Trends and developments in the automation of dairy process plants

Shaun Weston24 Jul 2013 (Updated 9 Jan 2014)

Claire Rowan talks to Paul Daniels, food and beverage development manager at Siemens Industry, about the latest trends and developments in the automation of dairy process plants.

Just like any other industry, players in the dairy industry are looking to maximise their production capabilities, reduce downtime and wastage, reduce their carbon footprint and manage energy costs, with all contributing to improving the bottom line.

In addition, as with all FMCG manufacturers, dairies need to hit retailer deadlines, deliver on time and with the right quality. Siemens technology is an enabler to help companies achieve these goals.

Diagnostics is one area that's providing dairies with significant advantages in terms of keeping the plant running smoothly and reducing downtime. Although already built-in and inherent to Siemens' automation solutions, diagnostics and the benefits they can bring haven't always been recognised by dairies.

"Our technology helps customers to diagnose at the front end, whether at the capping or bottling machine, without involving engineering departments," says Paul Daniels, food and beverage development manager at Siemens Industry. "They allow frontline crews to diagnose problems first-hand.

He explains that the diagnostics within the system identify issues and provide messages and diagrams at the user interface that can guide operators to make simple adjustments such as closing a machine guard, or tweaking the cap infeed to prevent blockages before the situation escalates.

"We are currently educating our end-users about what's available, to ensure that they check that the diagnostics they need are enabled. The diagnostics are freely available within the software, but just need to be 'switched' on," says Daniels, who suggests that an attitude of, 'we've always done it this way' can be a reason for dairies not adopting the diagnostic facilities available to them.

Further developments are occuring at the interface between the plant floor and the business world of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, where solutions such as Siemens' Simatic IT MES (Manufacturing Execution System), are helping to maximise efficiency in this area.

"In the past, the plant and the office were not linked in a very elegant way," says Daniels. "Now, Siemens' Symatic IT MES solution links the two smoothly, and makes efficient use of transactional data. For dairies, for example, which are subject to stringent cleaning regimes, the MES can help to establish the optimum order of production that will reduce the need for time-consuming cleaning programmes. It can automatically establish the best way to schedule production."

Tracking and traceability are also facilitated by the developments in automation, which can be used to direct and monitor original deliveries of milk, from the tankers, to the right tanks, and ultimately the right bottle or pot with screens and graphics constantly providing users with real-time information, according to Daniels.

"The diagnostics and seamless traceability that Siemens' TIA (Totally Integrated Automation) strategy provides is key," he says, who explains that the latest enhancements to Siemens' TIA portal ensure uniform displays and allow every element of the automation system to be linked. "This is not possible when using third party suppliers for different elements, and is a unique advantage of Siemens' offering."

Siemens recently introduced the latest version of its TIA Portal (Version 12), which has added power and efficiency to its existing capabilities. Through this TIA framework, every piece of automation equipment from the company's portfolio of hardware and software is compatible and therefore easy to integrate. It brings together multiple automation applications into one single 'engineering' environment.

The enhanced TIA Portal Version 12 provides the ultimate backdrop to Siemens' new Simatic S7-1500 controllers, and allows all the Siemens Sinamics G converter series of drives to be integrated into the overall framework.

Claire Rowan is group technical editor, FoodBev Media.