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Feed manufacturer reaps rewards of totally integrated automation

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BASED in Upper Swan, Western Australia, Thompson & Redwood has been providing local farms, studs and stockfeeders with quality animal feed for over a quarter of a century. 

In this time, the plant has served the farming community well, providing a regular supply of essential animal supplies. But over the many decades of repetitive action, the plant has certainly seen better days.

Thompson & Redwood Projects & Operations Director, Henry Little, realised the need to upgrade his plant in the face of increasing operational and industry pressures.

"Over the years, we've noticed a decrease in the number of technicians that are familiar with our unique system which has led to massive downtime issues and loss of production during equipment failure.

"In addition, with changes in the food safety regulations, we are now required to trace back any batch of product for quality assurance, which our existing system was not capable of," explained Little.

Siemens Solution Partner, AP Automation, was engaged to come up with a solution that would see the plant grow in line with its modern requirements, become more efficient, while being robust enough to handle the repetitive grinding and batching functions.

"The Thompson & Redwood plant was experiencing the typical growing pains of a facility this age," said Andrew Phan, AP Automation's Managing Director, upon reflection of his initial visit.

"Due to its obsoleteness, we couldn't re-use any of the plant's existing equipment, which was PC-based and had limited visualisation and diagnostic abilities - all very common of technologies from 20 to 30 years ago," Phan continued.

With the challenge ahead of him, the Siemens Solution Partner devised a "risk-free solution that would help Thomson & Redwood improve product quality and reap the benefits that a modern control system offers.

Standardisation key to plant flexibility

The strategy that AP Automation came up with was based on the use of generic applications, allowing Thompson & Redwood to quickly and easily adapt to any grinding or batching application required. 

With a growing number of products including 25kg and 40kg bags of feed for poultry, horses, sheep, cattle and birds, generic software applications were used to allow Thompson & Redwood the flexibility to quickly change from one production line to another, in a simple and easy-to-setup way.

 

An overview of grinding process. 

Recognising that Thomson & Redwood is a small business with no 'deep pockets' to fall back on, the generic software applications were not just for the sole purpose of plant flexibility in its current operations.

These generic software applications will now provide Thompson & Redwood with the flexibility to cost-effectively upgrade the facility when required, thus future-proofing the manufacturer against any business changes down the track. 

Adding to its generically-orientated game plan, AP Automation also standardised on the plant's hardware components thereby allowing for very little adaptation for various applications.

"The hardware controls for the grinding and mixing plant comprises of a S7-300 PLC with integrated Ethernet port connected to WinCC SCADA and a field programming unit over Profinet," Phan explained.

"Over the same Profinet hangs the distributed inputs and outputs (I/O). The field sensors and actuators are connected to the I/O over industry standard Profibus and care has been taken to ensure that industry standards are used so that upgrades to the plant can be painless in the future," Phan continued.

Phan also explained that the new active front end drive implemented as part of this upgrade would achieve energy savings due to the reduction of harmonics which would result in virtually no energy losses.

Making things right

The Siemens' Totally Integrated Automation concept covering all aspects of industrial automation, was the foundation supporting AP Automation's successful design, and was developed to meet the pressing needs of many manufacturers alike.

Totally Integrated Automation (TIA), is the name Siemens gave to efficient interoperability of all automation components. The open system architecture covers the entire production process and is based on the consistent presence of shared characteristics: consistent data management, global standards, and uniform hardware and software interfaces.

TIA delivered risk-free integration of hardware, user-friendly software, visual diagnostics for proactive maintenance and fault detection as well as automated reporting, to name a just a few benefits.

 

Totally Integrated Automation. 

Phan has utilised TIA technology to the benefit of his customers for many years, helping many clients across various industries make the right decisions for the future of their businesses.

"As an engineering company, we have the freedom to integrate any equipment into our designs as we see appropriate and we've found TIA to consistently bring results. I'm especially pleased with TIA's diagnostic ability, which I believe to be superior in the industry, as this has assisted many of my clients in preventing a lot of potential breakdowns and issues while maximising their uptime and most importantly, their profits," reported Phan.

Siemens has conducted studies that have shown TIA to have assisted in reducing hidden life cycle costs, amounting to up to 80 percent of the total project costs.

Little could not be more pleased with the choice of technologies applied in his new look plant and explains how this new system has transformed his production.

"The application software is quite user-friendly which has minimised the costs in training our operators. It picks up the recipe from the WinCC database and displays it on the Human Machine Interface (HMI) screen. 

The operator can then alter the recipe parameters if required, depending on the process order and availability of raw materials. Once the operator is happy with the recipe, they release it to the system which automatically assigns the batch number and starts production. The operator is then able to monitor the entire production process as it is happening.

"In terms of the batching, reports are automatically produced and exported to MS Excel. The batching software is designed to work with any number of raw materials and an unlimited number of recipes which makes it adaptable to any grinding and batching application. It also displays the status of the batch on the overview screen," explained Little.

Real solutions for real needs

In an age where consumer choice prevails, manufacturing has had to overcome the challenge of providing more and more product lines in smaller quantities to meet the diverse consumer needs - all while retaining of economies of scale. 

This, tied with the ongoing economic climate of local resource costs and until recently, a very strong Australian dollar, has created a lot of pressure on our manufacturing sector to remain profitable. In order to continue operating in Australia manufacturers need to modernise their industrial production even more - to increase their productivity, efficiency, quality and digitalisation.

Siemens, strongly believes that industry still has a key role to play in the Australian economy, driving research into technologies to shape the Future of Manufacturing and make things right. 

For Thomson & Redwood, the key selling point for the Siemens solution was its ability to adapt to any grinding or batching application with ease. The solution was based on reusable, reproducible and repeatable software libraries which can be tailored for any application and consequently provide Thomson & Redwood with the flexibility to produce various product lines efficiently.

Combined with standardised hardware and all the automated features of a modern control system, Thompson & Redwood has reported an increase of up to seven percent in production efficiencies since commissioning of the plant upgrade.

"The improvement in efficiencies is due to fine tuning of the new system and reduced down time. And, as a result of these efficiencies, we've also seen energy savings of two percent which is a bonus given the rising cost of energy," said Little.

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