Integrated process control

Integration of multiple process control systems enhances track-and-trace capabilities for an Interstates Control System client.

By Jerry Steenhoek November 21, 2011

Seamless integration of multiple “off-the-shelf” control system solutions has led to another successful installation for Interstates Control Systems. A global manufacturer of crop-protection products chose Interstates to implement and integrated a plant-wide information system using FactoryTalk applications with the PlantPAx Process Automation System from Rockwell Automation.

As part of a global initiative, the client had targeted an annual operational efficiency savings of $290 million by 2011. To achieve that goal, the client executed a project at a Midwest crop protection plant to improve cost efficiency and create a systems infrastructure for streamlined track-and-trace capability.

With product demand expected to grow from $22 billion to $35 billion in 2020, the client needed to upgrade an outdated control system to meet growing demand from its facility. The main project goal was to improve efficiency through automation and control of information flow for the plant. A secondary goal was to create unique batch identification numbers (IDs) and packaging lot numbers to ensure end-to-end product traceability. The project focused on the entire plant, including raw materials, work in process, and finished good products.

The objective was to install a paperless batch and process automation system that would give flexibility to move production between systems without having to rewrite recipes.

“The client had one very specific requirement,” said Jerry Steenhoek, chief technologist for Interstates Control Systems. “They wanted an ‘off-the-shelf’, nonproprietary solution.” The client had experienced challenges with its existing system that was controlled by another vendor’s custom code. It expected that an “off-the-shelf” product would give it more flexibility and better technical support.

The previous system met most existing technical requirements but not growing operational requirements. For example, in older areas of the facility, outdated, labor- and time-intensive batch processing lacked automated track-and-trace capabilities. Operators weighed and added batch ingredients, made hand-recorded notations, mixed the batch, and pumped it into a storage tank to await quality approval. That process was inefficient and did not allow the scalability or flexibility required to meet future market demand.

Interstates collected information and gathered input from all who had a vested interest in facility operations, bringing every area from operations to maintenance into the planning process.

Technical project goals included:

  • Create a common automation platform
  • Reuse development library for ease of support and expansion
  • Automate information flow (MES/ERP and LIMS)
  • Improve track and trace
  • Measure overall equipment effectiveness
  • Include asset management
  • Make recipe formulation portable
  • Make production information transparent.

Planning was vital to project success. Upon award of the project, the Interstates control systems group spent significant time reviewing the functional requirement specifications with client representatives.

“We wanted to fully understand their needs before we jumped into project planning,” said Jason Anson, Interstates project manager. “Our early discussions referenced a functional design that was really based on their existing process. Digging deeper, we were able to extract from their team what they really wanted to gain with a new process. With this mutual understanding, we were able to design a process system using the right combination of products to meet their needs.”

The team implemented a plant-wide information system based on the FactoryTalk software suite including the PlantPAx Process Automation System from Rockwell Automation. The integrated system meets identified objectives and goals and increased production 166%—a productivity increase the company estimates would have required a 25% increase in personnel with the prior system. The new system provides standard functionality without proprietary programming. This improves usability for operators and reduces total cost of ownership (TCO). The scalable, integrated system lends itself to future expansion.

With the new batch and continuous process automation system, production runs are completed in bulk. Operators prepare ingredients in advance and store them. Continuous process blends the ingredients in a specific order, ratio, and flow rate, turning crop protection chemicals into on-demand products. The finished, quality-approved final product is achieved faster and more efficiently than before.

Client managers can now access critical, accurate, historical, and real-time information with the system’s advanced track-and-trace capabilities. This is incredibly valuable, positioning the client for a more targeted and cost-effective response in the event of a product recall.

Interstates was chosen to implement this project in part due to its experience with the software used and for its ability to determine process gaps and identify client needs. Setting expectations from the beginning of the project between vendor representatives, the client team, and Interstates served to set the tone and direction. Constant communication and periodic progress reviews were vital to the project’s success.

“Our focus on understanding needs and delivering results helped us create a solution that would support the client’s future growth,” said Anson. “Based on what we learned about our client in the planning process, we made the decision to upgrade infrastructure to accommodate more bandwidth than was needed at the time.”

Steenhoek added, “Later in the project, the client decided to execute additional systems including a security and monitoring system. Because we had taken the time to understand their company vision and had positioned their network for future expansion, they easily had enough bandwidth to support these added systems.” The time invested in the early planning stages proved invaluable. The installation went well and was completed on schedule. Steenhoek said, “This is the perfect example of why relationships are essential in our business.”

The project partnership continues. In an effort that drives the client toward a more unified facility, Interstates is executing phase two of control system upgrades. The second phase includes updating two additional processing areas: one from a paper/manual system and the other from a proprietary system.

“Interstates earned phase two of this project by delivering fantastic results in the initial phase,” said Steenhoek. “As an integrator, we believe that repeat project awards are the highest performance ratings one could receive.”

Software used to integrate process systems

These Rockwell Automation software products were implemented to integrate previously disparate process systems:

  • FactoryTalk Batch software
  • FactoryTalk Historian software
  • FactoryTalk AssetCentre change management software
  • FactoryTalk Metrics software
  • FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software
  • FactoryTalk View human machine interface software
  • PlantPAx Process Automation System
  • Rockwell Automation ControlLogix programmable automation platform

– Jerry Steenhoek is chief technologist/project manager and Jason Anson is project manager at Interstates Control Systems Inc., a company that specializes in control systems design and implementation for facilities in industries such as food and beverage and value-added agriculture. Contact Steenhoek at and Anson at Interstates, a prior winner of the Control Engineering System Integrator of the Year award, is in the System Integrator Hall of Fame. 

Software used to integrate process system