Tales from the Technology Trenches

Two food processors shared their experiences with wireless networks, cloud computing and information management at the recent Smart Industry 2015 conference.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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The wireless plant

Wireless networks are used extensively at Sugar Creek’s new facility in Cambridge City, Ind., a brownfield site that was expanded to 418,000 sq. ft. and is home to the copacker’s foray into high-volume sous vide production. When fully operational, the plant is expected to generate $350 million in annual revenue, Rodden says. Sugar Creek began the year with four production sites and should end the year with $600 million in sales.

Sugar Creek’s IoT infrastructure is built on analytics solutions from Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco’s RJ Mahadev joined Rodden in his Smart Industry presentation.

Pork bellies are a key raw material in Sugar Creek’s operations. Several years ago, the company introduced a pork belly procurement system based on RFID tags affixed to the 700-1,100 carriers in its facilities that transport each belly through the production process. Cook temperature, smokehouse dwell time and other variables affecting product shrink are captured by sensors and transmitted via the RFID tags to a data historian.

That experience created a comfort zone for the more ambitious infrastructure installed in Cambridge City, though increased productivity remains the goal. Project planning began a year in advance of the facility’s July opening and will be completed in about a year.
“Pushing responsibility for success in the process to the lowest level” is the avenue for reaching the productivity goal, Rodden says. Raw materials constitute 70 percent of production cost, and a one-point increase in yield would more than offset the $6 million capital cost for the IoT project.

The biggest challenge was winning IT support for giving off-the-shelf devices access to a protected network.

– Jon Riechert, Tyson Foods/Hillshire Brands

A video surveillance system is a big chunk of the price tag. The plant has 254 cameras protected by stainless-steel enclosures, adding literal meaning to the term plant visibility. To illustrate how cameras and wireless communication enhance visibility, Rodden offers a hypothetical plant visit by a key customer.

Prior to the visit, the sales rep contacts a plant supervisor via Jabber, an instant messaging platform with voice, video, desktop sharing and conferencing capabilities. When that median fails to connect the two, the rep uses IC instant connect, which simplifies radio connections to the plant floor, where the supervisor is working. Using a WebEx collaboration tool, the supervisor takes the rep on a video tour of the production areas the customer will see.

The plant manager greets the rep and customer when they arrive and gives them temporary security badges, which are implanted with a real time locating system (RTLS) that will track their movements during the visit. The customer requests process data from production systems, triggering an iPad request from the plant manager to IT to populate the data in an isolated server. Before leaving, the customer receives an e-mail with instructions on how to access the data.

Tracking visitors’ movements would constitute a poor ROI on a $6 million investment, Rodden concedes, but his example highlighted the IT/OT (information technology/operational technology) convergence and plant connectivity the installation was designed to provide.

Plant refrigeration is delivered through 80,000 lbs. of ammonia, and if sensors detect a leak, a network sensor would determine wind direction and the location of all personnel before broadcasting an evacuation notice and the best exit route to radios, phones and other devices.

“We’re all worried about security,” Cisco’s Mahadev points out, “but we never have a budget to deal with it. Think of securing the plant and information for the sake of operations,” including secure access by customers to data and by vendors to the programs they have installed.
Wireless networks are “the industrial equivalent of Google Plus,” Mahadev adds, but he recommends an outcomes-based approach to implementation. “What hurts enough to spend money?” he asked. “If you’re not clear about what you need, IoT vendors will sell you things you don’t really want to buy.”

A recent SCM World/Cisco survey concludes that manufacturers who have embraced IoT have cut unplanned downtime 5.8 percent from 11 percent and product defects to 2.5 percent from 4.9 percent.

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