Partnering with Tillamook Creamery

Claiming the role of the system integrator in the digital transformation.

By Michael Gurney December 18, 2019

Concept Systems and its engineering team have a long history of providing automation solution services to Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, Ore. The company asked Concept Systems to quote a retrofit to the two remote input/output (I/O) enclosures that tie together the I/O for their eight block towers.

The block towers are where the cheese curds are stacked; the pressure created by the weight in the tower melds the curds into a solid, which is cut off at the bottom to form a large block. These blocks are sent to storage to age before they are cut into smaller bricks or slices.


The primary goal was to remove the old hardware and replace it with I/O hardware, along with the associated antiquated network hardware/protocol. The hardware has long been obsolete, and the facility has already transitioned its programmable logic controller (PLC) over to a current platform.


Because there were only two remote I/O enclosures, each controlling four block towers, if one block tower went down, the whole enclosure would need to be shut down for repairs. This would take down the other three block towers and it would shut down the entire line.

Shutting down an entire line to retrofit one tower for a retrofit is costly because milk can’t be kept sitting around and the cows don’t stop producing milk. The threat of extended downtime meant this retrofit had many risks.

This set Concept Systems out to come up with a creative plan to minimize downtime. The typical method of executing these projects for Tillamook is to build a new enclosure next to the old enclosure, have all the wires ready to switch over and wait for some unplanned downtime event to occur — as in something else breaks and shuts the line down for a few hours.

In this case, the two remote I/O enclosures for the block towers each contained more than 600 I/O points. The work required to move and test each wire would be too much to fit into a small window of time using the traditional approach and would carry incredible risk of extra unplanned downtime, considering the quantity of I/Os needing to be transitioned.


For this solution, Concept Systems had to prepare to do the work when short maintenance windows became available. The engineers created an extensive plan that would allow for as seamless an integration as reasonably possible.

To ensure an efficient startup, Concept worked to coordinate a detailed installation, startup and commissioning plan. We collaborated to coordinate efforts and make the best use of the available downtime for the conversion. The purpose of the plan was to communicate expectations as early as possible in the project. The plan included key milestones, actions, dates and responsibilities.

During the job walk for the proposal, we investigated the I/O in the cabinet to determine what it was being used for. We discovered the bulk of it was being used for the operator panel and the valve panel at each block tower.

Our proposed suggestion was to upgrade each block tower operator panel and valve panel to a touchscreen human-machine interface (HMI) and an Ethernet valve bank before tackling the two remote I/O enclosures. These upgrades could be done sequentially and would only require taking down one block tower at a time, which could be done during planned downtime. Once these were upgraded, the indicator and pushbutton I/O were eliminated by adding an HMI to each tower and reducing the total I/O quantity required for this retrofit. This reduced the number of I/O points from 600 to 250.

All panels provided are subject to a thorough quality assurance and control (QA/QC) process. The QA/QC testing consists of more than 30 criteria. The results of the QA/QC process are recorded on a checklist, and no panel is shipped until it passes each criterion.

Increasing the scope to reduce the risk resonated with Tillamook decision makers.


The success of this project would not have been possible without the extensive preparation and detailed drawings from our field engineers. Seven of the eight towers were completed; the eighth is being planned for a future retrofit.

The HMIs gave the operators a clear picture of the operational status of the process with specific notifications about what’s going wrong on the line when trouble occurs.

The final solution required more upfront capital cost to get the operator and valve panels upgraded, as well as a longer-term execution plan, but ultimately Tillamook got what it wanted, a control system upgrade, retrofitted with as little risk and downtime as possible. This was a big relief to the folks at Tillamook, and exactly what we at Concept Systems strive for.

Partnering with Concept

Concept Systems came into this project as a partner. Tillamook had its own design strategy it wanted implemented. After learning the process and goals, we designed an automation roadmap that best fit Tillamook’s needs and goals. The work was a collaboration; Concept works as an extension of the team and a trusted expert.

We believe in more than just delivering a solution; we give our customers the ability to reach their goals. In another instance, with a fruit product producer, we started our relationship with the company not even being our end user. It was the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) provider.

The producer was impressed seeing our proposal and drawings shown by the OEM. We delivered a complete integrated solution that tied the OEM equipment together on a common platform through our project methodology — rather than OEM being delivered and integrating it all onsite — which resulted in the OEM and end user seeing their goals met in production in a timely, efficient fashion. We have since had more than five projects with this customer.

Our ability to partner with customers, along with our proven methodology, is key to our success as an integrator taking part in Industry 4.0.

Michael Gurney is president and CEO of Concept Systems Inc.

Concept Systems Inc. is a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more, visit the company profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Michael Gurney is president and CEO of Concept Systems Inc.