New Sugar Plant increases output, quality and productivity

  • July 29, 2013
  • Case Study

By Bill Lydon, Editor

The Louisiana Sugar Refining, LLC (LSR) completed a new plant, representing the single largest investment in America’s sugar cane industry in over 40 years. With a newly engineered Siemens automation system, the white sugar refinery is capable of refining two billion pounds of white sugar annually for distribution to commercial and retail customers throughout the United States. On June 24, 2013, I had the opportunity to tour the unique LSR plant in New Orleans, LA.

LSR was originally conceived in 2003 as a two-party venture between Cargill and Louisiana Sugar Growers and Refiners (SUGAR).  SUGAR is an organization that represents more than 800 sugar growers throughout south and central Louisiana to ensure the growth and stability of Louisiana’s sugar cane farmers. The new operation provides direct jobs for approximately 180 area residents with annual payroll and benefits of more than $15 million.

This plant was a cooperative $190 million investment made up of $90 million in owner equity and $100 million in revenue bonds issued by the State of Louisiana. Imperial Sugar was included in the partnership with the added purpose of maintaining the legacy of Imperial’s 110-year old Gramercy refinery by providing a guaranteed source of raw sugar and an investment mechanism for upgrading the Imperial refinery with new technologies and an improved infrastructure for efficient production. During construction of the new facility, the old refinery, which has been in operation since 1899, was operated to refine sugar and generate revenue.

Construction on the new refinery and improvements to the old Imperial facility began in February 2010, with a projected 18-month construction timeline based on 600,000 work-hours to complete. The phased start-up of the new refinery began on January 1, 2011 and commissioning of the refinery was completed December 1, 2011 with 148 employees. When fully operational, LSR produces two billion pounds of raw white sugar annually for shipment by rail and truck of bulk shipment of 50 pound and one ton totes. The refinery will continue to sell white sugar to Imperial for packaging and Imperial's own retail sales. LSR operates 24-hours per day, seven days a week.

Automation of the new facility has resulted in approximately a 20% reduction in the number of people required to run the refinery and there has been a large increase in quality. Steam use was dramatically reduced from about 1.25 pounds of steam to produce a pound of sugar to less than 1 pounds of steam with the implementation of new process methods and energy recovery methods.

Fast Track - Design & Build

This fast track project utilized a design/build strategy working with Siemens and other contractors on the team. By designing and building as the project progressed, they were able to modify the physical architecture, control and automation in phase 2 of the project as they gained experience while operating and maintaining phase 1. The team applied new controls and automation to improve the sugar refining process.Plant manager Jack Thompsoncommented, “Working in cooperation with Siemens, we will make this plant the most technologically advanced sugar refinery in the United States.” With the system operational, they are using the system to implement cost saving projects. System changes are accomplished with configurable software rather than code programming changes, allowing staff to quickly apply new improvements.

System Architecture

The system is built on Siemens PCS 7. Siemens provided the hardware, software, configuration services, cabinet integration and commissioning/start-up services. The backbone architecture of the system is Profibus PA running in a fiber ring configuration for redundancy. The system software is running on five servers with 10 clients. The system has 1,467 directly wired sensor/actuator points, 753 Profibus PA smart devices/ valves and 201 smart motor controls points. A particularly interesting monitoring problem was solved using Siemens SITRANS LR560 - 78GHz Narrow radar beam sensor to measure sugar levels that are constantly changing and made more difficult by sugar dust.


Ernest Garner of Louisiana Sugar Refiners gave a presentation at the Siemens summit and noted these lessons learned:


  • Validate each Profibus segment with ProfiTrace (
  • Rigorous training for Electrical & Instrumentation Technicians
  • Make sure instruments are placed according to tag and labeled clearly


  • Let someone that has never done it before design the Profibus network.

Thoughts & Observations

This is an impressive project technically and from a project execution point of view. Fast track, design/build projects are challenging and require partners that can work together in a mature, cooperative manner.

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..