Optimation automates farm-to-consumer egg production system

Syracuse, NY—To meet the increasing demand for eggs, inspired by the high-protein Atkins diet fad, an innovative, upstate New York supermarket chain recently asked its system integrator, Op-timation Technology Inc., to create a sophisticated control system for its company-owned egg farm.


Syracuse, NY— To meet the increasing demand for eggs, inspired by the high-protein Atkins diet fad, an innovative, upstate New York supermarket chain recently asked its system integrator, Optimation Technology Inc. , to create a sophisticated control system for its company-owned egg farm. “The company is absolutely committed to providing its customers with superior quality, so they’re very progressive and always open to new ideas,” says Joe Sebastian, Optimation’s chief project engineer.

Working with the egg farm’s technical manager, Sebastian designed a control system with enough automation that human hands never need to touch the eggs. More complex than any machine, a chicken requires an ideal environment with fresh air, clean water, abundant feed, cleanliness, and controlled lighting and temperatures for maximum egg production. Sebastian says this meant controlling thousands of devices to eliminate process variables and human errors on the multi-acre farm, which houses nearly 1 million chickens.

With more than a dozen laying and brooder houses, its own feed mill, an extensive conveyor network, a central processing facility, and an automated composting system for waste, the egg farm is now a model of production efficiency, according to Optimation. Older laying houses were upgraded, and new, larger ones were built. Hundreds of devices, from boilers in the basements to fans and lights to conveyor lines, are now networked.

More than 180 automated alarms in each laying house instantly alert the production manager to any variables in the process, so he can quickly diagnose a problem and take corrective action. “When everything is automated, he needs to know immediately if any variables have been intro-duced into the process,” says Sebastian.

The newly automated process allows eggs to drop onto conveyor belts that connect the laying houses to the processing building, where every egg is washed, sanitized, weighed, and scanned by ultrasonic detectors to identify cracks before it is shunted to bulk racks for restaurants or individ-ual cartons for consumers. The cartons are then packed into a case that contains 30 dozen eggs. Sebastian says, “The first person to touch an egg is the consumer who buys the carton.”

Sebastian adds that the farm’s Telemecanique control system from Schneider Electric , which he programmed with ProWorx 32 software, was built around Modicon Quantum and Momentum PLCs. These PLCs control every device on the site, and are networked by Modbus, Modbus Plus, and Ethernet, as well as wireless Ethernet between the farm buildings. This improved communication system means the production manager can now see updated views, even from his home, of the farm’s process on Web-enabled HMI with up-to-the-minute data.

“There’s not a lot of profit margin in a carton of eggs, so the production process needs to be extremely efficient,” adds Sebastian. This demand for maximum efficiency also applied to the control system upgrade. “We were able to completely modernize the PLC-based control system, and leave the legacy I/O wiring in place, but install new processors, so that the modernization process could be completed faster and at lower cost.”

Optimation adds that its egg farm project has become a program of continuing improvements, with more than 20 projects completed and others planned into 2006. One of the most important aspects of the program is that it enabled Sebastian to introduce standard control system logic and the importance of software documentation to the supermarket chain’s production engineers. “We were replacing a control system installed in the 1980s by an electrical contractor with non-existent documentation,” he says. “Now we document everything. This was a real philosophy change that’s making their lives a lot easier.”

By introducing discipline into the farm’s control system, Sebastian has also made his own job easier. “Anyone can program a system. It’s the ability to develop systems that tell people what went wrong, and why, so they can understand what’s happening and how to troubleshoot it, that has made the difference. They’re so happy with the results that I’m now considered part of the engineering team.”

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jim Montague, news editor

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