California-based Prima Frutta has the largest cherry production line in the world. The company achieved that status recently when it installed new equipment and overhauled its cherry line. The result was a production increase of 50 percent, achieved without expanding the workforce.
Prior to the overhaul, Prima Frutta wasn’t able to fully utilize all of its production lines. Owners wanted greater efficiency and productivity without increasing labor. The company hired systems integrator Industrial Automation Group (IAG) to oversee the upgrade.
The successful project was also aided by Ignition by Inductive Automation, an industrial application platform with tools for building solutions in HMI, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the IIoT. Prima Frutta had already been using the software for other functions, and with Ignition’s unlimited tags and licenses, it opted to expand it into the new cherry line.
“We wanted a new control system,” said Tom Augello, production manager at Prima Frutta. “Normally we use Allen-Bradley PLCs and HMIs, and that is a costly approach. We wanted a larger HMI, and IAG recommended we use Ignition, since we already have it in-house. We were able to leverage that Ignition server that we’d already paid for. So it was a great HMI solution that fit our production needs perfectly.”
The new initiative enables Prima Frutta to share data about the line with workers throughout the plant. Every day, 10 managers and 900 other employees get data from more than 120 video screens around the facility.
“It’s very important to provide this data to our employees on the plant floor,” said Augello. “As fast as we run, every second counts. If a change is coming—whether it’s in size, quality, or variety—our people have a very short time to react. So we put that information up, and we flash things, or we use different colors, to make sure everyone sees the data. The large productivity increase we’ve seen with Ignition is from these screens.”
Smaller screens play a key role as well. The production line is now controlled from 10 tablets, which have stationary holders but can also be carried around the plant. The tablets provide full SCADA control. Four Moxa wireless access points communicate with the tablets.
Jason Kieffer, project manager for IAG, said Prima Frutta could have gone with “indestructible” tablets, but opted for less expensive, consumer-grade tablets because they’re so easy to replace if the need arises. “It was so quick,” he said. “Within two hours of pulling the tablet out of the box, we were running the application on it.”
Greg Sinigaglia, production manager at Prima Frutta, said having the data on the tablets and the larger monitors saves time and money. “Let’s take grading of the fruit, as an example,” said Sinigaglia. “Before, we had to walk down and look at the quality and see what the sorters were doing. Now, we have all this information displayed on screens. There’s no more running around from spot to spot.”
Little time, big result
Prima Frutta and IAG made the project a success despite a very tight timeline. IAG mimicked Prima Frutta’s system, building a digital twin in its own office. “That allowed us to develop Prima Frutta’s application in their working environment, so we could bring their application on-site and implement it very quickly,” said Kieffer. “We did it in less than a day.” The new code was copied and pasted to Prima Frutta’s server with no issues.
The project also adhered to standards developed by the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). “The extensive planning and the use of CSIA standards really allowed us to deploy this rapidly,” said Kieffer. “It helped with the design, testing, startup, and commissioning phases.”
“The update process went flawlessly,” said Prima Frutta’s Augello. “We had no issues after the update. With other software packages, there’s always something that goes wrong. We had nothing go wrong with this update.”
Industrial Automation Group (IAG) serves the food and beverage industry. IAG has implemented complex automation solutions across North America.