Mill Modernization Spans Multiple Sites
All plant equipment has a lifespan, including network infrastructure. As Denver-based Ardent Mills anticipated the equipment at many of its flour mills were nearing the end of their lifecycle, it proactively developed a strategy for allocating and installing new network equipment at 24 sites from coast to coast across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Interstates partnered with Ardent Mills’ IT team to plan the modernization effort and execute on-site installations.
Cycling Out Old Equipment
Lifecycle management keeps equipment operating as intended. According to Jaclyn Lamfers, Project Manager at Interstates, “Computers and network infrastructure in any capacity require regular maintenance and timely replacement. At milling sites, infrastructure upgrades are necessary to produce flour without disrupting the food supply chain.”
Partnering with Interstates, Ardent Mills’ primary goal was to update the 24 facilities in a reasonable amount of time to seamlessly continue operations. “Due to the volume of sites and the timeline of the updates needed, Interstates was brought in to provide ‘boots on the ground’ to assist with the upgrades,” says Lamfers. “Sending Interstates team members to the facilities allowed a ‘co-pilot’ type of relationship between Interstates and Ardent Mills to accomplish the goal of upgrading more plants in less time,” she adds.
Modernization Efforts Require Collaboration
With 14 mill upgrades now completed, installing the new networking equipment is getting down to a science, with the work executed during weekends to avoid production disruption. Travis Noteboom, Operational Technology Manager at Interstates, highlights the expert preparation necessary for these efficient installations. “Having strong project managers on both sides has been key. Jaclyn does a great job planning and scheduling with the client, prepping the crew with all the information they need, and shipping necessary equipment and labels to the site ahead of time. Ardent Mills' Project Manager, Linda Vencil, aligns downtimes and site readiness and coordinates with Jaclyn so we can execute seamlessly as one team.”
Lamfers explains the process: “Prior to downtime, Interstates and Ardent Mills coordinate to prep and stage all necessary hardware throughout the facility. When downtime starts, the teams kick off the site-specific plan. The work begins with remote communication and coordination among Interstates project management, Interstates IT systems analysts on-site, and Ardent Mills IT personnel remotely.”
Interstates’ role involves installing core and access switches, moving and cleaning up patch cables to new switches, and assisting with the new server installation. Once the upgrade is complete, remote programmers confirm communications and connectivity to the plant floor. “At that time,” says Lamfers, “any troubleshooting needed takes place immediately to ensure that once our team is off-site, we can still support the facilities remotely.”
Upgrades Increase Reliability
With new network equipment and devices installed, the hardware lifecycle is reset, and Ardent Mills gains several benefits. “These upgrades improve reliability and reduce downtime simply because the equipment is newer. The chance of hardware failure is much lower,” says Noteboom.
As technology advances, an updated infrastructure means Ardent Mills is poised to take advantage of new software or systems that could improve its process. “Having new network equipment installed helps to keep the plants running optimally and allows for future technology to be added on fresh infrastructure with reliable backup power sources,” says Lamfers.
There are approximately 10 sites left for the modernization endeavor, which should wrap up in October 2023. Noteboom says, “We’ve learned that flexibility is important. We understand the client needs to keep plants running so that they can continue to feed North America, so we’ve worked together around any scheduling issues.” Lamfers describes the partnership between Interstates and Ardent Mills as “a trusted and well-oiled machine” that continues to evolve.