Decreasing Downtime with Automation

Up close view of PLC switchgear.

November 23, 2022

An Interstates client in Round Rock, TX, had an urgent problem. The old, 30-yard-long ovens at their protein processing facility were no longer supported by the manufacturer and caused massive downtime, but the client didn’t want to replace them entirely. By utilizing resources from our Lubbock, TX, office and listening to the client’s needs, Interstates was able to automate the ovens while keeping the plant operational.

Outdated Equipment Causes Downtime

All equipment comes to the end of its usefulness, but it’s not always in the budget to completely replace certain pieces, as was the case for this client. But it was clear something had to change. According to Stetson Bonds, Foreman at Interstates, “The client was experiencing extreme downtime due to equipment failure. Maintenance was rewiring and troubleshooting equipment 2-3 days each week.” To avoid replacement, Interstates rerouted raceways, pulled all new wire, and provided a new control system that made it easier for operators and maintenance staff to use the equipment.

Another problem was the location of the electric panels. Since the ovens are in a wash-down area, they are constantly exposed to moisture. According to Randy Best, Project Manager at Interstates, our teams moved the electric rooms away from this threat into an entirely different room. “We couldn’t avoid some of the physical pieces being exposed to water, but we made sure the electronics were no longer getting wet, which is valuable,” says Best.

Giving Old Ovens New Life

Interstates dove deep into the electrical drawings to help the client meet its goal of keeping the original equipment. A thorough audit helped our automation team design custom control panels with programmable logic controller (PLC) wiring. This involved rewiring all devices, running new conduit, and installing a touch-screen Human Machine Interface (HMI) to replace manual, push-button controls.

Dylan Reid, Lead Control Systems Analyst at Interstates, says, “We jumped many hurdles reverse-engineering the existing control circuits and wiring that had been modified over the years to keep the ovens running. Now the client has ovens that are supportable for years to come, running the latest Rockwell hardware and using other standard parts. This, along with the control cabinets now being in an isolated room, will lead to better uptimes and less maintenance.”

Maintenance supervisors have been enthusiastic about the changes. “They say production is now steady, which frees up crews to work on other problems instead of constantly troubleshooting these machines,” says Bonds. They were also excited to have accurate drawings and labels to make troubleshooting more straightforward in the future.

To keep the plant operational, Interstates took the ovens down one at a time over two different weekends to convert them. “We scheduled shutdowns to bring each cook line up separately so that while we were working on one install, the client could keep the other line in production,” says Bonds.

Regional Office Delivers

Interstates has been working hard to develop strong regional offices throughout the U.S. to serve our clients better. “This project really reflects that, with all the work done by our Lubbock, TX, office. Now this client has a local team to support them at this site and help with any subsequent projects,” says Best, adding, “Already, we’ve been able to assist them with fine-tuning their process as they explore the benefits of automation.”

Going forward, the client not only has operational ovens with easier controls and increased uptime, but they now have clear visibility into recipe management. In terms of supportability, the new control system allows maintenance to troubleshoot any analog device by viewing its trending history for up to 30 days. “This was obviously not possible with a push-button panel,” says Reid.