Quantum Solutions, Inc. (QSI) provided complete redesign, programming, commissioning, testing, and training of an outdated facility for Hormel subsidiary, Planters Peanuts. The modernization of the controls system took place in the Planters Peanuts facility in Suffolk, Virginia, where Planters needed to fully upgrade and modernize all seven production lines in their system. 

The modernization required conversion of the PLC 5s and upgrade of other legacy controls hardware and communication protocols. The new control system would include the latest ControlLogix platform with updated hardware devices along with completely redeveloped Programmable Logic Control (PLC) and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) functionality. 

Reasons for Control System Modernization

  1. Previous generations of control systems were rugged and durable but lacked expandability due to size, space, and processing power constraints. For this reason, manufacturing facilities often find themselves at maximum capacity as they make their products and materials on outdated, end-of-life control systems.
  2. Outdated systems can become cumbersome and prone to errors, variability, and breakdowns, leading to diminished productivity yield and quality. These manufacturers lack the benefits of innovative, updated manufacturing technology, which could significantly improve their processes. 
  3. Modern systems have vastly improved capabilities, reliability, connectivity, and expandability in comparison to predecessors. Modernized systems allow manufacturers to integrate with more systems throughout the facility and take advantage of the newest technology to improve product quality and output. The ability to integrate more of the latest control devices and technological advances into the control system is vital to remaining competitive in the industry.

Increasing productivity and quality, reducing cost and waste

Planters Peanuts aimed to reduce costs and increase productivity by removing out-of-service lines without adding operators. That goal would require a seamless control philosophy to achieve nearly twice the operator efficiency. QSI set out to deliver on this while also reducing the overall stress on the operator. Increased visibility into the system would be key to increasing the efficiency of all operators. 

Another goal for Planters was improving quality and reducing waste. The control system design and programming would need to reduce variability from operator to operator and better automate the desired process to eliminate out-of-spec products that often resulted from outdated systems.

In addition, Planters sought to upgrade and modernize the full 7-line cooker system. If the project could improve quality and increase productivity without additional labor costs, then QSI could easily justify project funding.

Modernization Challenges

Due to a lack of documentation and descriptions in the program for each line, there was no way to reach an objective understanding of the process as it existed. The deficiencies in the programming had led to a wide variance of approach from operator to operator, as well as varied performance results. Not only did the facility lack a functional description of the current product line operations, but there were also varying perspectives about how Planters wanted those lines to operate. 

The existing system was automated, but still left many tasks as manual processes. The night crew would perform CIP (clean-in-place) without guidelines or a defined sequence to ensure proper cleaning. They experienced significant waste from out-of-spec products attributed to poor control of the different steps in the process. Specifically, they struggled with controlling cooking temperature and coating of oil and salt according to the recipes. 

Every day, the morning operator was forced to waste time before production waiting for oil to fill, a manual process. However, the oil fill system was not integrated with the cooker lines, requiring the cooker operator to request oil from the supervisor. This could take two or more hours during which they could not begin the cooking process, as all operators arrived and requested oil concurrently. 

Each of the lines operated with outdated HMIs on each cooker with poor graphics, an unorganized layout, and uninformative alarm notifications leading to poor visibility into the process. The HMI server would crash often, leaving HMI clients unusable and all lines shut down.

The Solution 

Design: QSI completely migrated Planters’s outdated PLC 5’s to the new Allen Bradley ControlLogix platform. Our team designed each line with a centralized PLC and remote I/O capabilities to integrate all existing devices. The smaller footprint of new controls hardware allowed the customer to use existing panel space to minimize wiring and panel costs. 

QSI strategically placed five remote workstations (PanelView Plus HMIs) between adjacent lines. The original HMI locations offered poor operator visibility and response time. QSI also installed a secondary centralized HMI (a master RSView SE application) in the cooker control room, providing visibility into all lines, without rendering HMIs on the floor inoperable if the control room HMI wasn’t running.

Project Management: QSI engineers spent considerable time on-site to understand and document the process as it existed, studying the habits of the top-performing operators, as well as what approaches didn’t work for the others. QSI engineers then presented their findings to the modernization team and facility manager to collaborate on the best control strategy to meet project goals. 


QSI deployed the secondary centralized HMI to help supervisors assist with control and monitoring all seven lines, recipe management, scheduling, and routing finished products to tank storage. 

The entire process was reprogrammed, including raw nuts tote dumping, oil cooking, weigh feeding, cooling, salt coating, and tank storage. From a quality standpoint, QSI redesigned all of the system’s PID loops, including the burner temperature and the salt and oil coating, eliminating out-of-spec product waste. 

QSI programmed an automated CIP mode, allowing all machines to be cleaned in a consistent and timely manner. This cut down on the overall CIP time and eliminated any overlap with the morning supervisor waiting for lines to be cleaned. 

QSI also programmed an automated Auto-Fill mode, allowing supervisors to initiate a cooker oil fill after all CIP checks were cleared. The system interfaced with the oil transfer system and heated to a baseline temperature prior to production operators arriving, preventing the morning production delays and reducing stress on operators. 

A more sophisticated alarm strategy was programmed, ensuring all critical downstream alarms would stop the nuts at the weigh feeder. Previously, if there was a critical alarm or backup, it would continue to feed nuts causing long periods of downtime, with the wasted and burnt product.

The Results

Following the modernization implemented by QSI, the Planters Peanuts facility in Suffolk, Virginia experienced vastly increased productivity and efficiency due to the upgraded automation controls and redesign of the system. This allowed Planters Peanuts to decrease their operator overhead, utilizing a single operator to run two lines. 

The new modes of operation now allow the supervisor to get more out of CIP crews, prefill and schedule the cookers, and have everything ready upon the arrival of operators. 

By understanding the necessary steps and processes, QSI was able to design and program a system that improved product quality and consistency across all 7 cooker lines. Planters Peanuts drastically reduced waste while improving efficiency and productivity. 

Due to the implemented alarm strategy, Planters experience shorter periods of downtime and clean-up after device and equipment failures. 

Over the many years since project completion, they have consistently and significantly beaten previous production numbers and operators have expressed consistent positive feedback about their satisfaction with the system.

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