Better Data Analysis Increases Efficiency at Coffee Plant

  • August 07, 2014
  • InduSoft, Inc.
  • Case Study

By John Hawkins, Manufacturing Systems Manager, Mother Parkers Canadian-owned Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee is one of the leading producers of quality tea and coffee products in North America. In June 2001, the company opened a new $25-million, 100,000-square foot greenfield plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The highly-automated plant's initial capacity to roast, grind, blend and package private-label coffees was 20 million pounds per year (Figure 1). Figure1: Mother Parkers opened its Fort Worth plant with expansion in mind. Three years after plant startup, we added a new packaging line to expand the production of private labeled cans of coffee. This line consisted of used equipment that needed to be retrofitted with a modern automation system. We also faced the additional challenge of integrating various types of equipment from different manufacturers to achieve our company's goal of consolidating information into our corporate database to improve productivity, cut waste and improve quality. Tracking Production by Individual Runs Mother Parkers selected GEA Industrial Automation of Texas, a high-tech distributor and control systems integrator, to install the new line and integrate the automation system. GEA was chosen because they are a local company with many years of experience, particularly when it comes to integrating disparate systems into a coherent whole. When implementing the automation system for the new line, GEA's primary task was to make package filling more precise, thus reducing product give away.  The new system would also have to enable workers to track waste. Furthermore, production data for each shop order needed to be collected and exported to the company’s central database. GEA worked with us to add an Omron PLC to the packaging line as the first major automation task.   The PLC contains a few hundred I/O and controls the can rejecter and other line operations. It sends alarms to the human machine interface (HMI), and allows technicians to view status of the I/O, historical weights and production data. Weight target data is automatically transferred from our MES system to the PLC via the HMI based on what item the line is running, instead of requiring manual operator input as was required with the old automation system prior to upgrade. The PLC controls all phases of the operation for the entire packaging line. It reads data from an online scale, sets the revolution rate on a feed auger to control the amount of product dispensed into the can, and then adjusts the speed of a filler unit. It also controls and monitors the vibrator used to settle product into each coffee can. In order for the PLC to easily communicate with the database, a PC-based (HMI) was added. The HMI runs InduSoft’s Web Studio software, and communicates to the PLC via Ethernet. Now when a production run is completed, the PLC sends a Boolean flag indicating the data is ready to be exported to the HMI. The HMI detects the flag, gathers the production data from the PLC, and publishes the data as a report to a Microsoft SQL Server database via an ODBC connection. This enables each item to be tracked by a SKU. Native Drivers Deliver Easy Interoperability There were two decisive factors that drove selection of the InduSoft Web Studio HMI software. The first was that it included over 240 native drivers to enable communications with PLCs and other automation equipment for all leading manufacturers in its base package at no additional costs. The second deciding factor was the very reasonable cost price per license compared to comparable HMI software platforms, which was critical as we wanted to use the selected HMI on all the lines in our facility, both existing and new. As the plant grew to include more lines, it required a platform capable of maintaining a consistent look and feel for the HMIs used by all operators, regardless of the hardware used in the machine. The ability to use the same HMI package with a variety of PLCs, controllers and other automation hardware on each line made achieving this goal easy. This was a big improvement over prior operation where each line wasn’t integrated with the rest of the plant’s automation and information systems. Due to this lack of integration, local line operators didn’t know if other portions of the plant were down or not, and couldn’t adjust accordingly. Also, filler adjustments were done manually, so there was operator error that we had to contend with. Since Mother Parkers had the initial HMI application installed, the most significant benefit is our staff can now associate data with a specific production run, making it possible to know the precise costs associate with a particular blend of packaged coffee. They can also determine exactly the amount of coffee given away inadvertently, and make adjustments to get closer to target weights (Figure 2). Figure 2: The new HMI system is integrated with the plant's MES and ERP systems to easily exchange data, such as being able to trace data by individual SKU number. Expansion to Additional Lines InduSoft Web Studio is currently used on 17 packaging lines, most of them installed over the last few years, and serves as the plant's SCADA platform, with one PC-based HMI per line. Since the initial installation of the upgraded automation system, subsequent enhancements to the project have more closely integrated the HMI with the plant MES and ERP systems. This has substantially improved tracking, monitoring and analytic capabilities. Post production and real-time data is sent to the ERP system, which stores the transaction data and postings. One reason the system has been so easy to expand are the customization and development tools provided with the HMI software. For example, the log window and remote database spy make it possible to rapidly de-bug changes to the application. Other tools help us quickly deploy the latest versions and patches on each of the 17 HMIs. Another improvement to the previous systems is the ability to maintain a consistent look and feel across the different packing lines despite the use of machines and automation equipment from different manufacturers. By largely standardizing on Omron PLCs and InduSoft HMIs, we’ve reduced operator training time because operators just need to learn one system (Table). Today, the facility has expanded to a capacity of over 130 million pounds per year and is currently manufacturing more than 600 SKUs. The HMI system has grown from one PC and one production line within the facility, to encompass the SCADA system for each of the 17 production lines.

Production at the plant has increased substantially since the initial HMI application was completed, and with the new system our workers can easily manage different production lines as well as quickly retrieve data from each batch or SKU to ensure our customers receive the highest quality products. Table: Benefits from HMI Application

  • Integration with MES and ERP systems enables the quick retrieval of production information by individual SKU numbers
  • Reduced training time and operator errors through HMI standardization
  • Easy integration among disparate equipment, automation systems and higher level computing systems
  • User-friendly tools to test changes before implementation
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