabled CFF to monitor discrete operations—including the orb tank management system, milling, weigh scales and others—in one integrated view.

Streamlining the food stream

CFF receives large volumes of paddy rice delivered by trucks and weighs these shipments at the facility’s scale house. Drivers receive a ticket and route the load to a specific receiving pit, where the rice goes through a scalperator to remove blanks and straw.

The SCADA platform’s bridge module streamlines this process by querying data from the scale house database to create the pit ticket. “Before the platform arrived, this was a manual process,” Volkman says. “Now, our receiving process has become a lot smoother and much more organized.”

CFF’s milling process features multiple pieces of equipment located on three stories to clean the rice kernels for packaging. Equipment includes a husker, destoner, scalperator, precleaner, sizer, sorter and cleaner.

The Vision Module in Inductive’s platform provides operators the ability to control milling and packaging equipment from tablets. Its reporting capability produces details about metal detector rejects, as well as inventory reports for finished-goods tanks and second-heads tanks, paddy receiving scan times and the packaging lines. Plus, the system now provides yield reports for different varieties of rice.

“Before, we were always in the control room,” says Efren Maldonado, process shift supervisor at CFF. “Now I can just grab the tablet and go wherever I need to go and control all the same processes.”

“The platform allowed CFF to remove Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Word documents that the operators had to use every day,” Bartholomaus says. “Reports are now found in one central location.”

Manual entry is limited and features operators copying numbers from the SCADA platform’s reports to forms designated by quality assurance and operation personnel.

With comprehensive reporting in place for most of the facility, packaging production also runs better because of improved real-time communication from processing. While the milling process is constant—three shifts at eight hours per day—the packaging department accommodates that volume with five packaging lines. The new platform allows packaging line control and reporting, with operators now able to view tank status, level and product type from the finished goods tanks.

“In 2019, we’ll also revitalize our packaging department,” says John Konkle, director of operations for CFF. “The upgrades will add more automation and controls that we plan to connect into the SCADA platform to do the data collection and the analysis work.”

Besides the upgrades in its packaging, receiving and milling process areas, CFF is also in the initial phases of researching different ERP systems and investigating better overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) reporting. The intent is to integrate the SCADA platform with the ERP system to accurately track product throughout the milling process, according to Industrial Automation Group.

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