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Case Study

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Agropur Gains 30 Hours of Annual Production Time

North American leader in dairy processing uses manufacturing intelligence to drive continuous improvements


  • Milk processing facility with manual data collection and hardware near end of life


  • Asset Management Software - Single tool for managing, versioning and tracking automation asset information using FactoryTalk AssetCentre
  • System backup in case of failure
  • OEE software - provides access to machine performance data and benchmarks for production capacity on new lines using FactoryTalk Metrics
  • FactoryTalk VantagePoint software - offers a centralized data source that automatically provides reporting and dashboards based on user needs


  • Improved OEE - Discovered over 33 hours of additional production time per year, eliminating need for investments in new equipment
  • Increased Workforce Utilization - Avoided 2,500 hours per year of manual data collection and reduced 48 hours per year of system backup and version control
  • Assisted Continuous Improvements - Reduced lube consumption 30 percent

A Moo-dern Dairy Industry

Cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, protein shake, and of course milk are the snacks and refreshments that turn a ho-hum meal into something more. Even lactose-free milk options can splash life onto dry cereal. Everybody can find a dairy product to their taste.

Agropur Cooperative works with over 3,367 dairy farmers who rely on 37 facilities across North America. Each year, Agropur transforms over 1.5 billion gallons of milk into numerous dairy products, resulting in $5.9 billion in sales.

The organization’s Don Mills, Ontario facility is its largest and has long been responsible for turning raw ingredients into various types of milk and ice cream mixes. Each day, the facility pasteurizes, processes and packages enough dairy products to fill at least 30 trucks.

Udder Lack of Data

Throughout its more than 50-year history, the Don Mills facility collected an assortment of industrial technologies. While the various machines and controls kept production running, they could not produce the seamless data necessary to continuously improve operations.

“Transforming data into information was a completely hands-on process,” said Headley Hamilton, industrial process manager at Agropur. “All the requests from operators and managers throughout the year required 2,500 hours of manual, post-shift data entry. And demand was growing. When I considered the future of the facility, I knew we needed modern technology.”

Data collection was not the only problem. Some of the automation technology was nearing obsolescence. Hamilton received calls nearly every day from operators reporting equipment issues or downtime. Rather than focusing on automation improvements, he needed to respond to current production issues.

And in case a system ever did crash, Hamilton needed to reboot from the latest backup.

The only question was: Where was the latest version of the system?

“With seven maintenance laptops across the facility, there was no way to know whether or not you were rebooting with the most recently modified program. Not only did that take time, but so did calling every contractor to make sure you had their changes,” said Hamilton. “Our old system was only backed up once a quarter, which took an additional 48 hours each year. You can’t optimize a plant when playing catch-up.”

Cream of the Crop

To drive continuous improvements and not second-guess the data, it became obvious to Hamilton that a standardized, plantwide platform was the solution. Since he was planning for the future, he also wanted a solution that could seamlessly share intelligence and learnings across facilities.

“We decided to implement an integrated control and information solution from Rockwell Automation, because we saw it as the best solution for modernizing our facility from the receipt of ingredients to the moment end product heads out the door,” said Hamilton. He worked with a team from Grantek Systems Integration, a Solution Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork? program, to deploy the solution.

The ground level of the standardized automation platform included the Allen-Bradley? family of ControlLogix? controllers, PowerFlex? drives and PanelView? human machine interface (HMI) hardware from Rockwell Automation. Each HMI ran FactoryTalk? View Site Edition software from Rockwell Automation on a virtualized server, establishing the standard for all additional software. This created the foundation for converting reams of data into actionable information.

Because the organization invested in a new control platform as part of the project, supervisors began to ask how they could get the most out of the system. Information was needed that could benchmark production capacity for the process lines.

The answer to their questions began with overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) data using FactoryTalk Metrics software?from Rockwell Automation. The solution collected performance data to provide Hamilton and his team with the data they needed to make informed decisions about their operation. If a question arose around whether another processing line was needed to increase capacity or current equipment still had capacity, Hamilton could review actual production data to guide his decision.

Even with valuable data at hand, many users across the facility could not translate it into actionable information. An aggregation and analysis solution was required that could help operators visualize data from the various sources across the facility and provide reports as needed.

Before deploying the information solution, the Agropur team saw an opportunity to reduce the growing complexity of the new control system and maintain a single version of the system. Agropur installed FactoryTalk AssetCentre software?from Rockwell Automation to manage automation assets and version control, and keep up-to-date documentation. The seven maintenance laptops spread across the plant were reduced down to one.

“The initial control and OEE deployments laid the foundation at Don Mills. FactoryTalk VantagePoint? software from Rockwell Automation then provided a new level of access to all data from disparate systems across the entire facility,” said Hamilton. “The software exposed what occurred on the plant floor to the employees in charge of making continuous improvements.”

Supervisors were also able to check status updates and see how production was running without taxing an operator’s time. For each shift, email reports were automatically sent with updates about the process.

Pouring on Continuous Improvements

With a modern system, Hamilton’s team could get rid of the 2,500 hours of manual data collection each year. Additionally, 48 hours per year were saved thanks to the ease of managing assets through FactoryTalk AssetCentre software.

When the call for trustworthy information was answered, the teams at Agropur jumped on the intelligence for making continuous improvements. For example, supervisors thought that an investment in new hardware would improve the usage of lube for the lines. By creating benchmark reports and estimating the benefit of new hardware, a 30 percent reduction in lube consumption was achieved.

“Having data at hand becomes the route to insight for any facility, and it’s recognized by everyone. ‘Information, information, information!’ has become the call before decisions are made,” says Hamilton. “With FactoryTalk Metrics software, we now have insight into the process so we can make performance improvements. On one filler alone, we’ve improved efficiency by 25 percent over a three-month period.”

Visibility was also the key to reducing downtime. Before making investments into equipment for production lines to increase processing, supervisors could identify opportunities for increasing capacity. One discovery was that lunches, breaks and meetings caused more than 33 hours of downtime. Changes to scheduling transformed lost processing time into productivity.

As employees become more comfortable with using data, Headley wants to make access even easier.

“Information-based collaboration and decision-making have quickly been adopted, and now we want to take our common platform further. It’s all about mobile,” said Hamilton. “Exposure to information throughout the facility on mobile devices is the future of real-time manufacturing intelligence.”

Reducing an annual $4 million bill is also in the line of sight. Energy management software from Rockwell Automation is currently in the facility to measure and verify new energy projects. When a future expansion makes analysis of the production energy pattern possible, that bill will be cut by isolating artificial demand and generating preventive maintenance schedules.

The results mentioned above are specific to Agropur Cooperative’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

Allen-Bradley, ControlLogix, FactoryTalk, PanelView, PartnerNetwork, PowerFlex and VantagePoint are trademarks of Rockwell Automation Inc.


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