Redundant controls benefit food and drink production

This article explains how the food and drink can benefit from the latest generation of redundant control systems to give affordable dependability.

There are many process industries that have found good cause to embrace the technology of redundant systems but, historically, the food and drink sector has not been one of them. A key reason behind this has, of course, been cost; implementing redundant systems has traditionally relied on the use of custom hardware and bespoke installation, and that does not come cheap.

For the likes of the oil and gas processing sectors or the chemicals industries, there is no choice in the matter, because the result of a control failure can be catastrophic. The cost of the necessary redundant technology is justified by the risk of failure. However, in many other industries – food and drink among them – the same risks simply do not exist, so redundant systems have been seen as an unjustifiable expense.

However, the picture is changing. Manufacturers are coming to realise that defining risk is much more than simply looking at the potential for accidents. There is the monetary cost of downtime in terms of lost production; also the potential damage to reputations when products do not arrive with the customer on time; and the risk of faulty products reaching the customer.

These are particularly pertinent issues within food manufacturing. With routes to market increasingly dominated by the large supermarket chains, food manufacturers are finding their profit margins continually squeezed, to the point where the cost of downtime is becoming very significant indeed. Maintaining the bottom line depends on smooth, continuous production.

Lost production and lost reputation

At the same time, the supermarkets seem to have no qualms about finding alternative suppliers should delivery of goods start to look in any way uncertain. A manufacturer's reputation for reliable delivery is hard won, and easily lost.

But perhaps the most significant of the issues facing the food and drink industry is the risk of flawed or imperfect products finding their way into the distribution chain. The technology to track and trace products is in place and is reliable, but the cost of a product recall is significant, in terms of both lost revenue and damaged reputation. Added to that, we are living in an increasingly litigious society, and the costs of defending and settling any resulting litigation must not be ignored.

HACCP food safety methodology

The food industry is a relatively recent adopter of advanced automation and process control technologies. But in recent times it has embraced the highest levels of control systems as a means of boosting productivity, eliminating the inconsistencies that inevitably result from manual control adjustments, and meeting key HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) requirements. The HACCP food safety methodology relies on the identification of critical control points (CCPs) in food production and preparation processes. The CCPs are then closely monitored in order to ensure that food is safe for consumption.

Of the seven HACCP principles, four directly address control aspects, covering the defining of CCPs, setting of limits for each CCP, monitoring to ensure each CCP is under control, and taking of corrective action when a CCP is out of control.

Looking at how control technology impacts on food production, a typical scenario starts with raw materials and ingredients stored in a cold storage area. Temperature monitoring and control systems maintain the correct temperature or warn of problems. As production starts, ingredients are weighed into batch bins, with a PLC holding all the recipe data for the given end product. The batch store might be PLC controlled, again with temperature monitoring. As the batch bins are moved to the mixing and cooking environment, extra ingredients are weighed out and added. Recipes and operations are PLC controlled, and effective temperature monitoring is maintained, with all systems networked to monitor CCPs. After cooking, clean-in-place (CIP) operations are also PLC controlled.

The product, meanwhile progresses to filling and packaging, with the batch details printed on the package. Again, all these operations are typically PLC controlled.

PLC plays critical role

With this picture, it is clear that the role of the PLC is vital. If this key component goes down, the problem is not simply one of the process stopping for a short period. If the monitoring of temperature loops, for example, cannot be assured, and if uncertainty arises, then whole batches or bins of ingredients might have to be simply thrown away.

Many of these issues would be readily addressed through the use of redundant controllers, but when such technologies cannot be bought off the shelf, then cost becomes a major issue. Historically there has been a notable lack of standardised redundant controllers that offer the same benefits of processing power, open systems and competitive pricing that users have come to enjoy from conventional automation components.

But the situation is changing. The recently launched QnPRH controller from Mitsubishi has reached a price point that opens up redundant options to virtually all food processing operations. Readily scalable, the QnPRH platform meets the needs of distributed control around food processing lines, with a fully redundant architecture that provides hot standby in critical areas.

Track record

Mitsubishi Electric is one of the largest automation and control companies in the world, with a history of innovation in the development of today's highly reliable technical integrated solutions. Its experience ranges from the smallest and simplest installations to the most demanding where systems interruption cannot even be tolerated. Complementing the QnPRH, Mitsubishi has a suite of software programs designed to provide specific functions. This includes the powerful MX SCADA platform that is already widely used throughout the food and drinks industry.

With the introduction of these latest redundant controllers from Mitsubishi, hardware installation and maintenance costs are being slashed while, at the same time, performance, productivity and reliability are soaring to new levels.

Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V.

Travellers Lane
Hatfield
AL10 8XB
UNITED KINGDOM

+44 (0)1707 288780

automation@meuk.mee.com

https://gb3a.mitsubishielectric.com

More technical articles
3 hours ago
Harwin and MSA Components sign German distribution deal
Harwin is bringing greater strength to its German supply chain through a new strategic partnership with MSA Components. The agreement allows MSA to offer all the latest products from Harwin’s extensive portfolio.
4 hours ago
Siemens selected by Microsoft for RAMP Programme
Siemens Digital Industries Software has been selected to participate in the Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes (RAMP) Phase II initiative.
5 hours ago
Kontron receives VDC Research’s Gold Award for vendor satisfaction
Kontron has been recognised for outstanding customer satisfaction. The company has received the Gold Vendor Satisfaction Award for IoT and Embedded Hardware technology from VDC Research.
8 hours ago
Mouser wins Vishay Distributor of the Year Award
Mouser Electronics has received the 2021 High Service Distributor of the Year award from Vishay Intertechnology, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of discrete semiconductors and passive electronic components.
1 day ago
What changes does the new machinery regulation bring?
As the machinery regulation replaces machinery directive 2006/42/EC, Dirk Meyer, specialist engineer solution architect at Eaton, looks at what is changing.
1 day ago
Klüber Lubrication receives Schaeffler Supplier Award 2022
Schaeffler has awarded Klüber Lubrication with the Supplier Award 2022 in the field of quality. The jury emphasised in particular the global supplier's strong commitment to the compliance with quality standards.
1 day ago
Essentra Components cuts energy usage by 15% globally
An innovative energy reduction initiative based on the concept of insulated jackets is helping industrial components manufacturer Essentra Components cut its energy usage when heating machine barrels by 15% and save CO2 emissions in the process.
2 days ago
Fluke addresses requirements to improve operational efficiencies
Rising energy costs and more stringent legislation guiding sustainable practices is spurring companies to re-evaluate processes and seek new tools and technologies to reduce waste and overcome challenges in today’s industrial environments.
5 days ago
7th axis robot in a welding application
An Igus 7th axis on a collaborative robot working alongside staff at German screening machine manufacturer Rhewum is helping to increase the workspace from 1300 to 5500mm.
5 days ago
Robust inductives position automotive workplace carriers on conveyor
An automotive manufacturer is relying extensively on the reliability of Contrinex’s robust and high-performance inductive sensors in the automated assembly of engines, where cylinder heads are transferred for mounting on the engine.

Login / Sign up