Dairy processors should use automation in two ways. One is to optimize ongoing operations, of course. This can also help plants become more environmentally friendly. The other time to use automation is before construction of a facility even begins.
As manufacturers ramp up their spending to build plants, they should also build a digital twin of the plant in in the cloud, creating a long-term simulator for their plant that will help future projects, modifications and upgrades. This can help them test plans and make adjustments to reduce operating costs, increase uptime and even save money on equipment that might not be necessary.
An automation how-to
Everyone on the project team building a solution can feed work into the cloud platform for software development. They should then test the final solution, installing the complete automation software on the site servers and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) before shipping them to customers.
The whole automation can be turned on once it arrives on-site in a plug-and-play format. This reduces the time for installation and setup on-site.
These cloud automation solutions can be put into hibernation mode for months or even years, keeping user from paying for the cloud rental. That means when customers require a change, the system can be modified, testing and optimized again in the cloud before making any changes.
We recently did this at SPX Flow when a customer needed an ultra high-temperature skid. Rather than have an individual engineer install the software on the machine and, perhaps, have a second desktop computer running a simulation of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), these real computers and their simulation were placed on a cloud-based machine. From there, our subject matter expert worldwide collaborated, dropping in for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the need.
Implementing the solution
All cloud operations, of course, are strictly separated from the customer’s production system. When developing, testing and modifying solutions, we generate input data such as tank level, throughput or temperatures from the traditional simulation tools. The virtual PLCs can’t detect the difference, so all work can be done in a clean, safe environment.
This helps us test solutions both for effectiveness and for user-friendliness before they’re applied to the customer’s automation hardware. It greatly reduces downtime and risk.
Even factory acceptance tests (FATs) can now be done remotely via the cloud. Having the cloud image, we can partner with customers to easily add machines or modify the line setup at any stage of production, testing the full integration before attending site for a shutdown.
Optimize and modify
A growing number of manufacturers also use automation and real-time data reports within the automation system to optimize the production line.
In one case, a customer’s finance leader grew alarmed that a production line began consuming more electricity. As we spoke to the production manager, the real-time reports identified the problem stemmed from a sequence of products that were no longer being heat-treated efficiently.
We helped the team see the need to alter the sequence. It removed several intermediate clean-in-place (CIP) cycles, lowering energy consumption.
That example of removing CIP cycles highlights how automation is one of the most critical ways for dairy processors to improve the sustainability of their operations. Automation shows the sources of energy usage, utilities and waste. It helps us find what we call the “golden batch.” For dairy processors, that can mean making a liter of milk with the minimum production downtime and the minimum usage of utilities and water.
Automation solutions — especially the ones before construction — can help dairy processors drill down to better analyze their machinery. We’ve seen cases, for instance, where one homogenizer uses 20% more energy than another. The reason: The homogenizer using more energy was left idle more frequently. That meant it consumed more electricity while ticking over on recirculation.
Would you pay $10 million for a machine and use it only 80% effectively? That would give you only $8 million return on your investment!
If that doesn’t seem like a wise purchase, then you need automation.