Is plant efficiency the apple of your eye?

Software helps Leahy Orchards increase production efficiency by 10 percent, achieve ROI in eight months.

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By the Food Processing Staff

It may sound rustic, but the process of creating applesauce is as complex as any in a food processing plant. After up to 10 months in controlled-atmosphere storage, apples are washed, sorted and ground into pulp. Flavors and additives are mixed in and the applesauce is cooked, cooled and packaged. The packaging process itself splits into several lines.

Competing in this business requires not just automation but a high level of uptime. Despite its appearance as a small family company, Leahy Orchards, Franklin, Quebec, maintains over 60 percent market share in Canada with more than 90 percent of all private-label applesauce products.

Leahy Orchards has steadily increased its automation and controls technology over the past five years. “We’d been tracking efficiency manually for a long time and our rates were all over the board — from 50 to 70 percent,” says systems engineer Gerald Beaudoin. “Not only did we have fairly wide swings in efficiency and downtime, but we had no idea what was the root cause.” In addition, the manual tracking was slow. Reports for each shift were generated the following day — missing an opportunity to make immediate changes in the line to improve the day’s production numbers.
Leahy Orchards monitors applesauce packaging via Allen-Bradley PanelView 550 operator interface stations. This part of the packaging line boxes 4-oz. snack size servings (below) into cases of 12.

In 2000, Beaudoin learned of Rockwell Automation’s RSBizWare PlantMetrics. The plant efficiency measurement software is designed to help companies analyze the performance of plant equipment, allowing Beaudoin to identify the actual cause of inefficiencies and machine downtime.

“We did a basic cost-justification model using the cost to implement PlantMetrics and the expected savings based on increased efficiency,” says Leahy. “We found that if we increased efficiency by about by 4 percent in under one year, we’d be able to get a good return on the investment.”

PlantMetrics measures a variety of information from five work cells on the portion pack line, including two fillers, a cooler, sleever and case packer cells. It gathers information on machine availability, throughput and quality.

Allen-Bradley SLC 500 controllers (implemented during Leahy’s earlier automation project) collect data from the line and, using the Rockwell Software RSSql transaction manager and an Ethernet network, the information is sent to a Microsoft SQL Server database. Both RSSql and SQL server are included with PlantMetrics.

From the database, information is served to five client computers on an administrative network. Key personnel can view reports via a web browser to identify and correct problems.

Using PlantMetrics, Beaudoin was able to immediately identify a counting problem on some of the work cells. He discovered the counting mechanism on one work cell was recording higher numbers of finished product than was true. Scrap pieces, which were counted as finished in the first work cell, were actually unfinished and were being scrapped, but not counted, at the following work cell.

PlantMetrics allowed Leahy to analyze the production data and find these inconsistencies. By fixing the counting mechanism on the faulty work cell, Leahy Orchards was able to reduce scrap by about 40-50 percent, equaling about C$500 a day in savings. The decrease in scrap alone gave Leahy its return on investment in only eights months.

“One of the unexpected benefits of PlantMetrics is it forces you to look at the physical production line as well as the numbers and measurements,” Beaudoin said. “The software allowed us to identify the root cause of inefficiencies that otherwise could have gone unnoticed. Just looking at the numbers in some cases didn’t show us the problem, but looking at the line did.”

With automation in place and new systems to identify inconsistencies, Leahy Orchards was able to hit its efficiency goal of 80-90 percent on most days. Beaudoin estimates the increase in efficiency has allowed the company to process more applesauce, translating into an extra 10 percent in production annually.

For more information, see www.rockwellautomation.com/ or call 414-382-2000.

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