Yogurt plant improves active culture, technology

System integrator helps Chobani streamline operations to provide more flexibility and efficiency.

By Jim Meyers December 12, 2018

Chobani’s rapid rise to being the top Greek yogurt brand in America is due in part to its innovative ideas and use of technology to improve its processes. That’s especially impressive given that the company put out its first product just 11 years ago.

Like many successful companies, Chobani strives for constant improvement. That’s why it brought in system integrator Tamaki Control to help streamline its clean-in-place (CIP) scheduling system. Tamaki is a global industrial automation company founded in New Zealand in 1988, and has offices in North America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

The CIP project was for the Chobani plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. Opened in 2012, it’s the largest yogurt-manufacturing facility in the world. The project gave Chobani an advanced real-time scheduling and event-tracking system so it could easily visualize and share information about its centralized CIP system.

Tamaki leveraged Chobani’s existing Ignition by Inductive Automation software platform. With the new system in place, Chobani can operate its equipment washes more efficiently, update the schedule in real time, share data more easily with more people, and enjoy more flexibility for the future.

“It definitely saves us a lot of time each day,” said Ronnie Buschman, Quark separator lead for Chobani. “We’re able to coordinate with other departments that use our wash system when they need to wash. We can see if our lines are open, and we can actually add downtime for maintenance, which we weren’t able to do before.”

Big job: Visualization, controls

“Chobani needed a better way to visualize and interact with the schedule, update it in real time, and then communicate the plan to everyone,” said Leah Ackerman, automation engineer for Tamaki Control. “Operators in Chobani’s central control room are responsible for prioritizing and scheduling all of the equipment washes for the pasteurized side of the plant. There are over 150 pieces of equipment, each with multiple types of washes, spread across 25 different lines. All of these washes were being scheduled on a whiteboard. This worked, but a whiteboard gets messy and it doesn’t effectively communicate the schedule with everyone in the plant. And it was easy to accidentally overlook a scheduled wash, especially around shift changes when new operators would take over the schedule.”

Operators also had special circumstances that were hard to track on the whiteboard. They needed to prioritize certain washes for critical lines, schedule time for wash validations, and quickly deal with changing schedules and interruptions. Also, managers and operators from other areas of the plant would have to walk to the control room to see the schedule, which made it difficult to communicate changes.

Tamaki was able to leverage the software to give Chobani everything it needed. “Tamaki came in with this new project, and it’s made our jobs a whole lot easier,” said Harold Rodd, process supervisor for Chobani.

“The new system definitely makes my job a lot easier,” said Buschman. “I’m able to plan out my whole day on it. Anyone can make suggestions, and my whole team can look at everything I’m looking at, so there’s more than just one eye on the entire wash system.”

The new system also lets Chobani see further into the future. “Our whiteboard was not that large, so we were only able to plan out about half a day of washes,” said Buschman. “Now we’re able to schedule out 24 hours or longer.”

Step by step softwate setup

The foundation for the project was the software’s built-in equipment-scheduling component. Using Python scripting and SQL, Tamaki’s Ackerman made a basic scheduling system where operators could quickly add/remove and drag/drop CIPs to the appropriate lines.

After basic testing, Ackerman built a sophisticated event-tracking system to watch the status of washes and update the schedule in real time. If washes started and were not on the schedule, they were automatically added, and other washes behind them were pushed back. Using historical data from the washes, wash times were estimated and updated to provide more accurate information to the operators.

Downtime tracking and progress bars were added to the real-time schedule, and historical data was made available. Also, a tab was added to show equipment that would soon be dirty. The system also helps operators filter through the 150 possible washes and prioritize what comes next.

Since employees at Chobani were familiar with the software platform (Chobani uses it for a variety of functions in all three of its plants), they could easily communicate to Tamaki what was needed. “Chobani wanted to be able to see all of the CIP lines on one screen,” said Ackerman. “And they wanted to be able to drag and drop washes to different times and show their expected durations. Also, I wanted the layout to be familiar for the operators who’d been using the whiteboard. We decided that the software’s built-in equipment-scheduling component would be the perfect foundation, and we used its extension functions to customize the look and functionality.”

Strong results, real-time updates

The new solution enables better coordination between CIPs and production activities. “With real-time updates, it’s much easier for operators to keep track of the required washes on every line,” said Ackerman. “It’s improved their ability to make quick decisions in a fast-paced environment. And the scheduler creates data visualization that’s available to everyone, which keeps upstream and downstream operators, supervisors, and managers informed with just a glance.”

The schedule is updated every 30 seconds. Color-coding helps operators see important data quickly. Right-clicking on a wash reveals details and also provides opportunities to make changes. There’s also a dashboard that shows wash history. Washes are removed automatically from the schedule after 12 hours, but operators always can access the history.

Access to the wash history also helped solve water-hammering issues. “One of our projects with Chobani this year was to help reduce water hammer caused by slamming valves shut during washes,” said Cody Warren, automation engineer for Tamaki. “Chobani had a small instrument that could be clamped onto various pipes and tell us when pipes hammered, but before our event-tracking system, it was difficult to correlate what else was happening at the time. Once we had Leah’s scheduler, we could see a quick snapshot of what was happening, and then use Tamaki’s Plant Replay to identify the root cause of an issue and fix it.”

Another big plus is the solution’s flexibility. It easily can be adapted for other uses by Chobani. “For this project, we tracked washes, but we’ve anticipated the future need to track other events like production runs, movements, and downtime,” said Warren. “The database setup and table structure can be utilized to create a plant-wide production model.”

“Future extensions of the CIP scheduler could include automatic pre-selection of scheduled equipment in the control system, and reporting that would correlate CIP duration with alarm logs,” said Ackerman. “And machine learning could predict future performance, auto-schedule the washes, and auto-prioritize.”

Scheduling is crucial to all operations at Chobani’s plants, and this solution could be used by the company in other areas whenever the need arises. “From my perspective, Tamaki has really worked to try and give us everything that we need,” said Rodd.

“We’re absolutely very pleased with what Tamaki did,” said Buschman. “And they’re helping us with a lot more projects. Because we have such a good relationship with them, we’re able to do a lot more with this software.”

Jim Meyers is success manager at Inductive Automation.

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Jim Meyers is communications manager at Inductive Automation, creator of the Ignition industrial application platform for SCADA, HMI, IIoT and more.