Design Production for Automation

Maximizing savings from automation requires thinking about controls when designing manufacturing operations, especially in the highly competitive food and beverage industry, as Dan DeClark can attest, based on experiences, old and new. DeClark has been in the food and beverage flavor business since 1969.


Maximizing savings from automation requires thinking about controls when designing manufacturing operations, especially in the highly competitive food and beverage industry, as Dan DeClark can attest, based on experiences, old and new.

DeClark has been in the food and beverage flavor business since 1969. Back then, he and his father created perfect flavors—again and again. After 20 years, and thousands of successful recipes, DeClark's Continental Flavors and Fragrances became the largest private company in North America supplying flavors to the beverage industry.

In 1990, Dan DeClark chose to pursue other interests and sold the company. But in 2004, he returned to the flavor industry and with his son, Bart, formed Flavor Infusion—an international flavor company headquartered in Laguna Beach, CA. The two wanted to create a company dedicated to high standards in flavor and product development, production, and quality control.

Dan's vision was to return his business to the days of quality, consistency, and efficiency. To achieve this, he chose the path of automation versus staffing the company with hundreds of employees. The plan was to build a modest sized manufacturing facility located in San Clemente, CA, developing a successful laboratory and production model. In time, he could reproduce this infrastructure at a size to match the company's growth.

Bart says, “The idea was to use automation to limit human error and reduce manufacturing time while increasing efficiency and quality. We wanted a showcase facility built around our mainframe and automation systems that would greatly impress our visiting customers.”

Design, build, commission

The DeClark's had a vision. Now they needed an automation and controls partner to understand the challenge, and then design, build, and commission the automation system that could execute and record batch operations. After interviewing numerous potential system integrators, Dan says the clear choice for the project was the Seis Group, located in Huntington Beach, CA.

“We presented our dream and told Seis what we wanted out of the automation system,” Dan says. “Traceability and accuracy in large quantities were essential. Seis determined what was required from our flavor batch management system and then provide the software and technology needed to achieve these goals.”

The Seis Group developed the automation and control system to interface with Flavor Infusion's mainframe computer running sophisticated ERP accounting software. The system was designed for ease of use for office workers as well as operators on the plant floor. Also, special considerations were required to do motor and valve control in the H2 rated, explosion proof environment.

Chris Barbazette, Seis president, says he chose Siemens Energy & Automation to supply automation and control equipment for the facility. ERP (enterprise resource planning) inventory management and scheduling modules are automatically retrieved from a SQL server database and then converted by Seis' software to communicate with the Siemens automation system that performs precision batch operations.

Being a Siemens solution partner, Seis Group was very familiar with the Simatic family of automation products and solutions.

The Seis Group's solution included a Siemens Simatic S7-315 PLC linked to Flavor Infusion's mainframe ERP system. The S7-315 PLC is connected via Profibus to a Simatic OP 7 HMI, Sitop power source, and Micromaster ac drives. These drives allow for the variation of mixing speeds required to perform different operations within the flavor recipes. These controls are then connected via data cable to the mainframe computer located on the second floor of the facility adjacent to Flavor Infusion's quality control laboratory.

The system has flexibility to add ingredients and do special commands necessary to make batch enhancements while maintaining quality and traceability. In addition, Barbazette says the automation system is easy to use and prevents potential production errors, and training employees is simple. The system methodically steps an operator through a recipe containing ingredient weight additions, tank-to-tank transfers, ingredient mixing, and final product filling operations.

Traceability, precision

Being able to trace every step in the life of a product is a prime concern in the food and beverage industry. Barbazette says Flavor Infusion's production process incorporates a level of security and validation normally only found in the pharmaceutical industry. “Every finished product coming out of our plant is barcoded,” said Steve Klehr, director of operations. “If a customer needs to recall a product for any reason, we have the information available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Dan DeClark says it is not unusual for companies to take more than one week to provide the documentation and information required as a result of a product recall. He says most automation and ERP systems are not adequately linked, are slow and laborious, and are in need of updating.

“Within 10 minutes we can recall every single ingredient that has come into our facility, where it's from, what products it was used in, and where the finished product went,” Dan explains. “Every time we add an ingredient, it automatically goes through a compliance check to make sure it is the right ingredient, the right amount, at the right time. Also, since the operator is logged on to the system, we know who was working on what batch at what time.”

Accuracy, reliability

Because the manufacturing automation system ties back to the mainframe, Flavor Infusion operators and quality control technicians are assured that correct ingredients and amounts are being used in all product batches.

Batches produced in stainless steel processing tanks range from 100 to 1,500 gallons and can scale from 1 to 5,500 kilograms. To get a perspective of the volume produced at the plant, consider that it typically takes five drops of flavor for one 12-ounce beverage. Currently the company produces 160,000 gallons of various strength flavors annually, which is still only a fraction of the actual capability. The list of flavors, masking agents, smoothing agents, and other recipes available from Flavor Infusion is huge.

“We have a high precision laboratory mentality in a large volume production environment,” Klehr says. “The accuracy of ingredient induction is very important, that is why all processing tanks are fitted with extremely precise load cells. The finished products taste the same as if they were created in our flavor development laboratory.”

Cost savings from accountability

Being a low cost producer is a priority for Flavor Infusion. “We don't have a problem taking projections from our customers to forecast production, which allows us to negotiate with our vendors on chemical prices,” Dan says. “We are able to quickly analyze the economic value of increased or decreased volumes and offer the absolute best prices to our customers.”

Bart says because all production data is reported from the PLC to the ERP which can be analyzed by the accounting department, scaling batches to customer orders has been simplified.

“We do everything we can to give our customers quick deliveries,” Dan says. “Today, by giving them product on a right-on-time basis, we not only save them storage space and costs, but give them the freshest product possible. Another business advantage presented by the automation system is decreased labor cost. The San Clemente plant operates with one-third of the production staff normally required at a comparable high volume flavor operation.”

In addition, a critical part of the flavor production process involves ethanol that is shipped to the plant via tanker truck and stored in a 5,000-gallon holding tank. Flavor Infusion is taxed in advance for ethanol, based on the amount it requires for production. As suppliers deliver ethanol, trucks pump it directly into a storage tank equipped with load cells. When the transaction is complete, the system sends the final weight information to a Siemens HMI controlling a laser ticket printer. A ticket receipt documents the exact amount turned over by the vendor.

Klehr said the automation system helps Flavor Infusion accurately track and record exact amounts of ethanol received from suppliers. He says the system has caught supplier errors that would have cost the company more than $5,000 annually if not revealed by the ERP system.

Amazing growth

Dan and Bart DeClark's vision is paying off. The company's sales doubled in the past year and are expected to grow four-fold in 2007. Dan DeClark says this growth is because big food and beverage companies are finding out about how Flavor Infusion does business.

“One customer toured our facility and told us the world's largest flavor company does not have what we have,” Dan says.

Bart summed up the success of Flavor Infusion this way: “What separates us from our competition is our enthusiasm for the business. That dedication comes through as unmatched quality in our labs, our unique manufacturing approach, and the importance we place on properly serving our customers. We have the experience and knowledge of a 30-year-old company with the passion of a start up.”

Author Information

Tim Black is in Western region sales for Siemens Energy & Automation. Contact him at f& .

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