Digitalization Digest: Automation at the Facilities of a Condiments Manufacturer


Success in private label manufacturing depends on the ability to produce accurately and effectively across a potential host of end clients and their stock-keeping units (SKUs).  Feeding the “effective” side of the equation includes both accurate production and skillful arrangement of orders, and the ability for the machinery to move efficiently from one SKU to the next.

A major Midwest-based condiment manufacturer has learned those lessons well in their century-plus of manufacturing.  That experience led them to recently scale up operations with the purchase of several high-speed, turnkey lines from Krones.  These lines included container conveyors, container labeling machines, modular system fillers, non-returnable packers, bulk conveyors, and palletizers.  They also included accumulation in strategic locations which aid in the lines’ continual operation but can also complicate operations from changeover and cleanout functions.

Krones’ client reviewed an off-the-shelf order management solution.  They determined that, while that solution may have provided what the client wanted at the machine and operator interface level, it would not meet their desired performance for complete line operations.  Moreover, the client hoped to preserve their investment in their legacy order management system.  Fortunately for them, Krones has an extremely effective solution in their portfolio for clients in North America in the form of CSIA-certified systems integrator Process and Data Automation (PDA).

PDA brings Krones’ clients the best of several worlds in that they are tied in with Krones’ machine manufacturing division. They have unique insight into how to integrate the standard functions of Krones machines, whether a single new piece or an entire high-speed line.  They also have deep expertise in the implementation of Krones’ solutions for various management, collection, and analysis functions.  Perhaps most importantly, as leveraged in this case, they have the experience and skill to identify and manage situations where no off-the-shelf solution will fit perfectly.  They can design custom middleware to connect existing business systems to manufacturing operations – and that was exactly what this situation called for.

The solution for this client included middleware software as deployed via an overall line management PLC.  This solution tied in seamlessly to the client’s order management system, thus preserving the investment that was made there through the years.  Transfer via the line management CompactLogix PLC allows seamless flow of information from the order management system, parsing, and delivery of the exact information required by each machine.  Custom order management screens were added to the machine level Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), which provide rich, accurate information to the line operators.  The simplicity of the design also allows qualified personnel to see the entire information flow happen very effectively in real-time.  Because the entire solution was delivered by the Network of Krones, PDA included, the customer can rest assured that all systems function harmoniously and that all equipment warranties remain intact.

No matter how large or small, orders are fulfilled with accurate bottle fills and accurate package counts per SKU.  Labels are applied and quickly spliced for continuous operation and changeover, and all critical validation is verified by Check Mat camera systems which communicate back through to the inventory management system to ensure a proper match on each.  Orders are separated by automatically dropping acrylic separator cases and bottles in the lanes so the production orders flow with minimal space, and more importantly time, in cleanout required.

In the end, the lines function exactly as intended by Krones but with the added dimension of high-speed changeover as desired by the end client.  All of this helped the customer to achieve what they wanted in the implementation of these lines – a quantum leap in terms of manufacturing speed and flexibility, minimal changes to existing business systems, and minor adaptations to their new machinery that don’t impair the ability for standard technicians to maintain the equipment.

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Digitalization Digest: Improving Manufacturing Processes with Effective Production Tracking

A company that specializes in the manufacture of very large open-die forgings as well as open-die forged products such as discs, rings, sleeves, and shafts from high quality, clean steel contracted Process and Data Automation (PDA) to install systems to determine equipment efficiencies at two of their plants, the first a steel mill and the second a forge. These new systems were connected to the SLCs using third-party hardware modules, to allow effective tracking of the performance of each of the machines, e.g., the mills, lathes, and saws, in the two plants. Of particular interest to the company was the ability to track the occurrence of downtime and to establish the reasons for the stoppages. 


With this information, the company hoped to be able to correct any issues that may develop with their manufacturing processes. Presently the company is unable to obtain tangible information from either the reporting or data collection systems operating in the plants to assess maintenance issues or typical production aspects.


With the Ignition project as the OEE system, the larger accomplishment in undertaking and completing the project was the aggregation of relevant production data from the vastly different systems. Success depended upon PDA’s ability to find a relatable way to access the relevant information from each of the different sources in a way that was useful to the end-user.


The first OEE system was installed and commissioned successfully at the steel mill, leading to the request for a second similar system to be installed at the forge, and presently a third system is being considered. The project was organized into three phases, i.e., Hardware, Visualization Software, and Reporting & OEE. The installation required extensive upfront investigations to collect data automatically from eight machines, including four sawmills with CompactLogix Processors, three mills with Siemens 840D PL/SL CNC controls and a lathe with Siemens 840D CNC controls. PDA planned to utilize Inductive Automation’s Ignition software, which is very versatile and expandable, for the overall data visualization, providing live Data Screens displayed on the TV monitors in production and on the operator’s station at each machine. The connection of Ignition to different technologies with different platforms was involved and it was necessary to (a) identify where the relevant data existed within the machine, (b) extract that data, and (c) aggregate it into a user-friendly form. The development of this capability was entirely a consequence of the skills of the PDA engineers.


The variety of machines to be monitored did pose a challenge to the installation of the OEE system. The type of connection to a particular machine to obtain the relevant data had to be determined individually and, in some cases, a degree of creativity was required. 

Several of the Siemen’s lathes, basically CNC machines, did contain a server that provided PDA with a connection port. But the older lathes did not contain this server and it was necessary to upgrade the machine to support OPC-UA, which allowed data to be accessed. (OPC-UA denotes an industrial protocol that allows information to be shared between different machines or devices using a standardized protocol. In general terms it is a method of connecting to multiple things that support the universal protocol). The company completed these upgrades as required.


The newly installed OEE system allows the company to track the performance of the machines in terms of uptime as well as recording downtime and provides an overall efficiency number. Once the versatile software is implemented it allows a determination of the lifetimes of the different saws, saw blades, drill bits, etc. together with knowledge of the source of the items and the operating conditions so that selection of items to be purchased is facilitated. The primary purpose of the OEE system, however, is to track uptime and identify reasons for stoppages in production, allowing corrective action to be taken.


The OEE system in the steel mill also provided the capability to track performance based on the load on a saw blade. The power consumption of the machine indicates that the blade is cutting a piece of steel and not running idle. Further, with knowledge of the lifetime of a blade as a function of operating conditions, it is possible to predict a likely blade break in operation, which, when it does occur, can ruin an entire run. The ability to change out saw blades has led to improved rates of production.


Future considerations for the company already include installation of a third OEE system based on Ignition. Discussions with personnel from the forge allowed PDA to describe the versatility and expandable nature of the Ignition software. It was pointed out that the system was, in fact, an entire SCADA system. 

However, in its current capacity at the steel mill and at the forge, it serves as just an OEE system. A future project will be based on monitoring the electric, gas, and water utilities as well as the waste output from the buildings on one site.      

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Digitalization Digest: Upgrade to a Food & Beverage Plant

The next entry in our Digitalization Digest, articles and thoughts regarding manufacturing plant digitalization, focuses on a project for an international manufacturer of private label food and beverages across North America and Italy for retail grocery, food service, and industrial customers.

Limited production capacity, due in part to an obsolescent network within the plant, had become a major problem. Process and Data Automation (PDA) commissioned and tested the production equipment, as well as evaluated and programmed the control network which included PLC and HMI work. During the evaluation step, it was established that the existing pumps in the plant and their VFD controls were unable to meet production needs and should be replaced. In addition, the existing controls operated on DeviceNet, a system that the plant had already decided to phase out, represented a further limitation.

PDA recommended the installation of an Ethernet control system with retention and careful use of the existing legacy PLC processor. Upon further discussion and evaluation, it was then determined that network evaluation, together with a segregation strategy, was essential to ensure that the increased traffic from the new equipment would not interfere with other operations in the plant. PDA provided the engineering and hardware for the PLC programming to integrate two new SPXFlow Universal TS series pumps and replace two Powerflex 40 drives with Powerflex 525 drives.

During the project, problems associated with merging new technologies with the aging infrastructure were successfully overcome by being able to provide the plant with a more modular system, as well as the capability to meet the production demands.  Also, by using the approach of retaining functional legacy equipment, the overall cost of the project was significantly reduced.

Overall, the changes to the plant simply represented an upgrade to the existing processing system and replacement of the older controls that had operated at a lower feed rate. The new equipment provided enhanced diagnostic capabilities that allow both tracking and recovery of data. PDA discussed with the client the need for future improvements in the plant, including:

  • Upgrading the obsolete PLCs
  • Line Diagnostics/OEE
  • Network migration (DeviceNet to Ethernet) for the remaining legacy equipment

PDA is a full-service, CSIA Certified industrial control systems integration firm. The Controls Engineering group specializes in physical automation system design, programming, and commissioning. PDA also features a dedicated Digitalization Group (DSG) that connects automated equipment and systems to the business system environment including protected recipe systems, data collection and reporting, and data historian implementation. DSG can provide the systems you need to set your systems up for proper operation and then provide the tools you need to make sure you execute as planned.

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