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Dairy industry should seek process control integration

20 January 2011

Simon Ellam from Siemens Industry Automation looks at four key drivers that can influence manufacturing competitiveness and aid operational efficiency

He also highlights some of the process control technology now available to ensure companies have total confidence that they can demonstrate adherence to the ever-increasing scrutiny governing dairy industry production.

The modern day challenges for manufacturers in the dairy industry are complex in their nature. As consumer habits and demands change and new markets for niche products quickly arise, manufacturers have to be confident that they can be fast to market and are not hampered by an ageing and inflexible production process that can run counter to stringent regulatory controls.

Faced with consumer pressures and the steadily rising prices of raw materials and energy, dairy companies and cheese factories must address four key challenges in order to remain competitive in the long term. These can be summarised as:

• A need to reduce costs over the entire life cycle of the plant,
• Drive improvements in production flexibility - particularly with regard to faster changeover of products,
• Ensure a consistently high level of product quality,
• Deliver compliance with a strict regulatory environment

The rising price of milk and the spiralling cost of energy are exerting ever greater financial pressures on dairy and cheese-making companies. There are numerous potential levers for optimisation, particularly in areas such as application of resources, plant availability and workflow.

One of the keys to reducing costs is a consistent application of automation technology. Simple engineering and the smallest possible number of interfaces ensure reliable processes, while at the same time significantly reducing expenditure of both time and money. This is an advantage that has a particularly positive effect in cost-intensive areas such as operation, maintenance and repair over the entire life cycle of the plant.

Very few other sectors exhibit such a wide variety of consumer trends. The cooling shelves in supermarkets are bursting with an enormous variety of products, flavours and innovatively packaged products. In order to succeed in this sector, many dairy companies and cheese factories are opting for even greater diversification of their product range, and this is a strategy that can only reap success if it also adds up from a production viewpoint.

Fast and dextrous production changeover from one product to another is a subject at which Siemens have been working and advising on for many years. Many customers struggle with the disparate systems that have regularly arisen from using a variety of process and machinery suppliers to build up a manufacturing line. The challenge is to achieve a fully integrated plant from the process control requirements of a food processing environment right through to the high speed and accurate requirements of filling, packaging and outbound logistics.

The processing of milk demands the highest levels of quality and hygiene. The fluctuating quality of the raw material and its perishable nature make the manufacture of dairy products with consistent levels of quality a highly complex task. Process & quality monitoring is achieved and kept simple through a cohesive approach to process control systems.

To derive ultimate benefit a process control system must consistently link and coordinate every individual step of milk processing, while monitoring all quality-relevant parameters. Tightly linking this information into a laboratory information management system (LIMS), allows quality assurance covering the entire process – thereby assuring a reliable product.

Global companies that want to launch innovative products onto the market without delay must ensure consistent product specifications at all times, anywhere in the world. This is where effective Product Life Cycle Management enables product specifications to be exchanged and standardised on a global basis.

Technology to help Compliance with regulatory control.

Technology to enable dairy manufacturers to have total confidence that their processes can meet all expected regulatory benchmarks is readily available, with systems such as SIMATIC PCS7 offering an umbrella approach to process control solutions that can aid companies in such ongoing commitments.

Authorities accept no compromise when it comes to food production and regulatory scrutiny is becoming tighter across the globe. The fact that regulations such as EU 178/2002 provide the incentive for greater transparency within the company is easily overlooked. Indeed, such transparency can be exploited in many cases in order to better understand production and business processes and to discover new potential for production optimisation in important areas such as tracking and tracing materials, product routing materials around the process, cleaning the process environment, as well as overall production control.

Safe Transfer and effective tracing: Technology such as Process Line Manager operates on a job-related basis as it ensures that raw materials are transferred safely and reach their destination with the right level of quality. The individual jobs such as pumping, heating or cooling can be entered manually or operated automatically by means of the recipe archive.

To ensure reliable processing prior to starting the job, a plausibility check is performed with the Tank Manager for the source and destination tank, using the Pipe block and the Route Control System. If the Process Line Manager receives a “Go”, it issues a batch ID for all tanks and valves concerned for the efficient tracing of products and transfers all job-related data to the archive manager. In this way, the Process Line Manager not only ensures a reliable execution of the process, but also provides support for efficient tracing at the same time.

If a transfer starts during the process, all relevant information on source, start time, desired quantity or destination is saved via Archive Manager. At the end of the transfer, the end time, the conveyed quantity and the status are also recorded.

In close collaboration with the Process Line Manager and a laboratory information system, Unilab, the Tank Manager block of the SIMATIC PCS 7 for Dairy library monitors all data specific to the tanks and mixers: physical parameters, the contents, all releases and the respective status – for example, is production currently running? Can a new job be executed as planned? Should the tanks and mixers be cleaned first?

Route control: As technology such as Tank Manager takes care of the tanks and the mixing procedures, so software block PIPE and SIMATIC Route Control enhances all the transport routes for the processes in question.

Put simply, without any special programming knowledge, all material transports can be configured, controlled, monitored and correspondingly diagnosed providing decisive advantages in terms of greater transparency in the material flows as well as production processes that not only run more reliably, but are also easier to modify.

Flexible cleaning: Although CIP systems often have widely differing designs in practice, flexible CIP’s such as found within the SIMATIC PCS7 system is a standardized software solution that enables individual cleaning programs to be created easily, implemented automatically and changed flexibly as required. No special programming knowledge is needed, so any technologist can quickly and easily set the parameters of the corresponding program runs.

Integrated laboratory support: For optimum quality management seamless integration of the process system with a laboratory overview enables product quality to be controlled and crucially documented.

In this regard use of systems such as Unilab integrates the entire workflow of the laboratory. Quality data and information can be evaluated at any time in the daily laboratory operation and forwarded to the overall system. In this way, the results of the quality assurance measures are available at all times and can be reused accordingly with the same quality-driven approach available on a worldwide basis.

For companies that want to launch innovative products onto the market sooner must ensure consistent product specifications. As a complete product specification database for the entire company, and solutions such as the SIMATIC Interspec module creates the ideal conditions for intelligent Product Life Cycle Management and enables product specifications to be exchanged and standardized on a global basis.

In conclusion, critical factors for success in the dairy industry rely heavily upon a sophisticated level of process control integration and process control transparency.
In essence, the more seamlessly the production-relevant processes interact in a company, the easier it will be to meet the economic requirements, increase operational efficiencies and satisfy regulatory measurements.

Integrated process control solutions from milk reception to the finished goods warehouse and from the field level to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) level are the key and can result in an optimised workflow that delivers perfect quality at lower costs - at the same time as providing greater production flexibility and transparency.

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