“The convergence of IT and OT opens a great opportunity for everyone involved. In our industry, I see the adaptation of Industry 4.0 to be slow due to its cost, but it will happen. The milling industry will have to embrace IoT, or they will be left behind. Regulatory compliance, recall procedures, food security, and innovations will force them to stay current. Plant optimization, cost competitiveness, and productivity gains are the benefits of a digital plant.”
Automation and Electrical Engineering
Today, especially in the food sector, sustainability and traceability are two very important facts. Therefore, process control is vital in the milling plants where tons of production are made per day.
Automation is a must for quality and error-free production in those plants. What opportunities and advantages does automation offer to flour mills? What kind of solutions can information technology and operational technology offer to millers? We asked these questions to Mr. Syed Ashraf, Vice President of Automation and Electrical Engineering at KICE Industries, a leader in process system programming. Having worked in the automation field for 25 years, Mr. Ashraf explained the benefits of automation and shared his views on future mills.
First of all, could you please provide us with some brief background information on KICE Industries and its activities?
Kice Industries designs complete industrial air systems and builds most of the equipment specified for these systems. Applications include pneumatic conveying, dust control, and aspiration systems. Kice’s Automation division provides services which include power distribution, controls engineering design, PLC/HMI programming, UL® control panel fabrication, electrical installation, and 24/7 on-call support.
Automation is a must for quality and perfect production. What opportunities and advantages do automation systems offer to flour mills?
Automation provides mills aid by removing variability. In flour mills, it is capable of continuously monitoring production streams, for variances in production rates and quality. Dips in rates and quality can be monitored, and in some cases, corrected upstream automatically. Automation also offers trending and historical data to help management find the most efficient methods for production. Equipment condition monitoring can provide an early indication of imminent machinery failure, providing the opportunity for planned maintenance, and improved uptime.
How do automation systems affect the yield of milling plants?
-Systems can react to changing variable without delays or need manual interventions
-Information can be presented to operators, engineering, and management to review control variables to drive consistency
-Operators are not required to be in front of each control point to make adjustments
-They help meet regulatory compliance as well as quality and/or safety
What are the basic principles of a properly functioning and designed automation system?
-Consistent production output
-Operators adjust variables rather than controls
-Safety is increased by keeping operations out of harms way
-Availability historical data, as well as real-time operational data
In many countries, medium or small-scale facilities continue to operate manually. Is every plant suitable for automation? What can you tell us about the costs of automation systems? What is the payback period of these systems?
In my view, even in the third world and developing countries where labor costs are low, automation is needed to increase safety, improve production, and plant optimization. However, the level of automation could differ. In America and other developed countries , we have achieved a “lights out” fully automated operations that only require a minimum amount of maintenance personnel. The cost for automation control systems varies from 18-25% of the total budget based on size and sophistication. In today’s connected world, with VNP, one can control and support the plant anywhere 24/7.
Kice Automation has installed systems to many leading milling plants. What feedback have you received from your costumers?
We continue to see growth in our business and continue to grow our team. Customers are key to our progress, and I take their comments very seriously. Overall, we have received positive feedback from our customers, and some of them even refer us to other clients. Having a better understanding of the milling process and operations than other providers, better service, and support structure are the enablers that have driven our growth.
Automation is a technology-driven business, and we strategically align our business to keep up with new developments and deliver systems that meet our customer needs, while utilizing the technology that makes them efficient and nimble.
What are the qualities and characteristics that make you different from your rivals? How do your solutions put forward your customers in the milling industry where there is strong competition?
- Listening to our customer needs, understanding the business model and striving to exceed their expectations
- Paying attention to detail
- Designing a solution and deploying technologies that make our customer efficient
- User-friendly interface
- Pre-startup simulation with the customer to iron out any issues
- 24/7 remote support with 30 min. return call
- Our belief in relationship building and connecting with our customers
- Last but not least, Kice has over a sixty-year history in the milling industry, and our “in house” Process Group are the key to us better understanding the milling process.
What can you say about the innovations and solutions that you have brought to the milling industry?
There are a number of new technologies that we have implemented in this industry in the past year or so, such as:
- Ethernet-enabled (Smart) MCC’s, which has these advantages:
a) Increased Safety – An operator can clear faults and monitor statuses without going into the MCC room.
b) Reduced Installation costs.
c) More diagnostic and performance data available.
d) Reduced downtime with replacing units.
- Enhanced production reporting and data to measure plant performance quickly and precisely.
- Tracking of products throughout the process.
- Implementation of “Thin” HMI Clients – Allows quick and easy replacement of units.
- Migration of legacy automation systems to the newer and updated control systems.
Could you tell us about any recent technological investments you made?
They say there is no “I” in the word team. So, I’ll start by saying, my team has developed software that tracks product through production. We have also developed a way to better present plant KPI data quickly and accurately in real-time. We are training our engineers on networking techniques so we can deploy ethernet enabled systems with the highest availability.
With the development of technology, the era of self-determining and self-assessing production facilities, in which all components of machinery communicate with each other, is starting. Global digitalization is progressing rapidly. What do you think about future mills? How will new technologies and innovations affect production processes in the future?
The convergence of IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) opens a great opportunity for everyone involved. The convergence of business systems with plant-wide / site-wide automation systems provides for more tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs), regulatory compliance (e.g., genealogy and track and trace), as well as supply chain management if needed. The industrial automation and IT groups, who previously had little interaction, are now collaborating to share standards, best practices, innovations, security policies, procedures, and technology.
Do you think that the milling sector will be able to achieve digital transformation? What does the digital future look like for milling?
The milling industry will have to embrace IoT, or they will be left behind. Regulatory compliance, recall procedures, food security, and innovations will force them to stay current. Plant optimization, cost competitiveness, and productivity gains are the benefits of a digital plant.
Future IoT Mills will work within a secure wireless network, and they will be supporting a highly automated process, linked seamlessly with enterprise software working through the cloud. Operators are controlling the mills from their tablets, with all the facility data at the fingertips, including the equipment manuals.
Is there any ready solution in the Industry 4.0 process for the milling industry?
As we know, Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industry revolution; it’s the way we produce product due to digital transformation. IoT makes 4.0 possible and smart factory a reality. Equipment in our process industry is getting smarter, and they are producing critical data that are essential to increase productivity. These machines are connected with one another and create and share information. In our milling industry, we have smarter roller mills, scaling systems, moisture controller that are communicating with the plant master controller, and some are communicating with each other producing better results. In our industry, I see the adaptation of Industry 4.0 to be slow due to its cost, but it will happen.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Having worked in the automation field for 25 years, it excites me to the see where we have come from, and where we are going. Soon a typical flour bag will contain wheat origination information, and where the flour was made among other things. Millennials are the driving force behind this requirement, and we better adapt. This technology revolution, though very slow to adapt in the milling and grains industry, is here to stay.