Modernizing Aging AutomationSystems With Minimal Downtime
To streamline operations, Corbion embarked on a controlled, planned upgrade of its DCS and networkinfrastructure to minimize downtime and take advantage of enhanced automation features.
by Del Williams
In the food processing industry, many suc- cessful firms that have been in the business for decades face the prospect of upgradingan aging Distributed Control System (DCS)as well as the underlying computer network.However, for many, the task is daunting giventhe cost and potential for disrupting operations while the new system is brought online.
As a result, many engineering, operations,and procurement teams are opting insteadfor a controlled, planned, multi-stage implementation that is more affordable and lessdisruptive, while immediately addressing anysignificant gaps, points of pain, and cyber-security risks.
So, when Corbion decided to upgrade itsaging computer network and automationsystem at the facility in Blair, Nebraska, thecompany sought a solution that could beimplemented in controlled, planned phases.At the same time, the Netherlands-basedcompany wanted to more fully use availableenhanced automated features that modernDCSs provide to streamline production, gaingreater control over batch specifications, andsimplify the user interface.
Corbion provides naturally derived preservation solutions, including lactic acid andits derivatives, that support food processorsworldwide seeking to create healthier, safer,shelf-stable groceries. The Blair facility isexpected to help Corbion expand its lacticacid production capacity in North America by40% to meet the growing demand for naturalingredients in multiple industries.
After an extensive evaluation involving a
third-party consultant and reviews of mul-
tiple technology vendors, Corbion selected
Nova Tech, a leading provider of distributed
control systems and solutions. NovaTech
had partnered with Corbion on the facility’s
original installation and startup decades ago
and has been providing ongoing technical
support. The automation solution provider
recommended a technology upgrade and for-
mulated a detailed plan for implementation
in three phases.
“One key when implementing an automa-
tion technology upgrade is that companies
like Corbion can take their base configura-
tion and applications, and in a controlled,
phased approach migrate it through the up-
grade process,” says Paul Wallace, Vice-Pres-
ident, Global Sales at Nova Tech. “Through a
very cohesive pre-engineering effort on this
project, we put together a well-thought-out
plan to execute the changes gradually.”
According to Wallace, Phase One of the
project was a technology infrastructure
upgrade of the existing network including
servers, workstations, network appliances,
operating system, and backups. Nova Tech
also upgraded the existing D/3 Distribut-
ed Control System. Although this phase
required a short, planned shutdown, the
system was quickly back online.
Phase Two, which began in Q2 of 2021,was accomplished without any interruptionof the process. In this step, Corbion decided to employ enhanced features of the D/3
DCS from Nova Tech, starting with the hu-
man-machine interface (HMI). A properly
design graphical user interface improves
situational awareness, reduces workload,
In addition, NovaTech imple-
mented FlexBatch, a batch and reci-
pe management system designed in
accordance with the ISA-88 standard
for batch control. With the software,
developers, engineers, and produc-
tion staff can quickly formulate and
modify recipes, and then immediately
schedule them for production.
FlexBatch integrates recipe management with the manufacturing processby making the automation procedurepart of the recipe, which reduces cycletime, eliminates errors, and simplifiestesting and validation. Because procedures arepart of the recipes, producing or modifyinga recipe is simple and virtually error-free.
Recipes can also be easily modified usingclass object libraries, so new and existingproducts can be brought to market faster ata lower cost.
The final step of Phase Two involved theinstallation of PlantNotify, a platform-in-dependent software that provides criticalplant notifications and critical maintenancerequirements to team members instantly viatext and email when certain alarms or eventsare triggered. In the past, a knowledgeableteam member had to actively monitor thesystem, essentially “tethering” key personnelto a PC and slowing any needed response.
Phase Three, scheduled for later in 2021,involves replacing the plant’s aging I/O drops.Corbion will migrate to a modern I/O system,the 8000 series platform, which is a native,remote I/O family that is highly integratedwith the D/3 system.
The 8000 Series can be installed in newinstallations or to replace existing I/O without modification to the existing field wiring.This allows D/3 installations to upgrade olderI/O hardware to the latest electronics with aminimum of downtime and very low processrisk. To further minimize downtime, Nova Tech will pre-assemble and test the equipmentbefore delivering it to Corbion well ahead ofthe scheduled shutdown.
According to Wallace, the advanced I/O
allows greater automation with better di-
agnostics, troubleshooting, and asset man-
agement capability. If there is ever an issue,
With the technological infrastructure in
place, Corbion intends to automate proce-
dures with greater operator control and vis-
ibility. Even in highly automated food pro-
cessing environments, standard operating
procedures (SOPs) for startup/shutdown,
material loading/unloading, line switchovers,
clean-in-place, maintenance preparation, and
other tasks are still completed manually, using
To streamline operations, Nova Tech willimplement a digital solution through itsaugmented manual procedures (Nova TechAMP) software, which enables food processors to replace their paper-based SOPs witha digital format that functions on smartphones, PCs, and tablets.
When running, manual procedures arelinked to the process control platform withbidirectional communication of equipmentstatus and task completion. The informationis displayed as an operator-friendly checklist,with completed tasks self-audited and time-stamped for future reference and compliancereporting. The AMP software ensures accurate SOP execution, along with validation ofmanual tasks, and comprehensive information capture/sharing.
According to Wallace, Corbion wentabove and beyond some processors that justseek to upgrade the software or system andmaintain function as before.
“Corbion examined their application andsought to take advantage of new features aswell as industry-standard guidance not available during their last upgrade,” concludesWallace. “They are not only upgrading, butalso investing in and pushing out their applications, switching up their graphics, andmodernizing their I/O. They are implementing many available enhanced features andworking them into their workflow to improveproduction efficiency.”
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance,California. He writes about health, business, technology, and educational issues and has an M.A. inEnglish from C.S.U. Dominguez Hills.
8000 Series I/O.Photo courtesy of Nova Tech.
Image courtesy of Nova Tech.