Manufacturing: Food and Beverage
New cheese vats, block formers improve product consistency and allow for scaled operations, increased staff safety
Background: In 1983 Tasmanian farming brothers Michael and John Bennett founded Ashgrove Farms. Now as Ashgrove Cheese, the family-owned operation produces fresh milk, cheese, butter and cream for the Tasmanian market and has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Sydney Royal Show Champion Butter award.
Challenge: Ashgrove Cheese recently had the opportunity to expand its production output and automate aspects of its cheese production. This would allow greater consistency of product, ability to scale up production and reduce the physically demanding stirring and cutting process for its staff. In the first step towards this solution, Ashgrove Cheese purchased two large cheese vats, block formers and control system equipment.
Being experts in cheese-making but not automation, Ashgrove asked SAGE Automation to help get the new vats up and running.
The Tasmanian SAGE engineering team designed, tested and implemented the control system for the new cheese vats in just under three months.
“With our extensive experience in the dairy industry we came to them with a recipe management solution. Within that recipe they could alter the parameters to make any kind of cheese they wanted, allowing Ashgrove greater production flexibility,” SAGE Systems Engineer Matthew Scavone said.
“We began the project by writing a comprehensive functional description with a flexible recipe sequence that also covered the other functional aspects of the facility such as the site services and Clean-in-Place (CIP) sequences.”
A non-SCADA solution (HMI only) had to be implemented due to the facility’s set up, scale and budget. The solution included: a full batch recipe system with batch reporting, automation of service equipment, and HMI design with an innovative recipe management system to handle hundreds of unique recipe parameters.
Automation technologies used: Allen Bradley PanelView 1000, Allen Bradley ControlLogix PLC, Allen Bradley SLC 500 PLC.
SAGE delivered an end-to-end solution including project management, design, construct, testing, commissioning and service:
• Estimation, cost planning and procurement
• Safety assessment and management
• Risk mitigation planning and management
• Safety management and environmental assessment
• HMI and PLC system design
• PLC networking, HMI and System Integration
• FAT and SA
• Provision of final, as built, documentation and user manuals
• Ongoing SAGE Service Support and SLA
Ashgrove Cheese increased its production output and reliability and enjoy a consistent product thanks to the automated vats, block formers and recipe management system.
• Increased production by 50,000 litres per day
• Improved reliability of production: reduced downtime, increased throughput by 350 percent
• Consistency between batches
• New equipment installed with no interruption to cheese production
The improved cheese making process at a glance:
The new vats have a capacity of 17,000 litres of milk with automatic heating, stirring and cutting. The cheese tables perform automatic stirring of the curd once it comes out of the vats. From there, the product is vacuum pumped to block formers that shape and press the cheese into 20kg blocks.
Before this automation, someone would have to stir and cut by hand – a physically demanding task that is difficult to recruit for. Now staff work with the equipment to produce the cheese, while the machinery does the hard ‘lifting’. This has resulted in improved safety for employees due to reduction of physically demanding tasks.