Packaging operation increases by half with planning, wireless, mobility

Cover Story: System integrator upgrades a cherry packaging operation at Prima Frutta, for a 50% production increase, using Ethernet, wireless, and mobility technologies, along with extensive planning and simulation.

By Laura Kelm and Jason Kieffer September 9, 2016

Successful automation system integration projects begin with the proper combination of vision, planning, and management. For Industrial Automation Group (IAG) and Prima Frutta, the commitment to these values resulted in a productive upgrade to Prima Frutta’s Linden cherry packing facility, increasing throughput by 50%, resulting in one of the largest cherry lines and sorters in the world. 

Facing growing pains with automation

Prior to collaborating with IAG, Prima Frutta operated at maximum capacity and could not use all of its production lines due to difficulties with operations. While the previous lines produced a large output, it was not as robust as required to increase the throughput that the company faced. Prima Frutta knew that an overhaul was needed to process the necessary quantity of fruit and methodically created a plan to upgrade the line without adding personnel. IAG, a system integrator with experience in the food and beverage industry, was called in on the project to accommodate tight scheduling. 

Project planning, documentation

The challenge was to deliver a solution within a smaller time frame and with a well-defined budget. IAG used methodologies and standards from the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) and involved Prima Frutta in each step of planning, which was documented and approved prior to proceeding with the next step. When something was unclear, IAG referred to the documentation to develop a mutual and agreeable solution. This was critical, as the project was very fast paced and had a tight schedule, especially over the last 2 months of implementation.

IAG began to communicate with other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) early on, which allowed IAG to match the hardware ahead of time to reduce any surprises later in the process. IAG’s in-house panel shop, design division, and purchasing center had a constricted hardware budget. The commitment and planning of IAG’s panel shop ensured that they stayed within the budget for labor and materials.

IAG’s design division and Jason Kieffer, IAG’s project manager, worked closely with Prima Frutta to create drawings of all hardware on the line. Schematics among the panels were laid out modularly so the customer could find the same components (such as the dc power supply) in the same place-on the same page-in every drawing set.

Integrating a wireless network

A vigorous wireless network was integrated, using four wireless access point (AP) clients with external antennas—which allowed for 10 tablets to run an integrated software platform for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, remotely. These tablets were chosen due to being easily replaceable, allowed for a change in process flow from anywhere in the plant, and they were not confined to a human-machine interface (HMI) sitting in a fixed location in the plant. The SCADA/information network also allowed IAG to connect to other OEM machine centers. Prima Frutta was already operating with specific integrated software for their old cherry line and other lines within the company. IAG used the existing server and developed a new "project" for this line. Both of the integrated software and programmable logic controller (PLC) codes were developed in a modular format so components, templates, and user-defined types (UDTs) could be reused for quick deployment.

Kieffer and Casey Noonan, IAG’s controls engineer, created a virtual environment to test and prepare the code changes for Prima Frutta. This virtual environment, a digital twin, mimicked the processes on Prima Frutta’s line so testing would not interfere with the actual line until the time came to apply IAG’s new code. Once everything was perfected in IAG’s office, the changes were copied and pasted to Prima Frutta’s server for a smooth transition. Full remote access was also implemented to adapt to any of the plant’s changing needs. 

Facility upgrade benefits

The IAG project at Prima Frutta resulted in a 50% increase in production, without more personnel. IAG completed this project on budget, on time, and without excessive change orders. Excessive planning and use of CSIA standards allowed for rapid deployment during the design, testing, start-up, and commissioning phases. Due to the intricate planning process, almost all equipment started up the first time without wiring or programming issues. Substantial planning, a robust Wi-Fi network, and tablets to run the plant were identified as keys to the project success. The entry-level tablets replaced numerous "stand alone" HMIs, and hardwired start/stop stations resulted in significant cost savings.

"I can see all of the hard work and countless hours of planning paid off. I feel if we had another contractor do the install, we would still not be up and running. (We) are extremely happy with how everything has turned out," said Tom Augello, production manager of Prima Frutta. Prima Frutta is now running 7 days a week and enjoying the success of the facility’s expansion and automation.

Laura Kelm is the talent acquisition and marketing specialist, and Jason Kieffer is the project manager for Industrial Automation Group. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, CSIA is a Control Engineering content partner.


Key Concepts

  • The steps to successfully implementing a facility upgrade
  • The benefits of a facility upgrade Integrating a wireless network at an industrial facility.

Consider this

Faster start-up is available with virtual environments, a digital twin to the plant, for rigorous code testing prior to implementation.

ONLINE extra

See a related story on project and installation technology details from co-author Jason Kieffer linked below.