Canbra Foods Automates Batch Operations

Canbra Foods Ltd. is Canada's largest fully integrated oilseed crushing, refining, processing, and packaging company. Its major products include cooking and salad oil, margarine, shortening, and a line of proteins. Recognized as a leading supplier of canola products in North American and international food industries, Canbra markets packaged products to retailers and distributors in the food se...


Canbra Foods Ltd. is Canada's largest fully integrated oilseed crushing, refining, processing, and packaging company. Its major products include cooking and salad oil, margarine, shortening, and a line of proteins. Recognized as a leading supplier of canola products in North American and international food industries, Canbra markets packaged products to retailers and distributors in the food service industry and to bulk-to-food manufacturers.

Facing stiff competitive pressure from soy manufacturers, Canbra is constantly seeking ways to increase manufacturing efficiency and reduce costs throughout its production process, which begins with canola seed cleaning using equipment that removes unwanted matter. Next, the seeds are crushed to extract the oil. Finally, Canbra runs the oil through a refining process involving a crystallizer machine where it is made into a finished product for packaging. In the refining phase, Canbra also blends the oil with a custom milk to create its margarine products.

Manual to automatic

While Canbra's oil preparation process has been largely automated, the milk-preparation stage remained mostly manual. The milk-preparation process began with the manual addition of 33-lb bags of salt and 44-lb bags of whey powder into a pre-mixer on an open processing floor. This labor-intensive process created production bottlenecks and spillage, as well as documentation challenges. In addition, the pre-mixer occasionally received inaccurate amounts of ingredients. Worse yet, employees faced potential injury from manually lifting the bags and pouring them into the pre-mixers, and manual activation of the mixer and pumps left the process open to human error.

With these issues in mind, Canbra sought to automate ingredient addition in the milk-preparation phase using batch management software to reduce waste, increase throughput, and eliminate risk of injury.

Canbra worked with Rockwell Automation at its Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, site, selecting RSBizWare Batch to address the production challenges. Rick Kurio, control systems coordinator, Canbra Foods, notes that RSBizWare Batch was chosen for Rockwell Automation's integrated architecture and ability to employ batch mobility and standardization through ISA S88. "This was important, since we were also seeking a common ground for our engineers to program, troubleshoot, and maintain the system," Kurio says.

Software, handling

The automated system combines RSBizWare Batch with a Flexicon Corp. bulk handling system that conveys, loads, unloads, weighs, feeds, and processes bulk solid material.

RSBizWare Batch controls all bulk handling system operations using Allen-Bradley PLC 5-80E programmable controllers with Allen-Bradley Remote I/O located on the system. Using this setup, when an operator picks a recipe from RSBizWare Batch that calls for 200 pounds of salt and 300 pounds of whey powder, the controller receives two setpoints. RSBizWare Batch then directs the bulk-addition system to operate two 15-ft high bulk-bag dischargers to dump whey powder and salt into two 8-cubic-ft-capacity stainless steel hoppers. From each hopper, a 30-ft long flexible screw conveyor elevates the ingredient for gravity feeding through two Y-diverter valves. From there, the ingredient is transported to one of two mixing tanks.

As a bag discharges, load cells transmit weight-loss signals to a controller, which shuts off the flexible screw conveyor once the set batch weight has been reached. The controller passes the data to and from the SCADA system, which also communicates with a controller that governs the system's agitators and pumps.

"RSBizWare Batch is used to write the recipes for the milk preparation process and to control the clean-in-place (CIP) process for each tank, says Kurio. The software provides a "cut-and-paste" approach to develop and reconfigure recipes. Eight milk recipes and 10 CIP recipes are now used."

The recipes are incorporated into two Rockwell Software RSView 32 human-machine interface software servers located in the plant's control room. Three operator stations with RSView provide a window into the process at any stage of production by switching between screens to monitor tanks and production parameters. Two operator stations reside on the milk-preparation process and one on the crystallizer machine.

Tracking savings

The new system eliminates adding ingredients manually, reduces cycle time about 30 minutes per batch, collects data on each batch, and compiles it into batch records or event logs. This allows Canbra to identify process trends and deviations, as well as efficiently track ingredients for food safety audits.

"We've been able to achieve additional savings (beyond the $45,000 per year initially identified) through increased batch accuracy," Kurio added. "On top of that, worker safety has improved since they no longer have to handle 30- to 40-pound bags of material."

The success of the new batch system has prompted Canbra to explore integrating its oil blending system with the milk blending system to further streamline production for margarine products, says Kurio.

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