GEA is a leading technology provider to the food industry, which represents 70% of its income. With 17,000 employees in more than 50 countries, the company specializes in the construction of food processing plants, particularly in the dairy industry. According to Alejandro Nectalí, Automation Engineer at GEA Spain: “We deliver comprehensive solutions, from design to process development, engineering and technology to the supply, installation and commissioning of the plant.”
The company specializes in creating plants that are designed to operate 24/7. “This helps the manufacturers to maximize the capacity usage,” says Nectalí. “Indeed, our plants are designed to cover the specific requirements of each customer, in accordance with the standards of the dairy industry, and we always strive to deploy the most recent technology.”
One of their customers is Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods, a company with head quarters in Nijkerk and three production plants in the Netherlands, which has been present in the market since 1954. It is the largest producer of full cream milk powder in Europe. With three factories and 900 Dutch farmers who deliver the raw product, it produces milk powders for the food industry and for millions of consumers worldwide.
The Dutch subsidiary of GEA was challenged with the creation – from scratch – of a new 13,000 m2 milk powder production plant in Gorinchem for Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods.
This required several processes to be combined, from the separation of raw milk into skimmed milk and cream, through evaporation and drying by atomization, on to milk powder handling and packaging. Before such a huge challenge, the Dutch subsidiary of GEA turned to several GEA subsidiaries in other countries since, being a global corporation, its know-how is decentralized. In this sense, GEA Netherlands provided the general management of the project and the engineering team for milk powder processing; GEA Spain supplied the automation engineering; GEA France, the evaporation engineering; GEA Denmark, the drying engineering; GEA New Zealand, powder handling engineering; and GEA Germany, the separation engineering. Therefore, the project became international and multidisciplinary, and required also several working teams from several companies to be coordinated in different countries to ensure the success of the project. However, they shared a common ground: Control Systems and Automation. This area was performed and overseen by the GEA Spain team. “In this context, one of the challenges was to implement a single solution for the whole plant, including hardware, software and control networks for all areas in the plant, from material reception to packaging,” states Nectalí. “A common platform, based on products and solutions from the Rockwell Automation® Integrated Architecture® platform, was chosen since the
Rockwell Automation solution had already proven highly successful in another Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods plant.” This decision is confirmed by Hans van der Heijden, project engineer at the dairy company: “Our existing factory includes 17 Allen-Bradley® PLC 5® (25E, 40E and 80E, and 80 SLC 5/04) controllers from Rockwell Automation and our engineers were already familiar with the programming environment. In fact, some of our technicians are trained at Rockwell Automation to improve their expertise.”
GEA was able to take the project forward thanks to its experience in previous implementations, its acquired skills, its previous joint work with Rockwell Automation and its ability to deliver a global support to the project, contributing locally in Spain and the Netherlands.
According to van der Heijden: “Both subsidiaries were extremely helpful in establishing the first definitions of the architectures, and we were offered good support during the implementation process at all times.” After the initial study, GEA implemented Rockwell Automation solutions. From field devices to the reporting system, all the elements are connected via EtherNet/IP, which greatly simplifies communications and data flow. Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® drives and E300 electronic overload relays, are integrated in the system, easing motor configuration and diagnostics, with Allen-Bradley FLEX™ I/O handling signal distribution. All the field elements are connected by means of Stratix 5700 and 1783-ETap switches to Allen-Bradley ControlLogix® programmable automation controllers (PAC) and Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus 6 graphic terminals, and to the different system PCs.
The control system software was implemented within a VMWare virtualization infrastructure using two physical servers. FactoryTalk software, a service-oriented application (SOA) platform, was used for this purpose since it allows elements to be shared as permissions and user roles, communications, logs, etc. among the different software packages that comprise it. SCADA supervision and control was delivered by FactoryTalk View SE, with data collection and historization by FactoryTalk Transaction Manager and FactoryTalk Historian. Reporting is through FactoryTalk Vantagepoint and asset management – including version control, audits and disaster recovery – by FactoryTalk AssetCentre. All this, in the opinion of Van der Heijden, “allows the company to set up the parameters in its own instruments; simplifying the management.”
Thanks to the system design performed by the engineers from GEA using Rockwell Automation systems, the new Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods milk powder factory can produce 8 tons of milk powder per hour, and can process 1,600,000 litres of raw milk per day, with the advantage that these parameters are fully scalable. This is one of the big advantages of working with Rockwell Automation, according to Nectalí: “The benefit of using a single platform for the whole plant with Rockwell Automation is that everything can work concurrently. All these elements are easily interconnected, and we had no problems in integrating them with each other. A new component can be added and the system instantly recognizes it. A single Rockwell Automation solution is friendlier to work with,” he comments.
This impacts on the customer too, Nectalí explains. “When we finish the project and leave the factory, we are no longer required since the customer can talk directly with Rockwell Automation experts for the staff training, to make enquiries or to solve any incident. This is beneficial for the customer, because the availability of local support by the manufacturer and the chance of being part of its own team, does not depend of an integrator for future modifications; and for us, as we can close the project and handover the factory maintenance to our colleagues from the GEA local Service.”
Thanks to Rockwell Automation software, Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods operators can generate its own customized production reports using common and widely used software, such as Microsoft Excel. These reports can be checked via a web browser and using mobile terminals, such as smartphones or tablets.
On the other hand, the implementation of a single control solution for the whole plant helps with asset optimization improvements, a reduction of ownership costs and lowered spares counts. Production and maintenance staff training is simplified too. The Rockwell Automation control system provides multidisciplinary controllers that can be used in different areas of the plant combined on a single Ethernet-based communications network, which delivers real-time information flow between several areas and departments in the factory.
An additional benefit is the direct connection with the other Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods factory, which are close to each other. “All communications are much easier and compatible, since they are made through standard communication protocols and networks,” states Nectalí, who recognizes the advantages provided to his company
along the project: “For us, the development work undertaken in this project with Rockwell Automation technology has enabled us to strengthen links with the global automation and information systems company for future projects. Indeed, we are taking advantage of the efforts made and the experience gained in new smallerscale projects currently in progress in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and France, all of them based exclusively on Rockwell Automation technology.” For his part, van der Heijden confirms that he is very satisfied, not only with Rockwell Automation®, but also with the work carried out during the implementation process by GEA.