A large food production plant in North America produces some of the most popular foods in the US.
The raw ingredients at the plant as well as the finished product must be kept at temperatures within strict tolerances. Additionally, the plant uses large numbers of compressors and motors to produce and cool their products.
While the plant has automatic control systems using PLCs to control production, the systems did not have enough sensors with real-time alerting capabilities. In fact, paper chart recorders logged temperatures which were periodically checked by plant operators.
The engineering supervisor for the plant needed a system to provide real-time monitoring and notifications of the critical temperature zones and equipment to prevent losses of essential raw ingredients, such as eggs, which must be stored a precise temperatures. In his words, “One of our biggest challenges is we don’t get insight into our issues in a timely manner to take action to correct them.”
Engineers at the plant deployed a large wireless sensor system from Swift Sensors to monitor temperature and humidity in the temperature sensitive production and warehouse areas of the plant. Swift Sensors now supply real-time monitoring to the plant managers and notify them if any of the temperatures exceed defined thresholds.
The wireless sensor system is comprised of match-box sized battery powered sensors transmitting data to a wireless bridge which collects data from all sensors within range. The bridge then transmits the sensors data to the cloud via a secure WiFi connection managed by the plant IT team. All data on the cloud is viewed on the Swift Sensors Console from the plant managers’ computers and smartphones. Engineers at the plant configure their console for the thresholds and notifications to ensure they are notified immediately if any temperature moves out of range.
Initial success with the temperature was quick and provided immediate improvements in productivity. Engineers then turned to their motors and pumps to add vibration sensors. A large number of Swift Sensors vibration sensors are monitoring compressors and pumps throughout the plant. If a sudden change in the normal operating pattern of the large compressors and motors occurs, notifications are sent to key personnel. The system provides a simple, low-cost, and real-time monitoring system which gives insight above and beyond the existing control system without requiring any changes or modifications to the equipment, controllers, or existing sensors.
Engineers are logging vibration data from their compressors and motors to share with the QA team to improve their preventive and predictive maintenance programs. They also share temperature data with QA as a backup to the paper charts. The continuous monitoring gives engineers the ability to notify both QA and Maintenance of issues before having to shut down lines because of ingredients are out of spec.
The latest wireless sensor deployed in the plant is the Swift Sensors wireless 4 – 20mA sensor. The sensors are connected in a 4-20mA current loop from RTD sensors used with the PLCs. With the 4 – 20mA sensor, engineers are able extract data from existing transducers and sensors connected to existing PLCs using the standard 4 – 20mA current loop. The benefit to the plant managers is getting real-time updates from all critical sensors in the plant in a single cloud-based console viewable on their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Because the ease of deployment of the wireless sensors, which can be placed in any location due to their size, battery power, and wireless data transmission, engineers have been able add monitoring to critical areas of the plant at a fraction of the cost and maintenance of traditional sensor and control systems. The ROI on the sensor system was several months just due to the improvement in productivity from automatic data logging and reporting. The additional benefit of immediate notifications from temperature and vibration thresholds being exceeded adds an additional benefit of protection to ensure food safety, compliance, and prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars of raw ingredients and finished product.