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Bel Group save costs, time and engineering efforts while boosting productivity and safety

15 December 2015

New, state-of-the-art Mini Babybel facility deploys fully integrated, single-network automation, motion, safety and facilities management solution.

With five universal core brands, including The Laughing Cow®, Kiri®, Leerdammer®, Boursin® and Mini Babybel® and over 25 local brands, the Bel Group is the third largest branded cheese company worldwide. Its products are shipped to over 130 countries and consumed by 400 million consumers around the globe. Bel built its reputation on innovation, brand strength, industrial excellence and its quality and food safety requirements.

Since an American nutritionist praised the qualities of the French cheese The Laughing Cow, in 2003, Bel products started to enjoy great success in the US market. The fourth Mini Babybel cheese plant in Brookings, SD is a response to growing demand for Mini Babybel cheese in the American market. As one of its largest industrial projects, the company wanted this new facility to deploy the latest technology, along with complying with American regulations. This required a high level of international cooperation and the full support of Rockwell Automation.

For the process, mechanisation and packaging elements of this project, the key strategies followed were standardisation, safety, energy management and communication. The Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture® system coupled to an EtherNet/IP™ communication infrastructure has helped to make Brookings a smart, safe and sustainable plant. 

It has also given the company access to all the benefits inherent with The Connected Enterprise: a full interoperability with corporate networks and industrial applications, which helps to get the utmost added value from the large volume of information delivered throughout the plant.

“The Brookings factory in South Dakota is the fourth production unit for Mini Babybel of the Group, but it’s also “our biggest industrial project in the last fifty years,” explains Christian Bagourd, engineering manager at Bel.

One hundred and forty four million dollars (112.6 million Euros) were invested to build an up to date cheese plant with the most modern technologies. Therefore, the decision was taken to deploy Rockwell Automation products. “The brand is well-known in the USA, and we thought it would be easier to find technicians trained to use these solutions,” elaborates Bagourd. Another primary advantage was that Rockwell Automation employees, experienced and aware of the newest American rules and regulations, assisted BEL’s project team to adapt the process accordingly.

This American adventure is a new industrial and technological challenge for Bel and its corporate engineering team. A steering committee was created especially for the project. This committee included the Bel engineering members, Rockwell Automation technical experts and sales representatives from France, Europe and US South Dakota.

For several key suppliers in the fields of process, mechanisation and packaging, a support program was established by Rockwell Automation. Eight French and European OEMs received training to assist them with their development efforts while also complying with the hardware and software standards defined by Bel. The steering committee also assisted with the process of gaining the certifications required in America, such as the UL electrical regulation and the 3A and PMO Food standards.

During the meetings of the steering committee the technical decisions were made. For the software, the key word was standardisation. “As we wanted our applications to be easy to maintain and connect easily with third-party software, we selected two programming standards: PackML 3.0 for the conditioning, and ISA 88 for the process,” comments Bagourd. Even if ISA 88 is a standard, its deployment has to be specific for each company. This meant that the Bel teams had to develop their own standard if they wanted to be able to easily integrate pieces of software that are developed by suppliers.

“We described the main graphical objects we wanted for the applications, so that the symbol used to describe, for example a motor, would be the same in the whole factory. We also defined some basic functions, such as the acknowledgement of an alarm or the way a machine can be switched to manual mode, explains Christian Villedieu de Torcy, head of automation and industrial computing projects in the Bel Group engineering department.

All these graphical objects and basic functions were sent to the suppliers, so that they could implement them in every machine or program developed for the Brookings factory. “And we were there to coach the suppliers whenever they needed help in using the standards or working on our products,” adds Dominique Leroi, sales engineer in charge of consumer packaged goods activities at Rockwell Automation, France. At the request of Bel, a post installation audit was conducted by Rockwell Automation in order to check the correct implementation of the automation standards selected by the steering committee.

Standardisation efforts were defined for the hardware element of the project, too. A large part of the Integrated Architecture portfolio from Rockwell Automation was deployed, starting with an EtherNet/IP network – chosen by Bel for the backbone – and a device level ring (DLR) network for the copper network that links the 40 automation controllers to the equipment.

Allen-Bradley® Kinetix® drives are connected directly onto the EtherNet/IP network, which manages the multiple axes deployed in the cheese-pressing machines. With regards to safety, the French company selected Allen- Bradley GuardLogix® safety controllers. “Each sector of the production line is controlled by a safety controller and all of them are linked through an EtherNet/IP network; this allows Bel to stop a sector while the other areas are still running, which greatly helps to improve productivity,” adds Leroi.

The utilities management system (water, cooling and compressed air networks) is connected to FactoryTalk® View supervision software, via a dedicated controller. “It is the first Bel factory in which we integrate the energy management into the supervision system,” notes Christian Villedieu de Torcy. And thanks to the Allen-Bradley PowerMonitor™ counters installed on the electrical cabinets, Bel automation engineers are able to develop any kind of algorithm they wish to use to reduce their energy consumption.

Production data are also tracked and traced with FactoryTalk Historian Software for quality audits.

Production at the latest Bel factory has started and ramped up without any problem. “We are even ahead of the plan we had established at the beginning of the project,” emphasises Bagourd. “The unit is already running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and our objective to reach a capacity of 10,000 tons per year is very close.”

The standardisation efforts defined by the steering committee have also been very useful. “The programming standards makes the cheese plant’s maintenance easier” says Christian Villedieu de Torcy. “If a sensor needs to be adjusted, or if a production cell is stopped, our technicians can quickly find the information they need in the programs and the productivity is increased.” And among the evolutions expected for 2015, Bel Group is thinking of using FactoryTalk AssetCenter to manage all the software activities in the factory. Every access, update or modification will be recorded.

Finally, from a hardware perspective, the Bel suppliers have built their solutions with a list of equipment established with Rockwell Automation, significantly reducing the spare parts inventory. Bel has even gone further by signing, for the first time, a Part Management Agreement (PMA) with Rockwell Automation. “With this agreement, we have a consignment of stock of spare parts, which is the property of Rockwell Automation, but is located in the Brookings factory,” explains Christian Villedieu de Torcy. “We can access the parts we need whenever we need them, which saves us costs and, more importantly, we don’t have to handle the obsolescence of parts in our warehouse anymore.”


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