Controllers and HMI for food and beverage

Jan. 1, 2000

Fonterra dairy and King's Hawaiian bakery expand capabilities with new PLCs and human-machine interface

The global recession has made changes to the way consumers are behaving, said Peter Williams, automation and process control manager at Fonterra Co-operative Group (, headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand. “People are saving more,” he said at the Food and Beverage Industry Forum at Rockwell Automation Fair in Houston. “Our project was born because one of our key yogurt packaging machines had been in service for 10 years. We had to get components specially made in Europe sometimes. This wasn't sustainable.”

Fonterra, with $15 billion in annual revenue, employs around 16,000 people globally. The milk processor and dairy exporter to more than 100 countries has six manufacturing sites across New Zealand.

“We could have replaced the filling system for $5 million cost or replace the controllers,” explained Williams. “We chose Option 2. We needed to move away from reliance on foreign manufacturing of components. We didn't want to be relying on people in different time zones. We didn't want to retrain operators to work in the existing plan. We needed a robust fallback plan. Our product has a short shelf life.”

Williams utilized the help of a Rockwell Automation team ( and local contractors. “We needed a clear plan, including change management and documentation for updating of drawings,” he said. “The HMI isn't just an HMI. Maintenance and diagnostics are on the machine, but it does more than let the operators run the machine. It holds a preventive maintenance program. It holds a spare parts history. The PLC was modified to communicate via Ethernet.”

The servo system and PLC systems were supplied by NHP/Rockwell Automation, with Rockwell Automation engineers based in Christchurch. “Major components needed to be off the shelf,” explained Williams. “The implementation brought together three work systems. We bench-tested the HMI-PLC connection for three months, making minor operating system changes until it became stable. We installed the HMI-PLC with the drives and motors to replicate the machine giving us a physical representation on the machine.”

The Fonterra plant was taken down on a Thursday and commissioning finalized over four days. “The plant was handed back at the end of the shutdown,” said Williams. “Fine turning continued during production for about a week. One month after the handover, we took the operators aside and got their feedback and made some changes to improve performance. The machine is now more supportable.”

As a result of the improved flexibility, Fonterra increased the production rate from 20,600 pots per hour to 21,600 pots per hours, and the total cost was about 5% of equipment replacement.

Greenfield Bakery
King’s Hawaiian ( has a tradition of baking delicious bread. “Behind that wonderful smell and great taste is a long family history,” said Kelli Uphaus, software engineer at Bachelor Controls ( Robert Taira opened his first bakery in Hilo, Hawaii, in the 1950s. In 1977, he built a new 24,000 sq ft bakery in Torrance, California and added 40,000 sq ft to the bread bakery in the 1980s. After adding 150,000 sq ft in 2004 and still needing additional space in 2010, King’s Hawaiian decided to build a new 125,000-sq-ft Greenfield plant in Oakwood, Georgia, to get product to store shelves more quickly and cost effectively.

“The new plant required 11 specialized machines manufactured by different OEMs with different controls,” explained Uphaus, who also spoke at the Rockwell Automation Fair’s Food and Beverage Industry Forum. “We had 10 months to get the plant up and running,” said Uphaus. “We have a long history with Mike Williams, director of engineering at King's Hawaiian.” Bachelor had worked with Williams on the Torrance plant expansion.

A kickoff meeting in October 2010 was followed almost immediately by the OEM function specification, which was completed in February 2011. Plant startup was scheduled for October 2011 with integration of OEM apps in spring 2012. King’s Hawaiian also wanted remote monitoring to be part of the project.

“Most customers have plans and ideas in their heads,” explained Uphaus. “The key is getting them down on paper. Our first milestone was to get the functional spec to the OEMs. Part of the functional spec included best practices. For the PLC, it included communication logic and alarm logic. We also specified HMI best practices.”

Bachelor was the system integrator and the HMI developer to make it simple for the operator to see what's going on in the system. “We worked with Rockwell to develop a robust architecture. Our FactoryTalk directory and VantagePoint server are used to see what's going on in real-time using a Web browser. The new facility opened in October 2011, a week ahead of schedule, doubled production and increased capacity.

Read more about the Food and Beverage Industry Forum at

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