Quantum Solutions Inc. (QSI) provided complete redesign, programming, commissioning, testing and training of an outdated facility for Kraft Heinz’s subsidiary, Planters Peanuts.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 the conversion of PLC 5s and upgrade of other legacy control hardware and communication protocols. The new control system would include the latest ControlLogix platform with updated hardware devices along with completely redeveloped PLC controls and an HMI interface.

Reasons for Control System Modernization

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reason, manufacturing facilities often find themselves at maximum capacity as they make their products and materials on outdated, end of life control systems. Outdated systems can become cumbersome and prone to:

  • errors
  • variability
  • breakdowns
  • diminish productivity yield
  • lower quality

These manufacturers lack the benefits of innovative, updated manufacturing technology which could significantly improve their processes.

Modern systems have vastly improved capabilities, reliability, connect-ability, and expandability than their predecessors. Modernized systems allow manufacturers to integrate with more systems throughout the facility and utilize the newest technology in order to improve product quality and output.

The ability to integrate more of the latest control devices and technology advancements into the control system is crucial to remaining competitive in the manufacturing industry. Continued use of obsolete control systems can be highly costly to a manufacturer.

Project Goals

Planters Peanuts aimed to reduce costs and increase productivity. Planters goals would require a seamless control philosophy to achieve twice the operator efficiency. QSI set out to deliver on this goal while reducing the overall stress to the operator.

Increased visibility into the system would be key to increasing the efficiency of all operators. The project would provide a centralized HMI with visibility into all lines. This centralized HMI would allow the supervisors to assist with control and monitoring all 7 lines, editing recipes, scheduling and preparing each line for production, and routing finished product to packaging.

Improve quality and reducing waste was another major goal for Planters Peanuts. The control system design and programming would need to reduce variability from operator to operator, and better automate the desired process.

Planters Peanuts aimed 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

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

The existing system was automated, but still left many tasks as manual processes. The night crew would perform CIP without guidelines or a defined sequence to ensure proper cleaning. Each morning, time was wasted before production waiting for oil to fill, as this was left as a manual process to the morning operator. However, the oil fill system was not integrated with the cooker lines, requiring the cooker operator to request oil from the oil operator. This could take two or more hours before they could begin the cooking process.

They experienced significant waste from out of spec products attributed to poor control of the different steps in the process. They struggled specifically with controlling cooking temperature and coating of oil and salt, according to the recipes.

Due to a lack of documentation and descriptions in the program for each line, Quantum Solutions engineers spent considerable time on-site to understand and document the process as it existed. QSI studied the habits of the top performing operators, as well as what approaches didn’t work for the others.  The deficiencies in the programming had led to a wide variance of approach from different operators, as well as varied performance results.

Not only did the facility lack a functional description of the current operations of the production lines, there was also poor and inadequate documentation about how Planters Peanuts wanted the lines to operate. Therefore, QSI engineers had to present their findings to the modernization team and facility manager to collaborate on the best control strategy in order to meet project goals.

The Solution

QSI completely migrated Planters Peanuts outdated PLC 5’s to the new Allen Bradley ControlLogix platform.  Using adapter modules to communicate to existing I/O racks, QSI was able to upgrade the processors with minimal rewiring. The project, however, was much more complex than a migration, which would be a simple conversion to new software and hardware.

Once QSI understood the operations of the cookers and the process needed, they delivered a process control system that was custom-built from concept to design to implementation. The development team completely re-imagined the PLC programming and HMI operator interface to fully automate the process.

QSI strategically placed 5 remote workstations with PanelView Plus HMI’s between adjacent lines. This location layout replaced the 7 existing HMI’s located at the end of each line. The original layout had a poor location for operator visibility and response time. QSI also implemented a centralized system with a master RSView SE application in the cookers control room. No longer were the HMIs on the floor inoperable if the server PC wasn’t running. The systematic HMI strategy allowed for easier control with the same number of operators.

QSI programmed an automated CIP mode. This sequence allowed all machines to be cleaned inconsistent and timely manner. This cut down on the overall CIP time and ended any overlap with the morning supervisor waiting for lines to be cleaned.

QSI also programmed an automated Auto-Fill mode. This sequence allowed 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. This prevented the previous morning production delays, reducing stress on cooking operators. When they arrived, cookers were clean, full, preheated and ready for cooking. 

From a quality standpoint, QSI redesigned all of the system’s PID loops, including the burner temperature and the salt and oil coating.

A more sophisticated alarm strategy was programmed. QSI’s alarm handling ensured all critical downstream alarms would stop the nuts at the feeder, preventing wasted and/or burnt product.  Previously, if there was a backup or an issue with the line, it would continue to feed nuts causing long periods of downtime.

The entire process was reprogrammed, from the raw nuts stage to cooking, cooling profile, coating, and tank storage. QSI programmed the system up to the point of packaging.

The Results

Following the modernization implemented by Quantum Solutions, 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. Due to the redefined functionality, redeveloped PLC programming, centralized workstations, thorough operator training, and system commissioning, Planters Peanuts was able to have a single operator run 2 lines. The new modes of operation allow the supervisor to get more out of CIP crews, prefill and schedule the cookers and have everything ready for 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. This allows Planters Peanuts to reduce waste and increase efficiency and productivity.

Due to the implemented alarming, Planters Peanuts was able to experience reduced breakdown time and clean up from line malfunctions. Overall, the Planters Peanuts modernized system allows the facility to operate at a high level of efficiency, productivity, and quality.

In the many years since the project, they have consistently and significantly beaten previous production numbers and operators have expressed consistent positive feedback about their satisfaction with the system. Quantum Solutions engineers have received zero support calls since they left the site, the plant is fully self-sufficient. The modernization exceeded the customer’s requirements and expectations in every way.

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