Leveraging Data to Run Smarter

tall flour milling elevators and a blue sky

May 22, 2024

Denver-based Ardent Mills has over 40 facilities throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. With a brand-new flour mill just south of Tampa, FL, they wanted to try for something new – a paper-lite facility where information is collected and passed electronically instead of having operators manually enter data. We helped Ardent Mills achieve this goal through several key solutions, including operational technology (OT), control engineering and programming, power engineering, construction, automation, and instrumentation.

New Regional Location is Paper Lite

Ardent Mills decided to relocate its regional production to this greenfield facility, and they also wanted to harness the power of analytics to make production smarter and leaner. Steve Neely, Plant Manager at Ardent Mills, says, “As we looked to build a state-of-the-art mill, we wanted to ensure we thought about how to leverage data to make decisions and continuously improve. We looked to Interstates to help enable our highest levels of automation information. This data includes online vibration detection, real-time quality analysis at all phases of our milling processing, run time analysis, predictive maintenance analysis, and more. Keeping our values of trust, serving, simplicity, and safety in mind, this data will help proactively prevent issues for our team members and help keep them safe, all while improving customer service and overall food safety.”

Upfront Planning Aids Data Collection

Planning started almost three years ago with meetings among stakeholders to form ideas and long-term goals about achieving a paper-lite facility and maximizing data collection. “Some of our ideas were implemented at existing plants to do proof of concept. That way, the Port Redwing project would not be the first time this was done,” says Michael De Boer, Director of Automation at Interstates.

Our Operational Technology team worked closely with Ardent Mills IT to ensure the network could handle all the interconnected devices and plant floor devices. “For the data side of things,” says Bryan Monroe, Lead Control Systems Analyst at Interstates, “we worked with Microsoft and Ardent Mills’ data architects to build up the data storage concept standards surrounding data collection.” Through weekly meetings, design sprints, and testing, a clear plan was formulated.

De Boer says that Interstates’ industry experience and relationship with the client made constructing for data collection go smoothly. “We understand the plant and the equipment,” he says, “and we’re able to take their requests for information and put it into a usable format. If there were gaps, we installed more equipment in the plant to gather the data they wanted.”

Leaner and Smarter

The data collected at the mill will help Ardent Mills predict failures and ensure the quality of its product. “Access to data within our milling processes allows us to proactively streamline and simplify, providing an improved and even more consistent product to our customers. The data gives us greater capabilities to execute with precision blending capabilities and allows our plant technicians to access real-time analysis where they can dial in blends to deliver maximum efficiencies,” says Neely.

Devices collect data on machine health, process data like air quality and blower pressure, wheat quality and temperature, and more. “This facility also collects data to fulfill EPA requirements. The devices store that information and can present five years’ worth of EPA documentation,” says Monroe.

Through this kind of extensive data collection, Ardent Mills will be able to run reports on mill uptime and see how well equipment is performing in real-time, allowing for more intelligent decision-making when it comes to equipment and processes. “We’re using data to perform proactive adjustments to their process in order to improve the quality of their product,” says Monroe, adding, “That’s something that’s not been done before.”

Collaborating with Ardent Mills for Consistent Quality

Since the initial start-up of the plant in 2022, we’ve been able to collaborate closely with Ardent Mills to put this data to the test. One of the biggest areas is helping enhance their operational efficiency and product consistency. Their goal was to predict blend formulations and make the necessary adjustments to that batch for a more consistent end product. Our programming team utilized historical quality measurements from the milling process, which allowed us to fine-tune the system during batch and blending operations.

Our I-Control software, a process automation solution, displayed the predicted formulas and made real-time adjustments based on these predictions. This system provided operators with both historical data and real-time insights through an HMI (Human-Machine Interface), enabling them to optimize the blending process effectively.

Bringing all this information together to enhance so many different aspects of production and operations is not just innovative – it benefits every step of the process. “Having the elevator inventory sync to the ERP system is just one example of how we are displaying real-time information that makes everyone’s lives easier, from the operator to the manager to the corporate office. They can all make smarter decisions because you’re showing them real-time information,” says Monroe.

By leveraging these tools and imaging the future of the plant with the data, Ardent Mills can expect high product quality and operational efficiency. Working together, we aim to further evolve this system, centralizing all data to streamline access and enhance the client’s ability to make informed decisions quickly.

This blog was originally published on August 3, 2022, and was updated on May 22, 2024.