Modernizing for Ancient Grains

According to TIME magazine*Sergio Nuñez de Arco is the "King of Quinoa," an ancient grain and superfood ever increasing in popularity. Nuñez de Arco founded Andean Naturals to bring quinoa to the world. It recently became part of the Denver-based Ardent Mills' family when Ardent Mills acquired the quinoa operations of Andean Naturals, including the operations at its Yuba City, CA plant.  With the acquisition, Ardent Mills' goal is to leverage the expertise of both companies to make quinoa a mainstream success. To achieve this goal safely, the team decided to implement additional safety and automation renovations at the Andean Naturals plant in Yuba City, CA.   

Project Plan 

"Ardent Mills made it clear to us that safety for their workers is more than a priority, it's one of their core values," said Jake Ten Haken, Director of Client Delivery at Interstates. "In order to reach their new quinoa goals, the team proactively tapped Interstates to build upon their safety standards and help to fully automate the processing line to deliver those results." 

The work happened in three stages: 

  1. Implement a lighting retrofit and new processing equipment.  
  2. Fully automate the processing line, install new MCCs, relight the packaging area, and program the system.  
  3. Rewire the network infrastructure of the office and the plant.  

Alyson Bents, Electrical Engineer at Interstates, said"Interstates provided the complete package on this project with power engineering, controls engineering, programming, and construction." Her part of the project included a new lighting design to enhance safety in the workspace"We've gotten positive feedback from the plant on the lighting design. They enjoy having the new LED lighting with enhanced illuminance and perceived brightness in their workspace," says Bents.  

Key Project Players 

When the project started in late November 2019, no one could foresee that the world would be changing drastically in a few short months. "The biggest challenge we had to work through was obviously the coronavirus," said Ten Haken. Daryl Bryan, Project Supervisor at Interstates and field leader for the Yuba City project, showed remarkable staying power as the pandemic-related work and travel restrictions stranded him in California, away from home and his wife in St. Louis for four months straight.

"The first change was having to minimize our crew," said Daryl Bryan. "The schedule was delayed by a couple of weeks, and some materials took longer to arrive, but we pushed through it. Outside of work, there was nothing you could do besides getting groceries. Thankfully, my Airbnb allowed me to stay on for longer. For me, the hardest part was not being able to go home."

In addition, Morgan Erickson, a Control Systems Developer, also played a key role in this project. She worked diligently and was on-site for an extended start-up. Morgan's hard work and dedication to this project did not go unnoticed.

Ten Haken added, "Daryl stayed away from home to finish the project and went above and beyond the call of duty. He really stepped up, and for his first time being a site leader, he did a really great job." A lot of quick changes were made to the way Interstates worked because of the pandemic. User Acceptance Testing was done mostly remotely, and start-up and checkout had to be completed with just one or two people instead of the usual three or four. Having Daryl on-site through it all was beneficial. "I was really grateful to have him in the field to answer questions and help with coordination," says Bents.

Additionally, Ardent Mills immediately increased safety protocol to protect all workers at the plant, including mandatory social distancing, hygiene requirements, face coverings, self-monitoring and more.

A Project that Reflects Company Values 

With work now complete, Ardent Mills' quinoa operations in Yuba City, CA, and home of the Andean Naturals brand is modernized, automated and even more safe for workers. "One of Ardent Mills' core values is safety, and they really put their money where their mouth is on this project. It's obviously more than just words when they do a proactive project like this where the primary goal is safety for everyone involved," said Ten Haken.   

"When I started Andean Naturals, I wanted to share quinoa with the world. Together with Ardent Mills, we're able to bring expertise in quinoa sourcingconnections to South American farmers; milling and technical expertise; access to markets; and the ability to scale quickly with a sustainable approach," said Nunez de Arco. "With the help of Interstates, these additional safety and automation renovations are another natural progression in making that vision come to life." 


TIME Magazine, November 18, 2013 


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