How data is making a flour mill run smarter and leaner
Using analytics, data integration and advanced hardware helped a flour mill run smarter and leaner.
System integration insights
- Interstates developed a complete control system, drawing packages, network design and implementation, data collection and enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration for a flour mill.
- The operational technology (OT) team worked with an information technology (IT) team to ensure the network could handle all the interconnected devices and plant floor devices.
Advanced automation and analytics are paving the way at the flour mill in Florida where the client, Denver-based Ardent Mills, can access real-time information on batch samples, machine health and air quality through manufacturing analytics. As prices skyrocket around the globe, plant efficiency and cost savings are more important than ever.
Ardent Mills has over 45 facilities throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. With a new flour mill just south of Tampa, Fla., they wanted to try for something new – a paper-lite facility where information is collected and passed electronically instead of having operators manually enter data. The goal was to improve product quality, maximize equipment and employee efficiency, all through automation and data collection.
Interstates helped Ardent Mills achieve this goal through several key solutions, including the complete control system, drawing packages, network design and implementation, data collection and enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration. Approximately 20,000 data points were collected and acted on to help Ardent Mills run smarter and leaner.
Analyzing and adjusting product through automation
Ardent Mills relocated its regional production from downtown Tampa to a 10-acre property with interconnected buildings including a grain elevator, cleaning house, mill, warehouse, mill mix bins and storage. The greenfield mill facility boasts 17,500 cwt of daily milling capacity and produces all-purpose, whole-wheat, high-gluten, cake and bread flours. With grain storage capacity constructed alongside the mill totaling 4.1 million bushels, this project features one of the largest grain elevators of any mill in the United States.
Building this expansive facility was only part of the client’s goal; they also wanted to harness the power of analytics. Steve Neely, plant manager at Ardent Mills, said, “As we looked to build a state-of-the-art mill, we wanted to ensure we thought about how to leverage data to make decisions and continuously improve. Interstates helped enable our highest levels of automation information. This data includes online vibration detection, real-time quality analysis at all phases of our milling processing, run time analysis, predictive maintenance analysis and more. Keeping our values of trust, serving, simplicity and safety in mind, this data will help proactively prevent issues for our team members and help keep them safe, all while improving customer service and overall food safety.”
One example of using analytics and automation to boost quality was using in-line product analyzers by Buhler to check for certain attributes at different stages of the process. The analyzing begins at grain receiving, to first break to verify and control wheat quality to the mill. On the discharge part of the mill, the quality of the flour can be identified by product type per bin. Finally, in batching, the blends can be adjusted based on what is known in the source bins. Bryan Monroe, lead control systems analyst at Interstates, said, “This technology allows for a more consistent product along with less labor to adjust blends and collect samples.”
Another solution involved implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) samplers that track batches, runs and orders and automatically print sample labels with all the product information.
Monroe said, “This saves the operator time and reduces possible human error by relating specific sample containers directly to production data.”
Upfront collaboration aids data collection
The integrator’s knowledge of the plant and equipment aided in developing data integrations and plans for the plant’s operation and controls. Planning started almost three years ago with meetings among stakeholders to form ideas and long-term goals about achieving a paper lite facility and maximizing data collection.
Monroe said, “There was an extraordinary amount of collaboration with Ardent Mills. We made several trips to Denver to go over operation gaps, data and hardware opportunities, existing data and how to utilize it. Once we were all on the same page, solutions became natural and obvious. However, we continued to spend the next 18 months in close collaboration to make the systems and processes work seamlessly.”
Michael De Boer, automation manager at Interstates, added that Interstates implemented many of the ideas at existing plants as a proof of concept. “That way, the Port Redwing project would not be the first time this was done,” De Boer said.
The operational technology (OT) team worked with Ardent Mills’ information technology (IT) team to ensure the network could handle all the interconnected devices and plant floor devices, making several trips to their corporate office to work with their technology, operations department and Microsoft to develop final, effective solutions.
“For the data side of things,” Monroe said, “we worked with Microsoft and Ardent Mills’ data architects to build up the data storage concept standards surrounding data collection.”
A clear plan was formulated through weekly meetings, design sprints and testing. Working closely with electricians, controls engineers, project managers, programmers and the OT team also helped the process. This also helped make constructing for data collection go smoothly.
“We understand the plant and the equipment,” De Boer said, “and we were able to take their requests for information and put it into a usable format. If there were gaps, we installed more equipment in the plant to gather the data they wanted.”
Comprehensive tech solutions keep plant running smoothly
The facility utilized software to provide track and trace capabilities along with lot tracking, reporting, recipe management and deep integration with supplied equipment and linked it to the company’s ERP system.
Lot tracking and enforcing lot crossover allows quality control to track what was put in each load to ensure product safety. All product movement is transactionally logged, and various data points are collected to verify equipment performance, providing Ardent Mills with a comprehensive system to manage essential production information.
Another successful aspect of this project involved the mill’s massive input/output (I/O) and business network. “There were many things to consider in order to build a stable yet massive network,” Monroe said. “The control system is talking to many devices across multiple networks, collecting mass amounts of data at any given time.”
System integration makes production leaner and smarter
The data collected at the mill will help Ardent Mills predict failures and ensure the quality of its product. “Access to data within our milling processes allows us to proactively streamline and simplify, providing an improved and even more consistent product to our customers. The data gives us greater capabilities to execute with precision blending capabilities and allows our plant technicians to access real-time analysis where they can dial in blends to deliver maximum efficiencies,” Neely said.
Ardent Mills can now see real-time information like machine health, air quality, wheat quality, temperature and much more. This data gives plant personnel notice when equipment is about to fail, reducing downtime, and they can also automatically adjust the process to bring the product back into the centerline. Eliminating manual data recording and equipment adjustments makes their jobs easier and the entire plant more efficient. “This facility also collects data to fulfill EPA requirements. The devices store that information and can present five years’ worth of EPA documentation,” Monroe said.
Through this kind of extensive data collection, Ardent Mills will be able to run reports on mill uptime and see how well equipment is performing, allowing for more intelligent decision-making regarding equipment and processes. “We’re using data to perform proactive adjustments to their process in order to improve the quality of their product,” Monroe said. “That’s something that’s not been done before.”
Bringing all this information together to enhance so many different aspects of production and operations offers benefits every step of the process by giving personnel the information they need when they need it.
“Having the elevator inventory sync to the ERP system is just one example of how we are displaying real-time information that makes everyone’s lives easier, from the operator to the manager to the corporate office. They can all make smarter decisions because you’re showing them real-time information,” Monroe said.
Using data to make informed decisions is crucial in today’s manufacturing environment. To stay ahead of rising costs and material delays, companies must streamline processes and integrate systems when possible.
Bryan Monroe, lead control systems analyst, and contributing staff at Interstates Inc., a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Interstates is a CSIA certified member. Edited by Christina Miller, associate editor, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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