Manufacturing Gels Around Automation

When the company set out to build its new Fayetteville plant, Nitta Gelatin wanted a world-class manufacturing facility that would employ the latest practices in automated systems, enterprise integration, security, manufacturing operation management (MOM), and analytical tools. To implement these objectives, Nitta looked for help from a major system integrator to design, build, install and comm...


When the company set out to build its new Fayetteville plant, Nitta Gelatin wanted a world-class manufacturing facility that would employ the latest practices in automated systems, enterprise integration, security, manufacturing operation management (MOM), and analytical tools. To implement these objectives, Nitta looked for help from a major system integrator to design, build, install and commission the full automation package. Real Time Systems (RTS) of Toronto, ON, received the contract for this project and brought all their capabilities to the table. The skills required to complete a greenfield project of this size included consultation services, electrical engineering, control system engineering, instrumentation, programming, specification writing, and commissioning services. The scope of the project necessitated assigning a dedicated project manager for the duration to ensure a single point of contact between Nitta and RTS.

Nitta Gelatin’s Fayetteville, NC, plant is a state-of-the-art facility that produces 3,000 tons of pharmaceutical and food grade gelatin per year for domestic and international markets. Nitta’s gelatin has unique characteristics that make it especially useful as a gelling agent, binder, emulsifier, or thickener. Its melt-in-your-mouth characteristics and ability to form thermo-reversible gels are two of its most desirable properties.

Nitta begins the process with pork skins that are chopped into pieces and then put through a unique extraction process to remove the gelatin. Since product from the Fayetteville plant is used for pharmaceuticals and food ingredients, it must be filtered and sterilized according to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) procedures and meet US Pharmacopoeia standards. Once it has been sterilized, gelatin is cut into noodles and dried to become film. This film is strong enough to prevent absorption of moisture and oxidation of whatever it surrounds or protects. The final part of the process is to grind the gelatin into a powder and package it.

Nitta Gelatin USA provides many different grades of gelatin for a variety of uses in the pharmaceutical industry. It is a key ingredient in the production of soft and hard shell capsules. Many tablet formulations require a gelatin component to bind ingredients or a gelatin coating to ease swallowing and mask unpleasant tastes. Cosmetic companies also use gelatin for encapsulation of bath oils in moisturizing lotions and skin creams, making an important contribution to how we look and feel every day.

Call in the system integrator

When building the Fayetteville plant, Nitta Gelatin turned to Real Time Systems of Toronto, Ontario to handle all the planning, design, fabrication, implementation, and commissioning of the plant’s automation system. RTS was also responsible for integrating the automation system with the security system and for adding a MOM system to coordinate data collection, historian database, reports and business analytics.

The RTS team began by evaluating and developing an overall control system architecture based on plant layout, new equipment requirements, main control system philosophy, and other OEM subsystems. This plan also included all the necessary networks between the field devices, PLC, SCADA, and MOM, as well as robust communication to the servers located at the corporate office in Toronto.

Implementing the design

Next, RTS developed criteria for selecting instruments, power supplies, types of signals, and communication protocols. RTS also conducted an intense audit to determine Nitta’s present and future needs for PLCs, SCADA systems, control panels, and other hardware and software. The specifications outlined by RTS provided Nitta with the ability to easily implement future additions to any of the integrated networks and to create a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

After all required hardware and software was approved and procured, RTS completed the programming for the PLC and SCADA systems according to ISA S88 standards as well as Nitta’s approved control narratives and P&IDs. RTS’s custom programming methodology allowed for the creation of reusable code which subsequently accelerated commissioning.

RTS fabricated 21 control and starter panels in only 9 weeks and supervised all the subcontractors’ hardware installation. RTS also integrated all the OEM equipment into the main plant control system and integrated process and security cameras into the SCADA system to allow for overall plant monitoring and control. Finally, RTS supervised or performed all required testing during the commissioning phase, including factory acceptance tests.


By choosing RTS to automate their new manufacturing facility, Nitta Gelatin was able to ensure a single source of responsibility for the entire project, thereby reducing the need to coordinate multiple sub-contractors. Having a single program manager enabled a high level of coordination and schedule adhesion while ensuring that the overall schedule was completed on time and on budget.

RTS was able to complete the following tasks for Nitta:

  • Vendor selection

  • Topologies design

  • Control and starter panel design

  • PLC & SCADA selection

  • Programming

  • Pre-engineering

  • Electrical design

  • Instrumentation specification

  • Power and control specifications

  • Network design

  • MOM selection/implementation

Nitta also received a copy of the plant audit containing an engineering analysis of requirements for ERP, plant floor control, and electrical power and distribution instrumentation. RTS was able to create an overall set of standards for the automation, electrical, inventory, maintenance, and training systems as well as various other sub-systems that will make future projects easier to implement.

RTS is currently working to include an exception-based reporting system. This utility will provide valuable information to operators, engineers, and managers about key performance indicators, process targets/conditions, and business decision support.

Author Information

Vance VanDoren is consulting editor to Control Engineering. Reach him at .

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