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Dairy Crest maintains continuous operation

27 October 2015

A rapid and successful response to a machine breakdown at Dairy Crest has led to an enduring relationship between the dairy and Mitsubishi Electric, which has been formalised into a comprehensive automation equipment service support contract for the entire plant.

The Dairy Crest milk bottling plant in Dagenham covers a large part of London, including its suburbs and towns in the north, south and east. The plant processes over 400 million litres of milk annually, which is nearly a quarter of Dairy Crest’s total output of ‘white milk’ for the whole country. However, it has an ongoing plan to increase production significantly, while also reducing costs, improving efficiency and modernising the plant and its process equipment.

As the plant has evolved and developed over the years, the equipment housed there includes machinery transferred from other sites. Machines, parts and components therefore are made up of a wide range of manufacturers and – almost inevitably – while still functional, some of the equipment is now obsolete.  The plant operates 24/7, so when an unscheduled breakdown occurs, no matter how small, there is a possibility that it will have a knock-on effect on overall productivity. 

It was fortuitous timing when Neal Welch from control and automation equipment manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric chose to contact the Dagenham site for a routine introduction as the engineers at Dairy Crest were facing a machine breakdown at the time. Neal realised that a quick and effective resolution to the problem in hand would be well received. 

“He provided the necessary engineering support and quickly replaced a faulty Profibus module,” says Richard Brazier, Dairy Crest’s Utilities Engineer. “Put like that it sounds completely straightforward, but in fact it was quite involved and needed some detailed troubleshooting and problem-solving in order to trace the issue and resolve it.”

A review was conducted after everything had gone back to normal and production was in full swing. Welch made a number of suggestions for improvements to the site’s plant and equipment. 

These included: 
• Fitting new high performance drives to the glycol and Stork chiller condensers to enhance both operational functionality and energy efficiency
• Replacement of some reliable but obsolete Mitsubishi products
• Producing a bespoke portable Data Logger to identify improvements to OEE
• Training and engineering support.

Some of these suggestions were executed as standalone projects, but it soon became clear that the training and technical support cold best be addressed as part of an ongoing programme.

“Mitsubishi has long been aware of the importance of providing structured support to its customers, and has developed a sophisticated choice of options which are offered as a range of customisable service contracts so that each customer gets exactly the support it needs,” explains Welch.

After a thorough site survey and high level discussions about future development plans, Dairy Crest’s Dagenham site decided that Mitsubishi’s Gold Standard Three-Diamond service contract was the best option for them.

The contract provides 24/7 coverage, which includes a telephone helpline, dedicated support engineers who are fully conversant with the plant and committed to getting on site quickly when required, and bonded stock profiled to the needs of the customer’s facilities. 

“Our contract covers all automation equipment, whether it is made by Mitsubishi or not,” says Brazier. “So the Mitsubishi engineers have to know their way around several makes of drives, PLC and HMI, software suites and communications protocols.”

It wasn’t long before the Gold Standard contract came into fruition, when a critical PLC failed during production. Dairy Crest had a spare in store, and their own engineering team fitted it but then realised that there was no back-up program code on site, so the system could not run.

Fortunately, the Gold service initial survey includes the backing up of all program code. A new barcode reference system called Device ID (DID) had also been introduced., allowing the backed up code to be matched to a specific PLC and meant that the faulty PLC and meant that the faulty PLC was quickly identified, the correct program code emailed across to the site and installed. As a result, the line was up and running within 10 minutes of the service provider being alerted to the problem.

“The fundamental idea behind our Three-Diamond service contract is that we keep our plant running and avoid issues like different vendors blaming others and passing the buck from one to the other,” explains Brazier. “Unscheduled downtime can be extremely expensive in a milk plant of this size, but our structured service contract paid for itself very quickly. Now our dairy’s engineers are working with Mitsubishi on a number of exciting new projects to bring further benefits.”      


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