Best Practices Aid Upgrade Initiative

Cargill Animal Nutrition (CAN), based in Minneapolis but with sites worldwide, recently launched an initiative to upgrade the control systems in over 80 of its facilities. Interstates has joined CAN, committing to at least 30 of these upgrade projects over the next three years.

The initiative includes updating each site’s current operating system to Windows 10; upgrading existing controls systems to Interstates’ I-Control software, including a new version of the Hand Add application, formula importing, and integrating with CAN’s current drug-tracking software; and the completion of an Arc Flash Study. Randy Best, Project Manager at Interstates, says, “CAN’s PCs are running on an old operating system that will no longer be supported in two to three years. We are updating them to the latest operating system and also setting them up with our I-Control programming software, which can work with any kind of operating system. This is really beneficial since computers get new operating systems every few years.”

The first plant Interstates upgraded for CAN was in Giddings, TX. The scope of work went beyond the upgrade initiative deliverables. “This was really two projects in one,” says Best. “We did the corporate upgrade project, but we also did a plant project which involved automating several systems which were previously manually controlled. It made this job both unique and difficult,” he says. Ben Langstraat, Division Manager at Interstates, adds that, “Every facility is a mixed bag in terms of what is automated. Our job is determining what kind of legacy hardware needs to be removed and coming up with a plan to retrofit it.” Manual pelleting, dry packaging, and blending systems were upgraded to be under the control of the new system.

Over a four-day shutdown, 12 control panels were modified, hardware was removed, and new PLC devices were meticulously installed. Next was the checkout process that used the new HMI to test all the wiring and confirm the equipment and processes would work. From shutdown to commissioning, 23 people were working diligently to get the job done. Organizing everyone’s responsibilities might have been an issue if it weren’t for some whiteboard ingenuity.

Located in a central meeting room, a 4’x12’ whiteboard displayed punch lists and individualized tasks. It offered visibility to the plant manager on progress and gave team members quick reference about task assignments. “The whiteboard system was a best practice. It helped us keep all the balls in the air,” says Langstraat.

According to Randy Noecker, Project Manager at Interstates, the Giddings project was at times chaotic and challenging. “There were big struggles with this shutdown, but we fought through it and had a ton of support. The customer is happy, and we are moving on to 29 more,” says Noecker. Most of the upcoming site upgrades will be more straightforward in order to meet the initiative timeline, but Interstates may circle back to those plants for more in-depth automation work in the future. “We will knock out these controls upgrades in order for those plants to keep running, and then we can come back to fix the really difficult problems,” says Noecker.

With three years of upgrade projects slated, Interstates is looking forward to a successful, long-term relationship with CAN. “This initiative and our partnership with Cargill is what we hope to achieve with a client relationship,” says Jeremy Van Den Berg, Business Development at Interstates. He adds, “Our success is intertwined, and we are really glad to be making a difference with our clients. The work we did at Giddings and the other upgrades we have scheduled will set Cargill up for success for many years to come.”