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High capacity, flexibility and efficiency in feed production

Marco Hagen, ENGIE: “Feed mill automation technology makes it possible to achieve a substantial improvement in production efficiency, achieving constant and predictable output quality as well as cost reduction. Dependent on the mechanical capabilities of the production equipment, the performance of an existing feed mill can be improved, and we have seen improvements so far up to 25%. In the fast world with changing demands it is unthinkable to do this without a reliable automation system.”

Last year Van Aarsen completed construction of one of the most modern feed mills in Brazil for Capal Cooperativa Agroindustrial. Its construction – from concept to completion – was realized by Van Aarsen in cooperation with ENGIE, responsible for the feed mill automation. As Feed Planet Magazine, we talked with Marco Hagen, Sales Manager of ENGIE about the fully automated feed mill that Van Aarsen and ENGIE completed for Capal Cooperativa Agroindustrial in Brazil.

engieWe have learnt the feed mill, which ENGIE as one of the bigger suppliers in industrial automation in the Netherlands and Van Aarsen as the supplier of complete feed mill solutions for the production of animal feed worldwide jointly worked on, brought about massive improvements in terms of capacity, flexibility and efficiency in feed production. Stating that the Brazilian customer is proud of the new feed plant, Marco Hagen also said they received positive feedback about the feed mill especially because it has high automation level which requires little interference from people, quick start up feature, an easy system to work with and easy adjustment and fine-tuning of parameters.

We take the details from Marco Hagen…

Mr. Hagen, First of all could you give us some information about your company ENGIE and its partner Van Aarsen? What can you say about the size and target of your partnership and reason for such a partnership?
With over 150 automation specialists ENGIE Industrial Automation is one of the biggest suppliers in industrial automation in the Netherlands. We have expertise in various market segments including food, animal feeds, water, chemicals, energy and infrastructure. ENGIE has a leading position in the Dutch animal feed market.

Van Aarsen is developer, manufacturer and supplier of state of the art machines and complete feed mill solutions for the production of animal feed worldwide. ENGIE and Van Aarsen have an international partnership since 2012. Van Aarsen applies the MES Toolbox in projects for their customers in the international feed market. The MES Toolbox is a modular solution in process control and optimization.

Van Aarsen has a worldwide network of sales people and agents. With our joint strengths we are able to supply a complete solution for animal feed factories internationally. So far we have implemented 15 projects together worldwide and we’re aiming to have done 25 joint projects in 2020.

Could you tell us about the benefits of implementing an automation technology in a feed mill? According to you, what processes are more suited for automation?
To be able to make the right decisions in the production process, accurate information on production equipment, raw materials and stock is essential. With the MES Toolbox our customers have real-time insight into these processes.

Feed mill automation technology makes it possible to achieve a substantial improvement in production efficiency, achieving constant and predictable output quality as well as cost reduction. Dependent on the mechanical capabilities of the production equipment, the performance of an existing feed mill can be improved, and we have seen improvements so far up to 25%. In the fast world with changing demands it is unthinkable to do this without a reliable automation system.

But to operate efficiently, a feed factory needs more than just an easily accessible and robust processing system. To achieve an optimum level of operations, it is crucially important to be able to gather and interpret data. Good reporting possibilities for tracking and tracing batches and recording maintenance are important. Availability of a process optimization tool is essential too, by showing in real time where potential bottlenecks in the production process could occur. With software connectors for the usual ERP systems it is possible to manage multiple plants from a central location.

We know that last year a new – fully automated feed mill was completed in Brazil and the automation system was a Van Aarsen – ENGIE solution. Could you give us some information about what equipment did you use for the fully automated feed mill in Brazil? Could you give us information about the technologies you implemented to the mill?
The factory of Capal runs on our standard Feed mill solution which exists out of two physical production servers which are virtualized with VM-ware. Running the systems virtualized increases the possibilities for remote support and monitoring, sharing and dividing server capacity and prevents hardware vendor lock-in for the future.

On each of the servers we run virtualized windows servers hosting all the production data. The MES Toolbox runs on just one server and is mirrored with a second server. We have a MASTER server running the production and a SLAVE server duplicating all production data. In case something might happens with the production server we can easily switch over to the SLAVE server reducing down time.

The MES Toolbox is developed with open source technology like JAVA and MySQL. Using JAVA as a development platform makes it free to run at any operating system supporting JAVA. The equipment in the factory is controlled by just one Siemens 319 CPU. Below schematic gives an overview of the hardware.

In the control room the operators make use of thin clients. The thin clients make use of an RDP connection to the server to run the MES Toolbox application. This is done via a so called remote App. The MES Toolbox client itself is a web based client and can be started via a web browser on every operating system supporting JAVA.

Inside the factory we have three touch panels mounted to thin clients. There is one at the manual additive station showing the operator the ingredients he must add. One at the pellet line to control the pellet line next to the pellet line; this one is not used often because you can control the pellet line also from the operator room; and a last one in the load out street for the truck driver where the driver can select his truck and trip to start the automatic loading. All operations can also be controlled from out the operator room. In this factory we do not make use of barcode scanners on e.g. bag intake and manual addition. This is a possibility and increases feed safety since there is better control and saver check on what is added.

Could you tell us about the support you provide after installation? Is there a remote support system to provide help to the customer when needed?
After commissioning, a second line support is available 24×7. We offer different kinds of support levels: we offer 24×7 support line where the customer is helped by a support engineer who is also involved in developing feed mill automation. This way we guarantee that the customer is always helped by a good-educated engineer who knows about the process of feed mills. This type of support is often called corrective support. Besides corrective support we also offer preventive maintenance. We are able to monitor critical parts in process control permanently and remotely. Via a secured VPN connection the server systems of our clients are connected with the ENGIE datacenter. Servers are monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and we are able to undertake direct action if a possible disturbance should occur.

Automation gives the ability to trace the product throughout the process so that any operator error can be observed. Or once a system is fully commissioned, an automation system consistently performs a repetitious task at high accuracy levels, while never getting distracted. Regarding the benefits of automation system in a feed mill, what do you think about the automation’s help in promoting feed safety?
Feed safety is a very important function of an automation system. A full production tracking and tracing is essential. The past few years you see that wealth is increasing globally and meat becomes available for more and more people. Simultaneously the amount of feed scandals is increasing. Many governments are demanding producers to keep track of the feed in the whole feed chain to show the origin of feed when required. In most countries tracking and tracing information must be retrievable up to 7 years back. So for any good automation system it is essential that tracking and tracing is embedded.

Besides tracking and tracing we also have to focus on cross contamination inside a factory where feed for different animal types is produced or, for example, where they work with medication. Cross contamination is done on ingredients as well as on nutrients. It must be fully integrated in the production scheduling.

One of the strengths of the MES Toolbox is the full tracking and tracing and the very elaborated cross contamination functionalities. Our tracking and tracing module provides customers to trace received products back to end clients but also the other way around. If feed is declined we can trace beck exactly which ingredient from which lot went into the finished product and trace back into which feed the ingredients were also used an to which end customers (farmers). We can generate a complete Recall list just within a few mouse clicks.

We do cross contamination on different levels, like ingredients and nutrients. Contamination can be checked on the production line and in the next production segment, for example a pelleting line. Contamination rules are freely configurable. This means that the customer can implement the contamination rules based on his business. If the nutritional specification for each raw material is defined, these set points can communicate together with the raw material definition in the ERP system. Nutrients can also be items like GMO, odour, colour etc.

Can we say that the automation is affecting the labor costs in your customer’s mill in Brazil? Could you give us some information about automation’s control over labor costs?
In general we can say that automation affects labor cost in a positive way. At the end, the automation executes tasks which otherwise were controlled by operators. But it is always hard to determine by which amount the automation affects labor cost.

There is also a big difference in migrating an existing factory into a new automation system and the implementation of a new feed mill. In a migration situation it is easier to measure the effect on labor cost because you have a status before and after. But still, a new automation will not always be helpful in reducing labor cost. For example, when we do a migration of an existing automation feed mill and we increase the capacity of the factory with 15 – 20%, this does not automatically means that your labor cost, or overall cost, will reduce with 15 – 20%. The biggest advantage you’ll have is when you are at the limit of your feed mill capacity and you are considering building a new line or rent production capacity from another feed mill. If, when migrating, you can get more capacity out of your current feed mill it saves you the investment of new equipment or maybe renting production capacity elsewhere. That is where the biggest savings are.

If you are only looking at labor cost and you increase the capacity with 20% this does not automatically mean you can run with less people or with less shifts. You probably still need to run 5 or 6 days and you still need the amount of people to operate the feed mill. We have some examples where customers after a migration were able to produce the same amount but with one shift less. Of course this had its effect on labor cost.

In a new feed mill it is difficult to say what the effect of automation is on labor cost. In most cases when you design a feed mill you also take in account how you want to operate your mill and with which amount of people. Based on the decisions you can install the required automation level to fulfill the requirements.

Based on your customer’s feedback, what can you say about the automation’s help in increasing throughput and productivity?
The Capal feed mill turned into a fully automated factory which they can run with a reduced amount of operators. The MES Toolbox has many options for production scheduling in such way that minimized interference of an operator is necessary and a high utilization of the production lines can be achieved. The people of the Capal feed mill we worked with were very eager to learn the different options to increase the capacity. A suitable automation system helps the operator to achieve a higher productivity. Since the automation system takes care of supplying the pellet line with material, the operator doesn’t have to be busy all the time with scheduling and it keeps the pellet line running. Besides scheduling we also deliver a special production optimisation tool which shows the utilisation of the factory in a graphical way. This tool is used to find bottlenecks in the production process which helps to optimise the production. After the startup we put a lot of time and effort to find the bottle necks to increase capacity. Shortly after a few days running we noticed that the pellet line was becoming a bottle neck in the production capacity, which is not strange because the dosing, grinding and mixing line has twice the capacity of the pellet line. This factory is fully prepared to install an additional pellet line in the future.

What about the energy efficiency? Could you give us some information about energy-efficiency of your solution?
Concerning energy efficiency we’ve implemented some solutions at the feed mill in Brazil. Main item is that we’ve switched off equipment if it is not in use for production. This means that during longer idle times we switch off equipment instead of keeping it running. Transport devices are automatically switched off too when not in use. Another item is reduction of the peak current. For transport devices we have an algorithm that prevents transport devices in one route to start simultaneously reducing the current peak of the installation. Furthermore we reduce the amount of switching times of heavy machinery and prevent them for starting to often in a period of time.

In the area of optimisation we are working on research and development of an innovative system for quality and energy optimisation of pellet pressing in the feed mill industry. In headlines, this system analyses the process in a feed mill factory so the setting values of the machinery can be adjusted for the desired end-quality. It has been determined that this kind of optimisation of the pellet process may lead to a higher production, more than 10% energy savings, a more accurate control of the pellet humidity percentage and an increased pellet quality.

As a solution partner, what is the difference of Van Aarsen and ENGIE from their rivals? What do you offer to your customers unlike your rivals?
Both Van Aarsen and ENGIE have a vast knowledge of the feed market from their own specialism. Van Aarsen as developer, manufacturer and supplier of state-of-the-art machines and complete feed mill solutions for the production of animal feed… ENGIE as developer and supplier of MES solution software which specifically benefits feed mills due to the knowledge of batch control (ISA-88 and ISA-95), logistics (tracking & tracing), HACCP, GMP and optimisation. By joining efforts we are able to offer a unique best of both worlds solution for feed mills.

What would you like to add?
Van Aarsen and ENGIE have executed a project for a new feed mill in Kalmar, Sweden. It is the most modern feed mill in the world with a focus on hygiene, efficiency and high quality. The feed mill had to decrease the production costs per ton feed significantly, the production process had to be fully automated and the hygiene- and safety standards had to be optimised. By the high level of automation, the plant is controlled by only two process operators per shift. The complete production process is automated with e.g. automatic sieve switch and automatic sample taking. Collecting stock takes place automatically too and tracking & tracing of products is possible in every stadium. Via their tablets, operators can execute changes in the production process directly from every location in the plant. Hence a lower cost price per ton feed could be reached.

We also suggest you to read our previous article titled "Triple bottom line of sustainability: PLANET, PROFIT, PEOPLE".

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