Food Manufacturing Case Study: Leveraging a Virtual Environment

Many industrial manufacturers requiring plant management system upgrades due to outdated and unsupported platforms are migrating to virtualized environments.

Here’s how Matrix Technologies executed a successful migration to a virtualized environment for a large food processing facility.

The Advantages of Virtualization

Manufacturing systems are increasingly using virtualized computing environments. Virtual environments allow multiple virtualized computers to be consolidated and ran in a distributed manner over a collection of servers. The virtual machines are movable, scalable, and highly available. Virtual machine consolidation allows for better use of server resources reducing the overall hardware required. This helps to reduce the hardware capital expense in addition to making the systems easier to maintain.

Modernizing Software and Hardware

This food manufacturer is a prominent producer of canned soups and fresh food products sold in 120 countries around the world. The company has multiple food processing facilities, including a large facility in Texas that manufactures soup, juice, and salsa.

The operator stations in this facility were a mix of thin clients on terminal services and standalone thick client PC’s. The thin clients were running on Windows Server 2003 and a 12-year-old version of HMI software, the thick clients were even older versions. There were looming hardware issues with aging computer hardware in addition to the software ‘end of life’ support problems. The manufacturer asked Matrix Technologies, Inc. to migrate the plant’s manufacturing systems to the latest software releases in a virtualized environment, including converting the thick client PC’s to new thin client solutions.

Matrix provides comprehensive industrial automation solutions for food and beverage manufacturing and is a long-time industrial automation services provider for this manufacturer. Matrix is a certified Rockwell Solution Partner and Wonderware Endorsed System Integrator.

Matrix engineers had successfully executed similar migration projects at the manufacturer’s other facilities in Washington state and Toronto, Canada. The Texas plant was significantly larger, about twice the size of the previous facilities. Due to the size of the plant, the manufacturer decided to split the project into two phases.

Project Challenges

One of the biggest challenges of a migration project of this scope is application organization. It is essential to locate and track the latest copies of the applications for conversion while supporting ongoing changes to the applications due to other project activities occurring throughout the plant.

Matrix engineers collected and evaluated the HMI applications to identify those that could migrate smoothly and those that would be more challenging. It was important to track what changes needed to be made to each application and ensure those changes get fully tested on site. Organizing and tracking the application migration required extremely close cooperation with the facility engineering and IT departments as well as other integrators.

Time was a crucial issue. The project had to be prepared for implementation during the plant’s annual one-week shutdown period and completed within that week. Matrix and the food manufacturer had to transition nearly 100 operator stations during the first phase. Each application had to be run through a battery of tests to ensure it was working correctly on the new system. Everything had to function properly for production to start back up in seven days.

The Project Approach

To prepare for the migration, the manufacturers IT group created 22 new virtual machines with Microsoft Windows Server OS installed. Once the virtual machines were up and running, Matrix stepped in to install the application software that would facilitate running and editing the migrated HMI applications. The primary software products that were installed for the migration include Microsoft SQL Server®, Wonderware ArchestrA®, InTouch®, Historian®, OI ABCIP, Software Toolbox TopServer®, and Rockwell Automation ThinManager®.

The new virtual environment was brought online in parallel to the existing systems. At any point during or after the transition, the thin client HMI’s could be pointed to run in either the old or new system. This provided a safe fallback in the event of a problem, lowering the potential risk to production. The old systems can remain intact until the manufacturer is confident they are no longer needed and can be decommissioned.

In addition to upgrading the HMI applications to the latest software revisions, they were also converted to be managed applications within a new Wonderware ArchestrA galaxy. This not only allows for the HMI applications to be better managed as an object within ArchestrA, but also provides the foundation for future integration with other ongoing ArchestrA based corporate initiatives.

Working Side by Side with Customers and Vendors

Matrix and the food manufacturer partnered at all levels throughout the project, including literally working side by side in the field. Matrix and the manufacturer’s engineers teamed up to perform the process of switching the physical HMIs to point to the new virtual servers and testing each application to ensure it is functioning properly.

The manufacturer’s IT and operations group involvement was critical to the project’s successful implementation at every stage. During testing, the team prepared simulated production process orders to test the system to ensure that proper product counts were getting pushed to the databases that track the produced products. The simulated orders then had to be carefully deleted from the order process.

When equipment problems occurred, such as issues with system communication, local control engineers at the plant played a key role in addressing the problems.

Matrix also worked closely with Wonderware, the HMI software provider. Wonderware’s technology team helped resolve problems discovered during the testing process. Similar relationships were needed with technical teams from Microsoft and ThinManager®.

Benefits for the Food Processing Manufacturer

The plant migration project was completed on time and on budget.

The new system enables the food manufacturer to operate with the latest versions of all its software in a fully supported environment. The company can take advantage of all the modern productivity and efficiency tools the software and virtualized environment provide. The platform is ready for future integration with ArchestrA based products and developments.

Migration Tips for Other Manufacturers

Here are five tips for planning similar industrial manufacturing migration and integration projects:

  1. A crucial step is collecting and organizing the inventory of HMI applications. It is important to not only ensure there is a complete list of the applications to be migrated, but also list all application dependencies. Dependencies may include external databases, flat files, interfaces to other systems, custom communication hardware or drivers, printers, reporting systems, ActiveX controls, etc. Some dependencies may not have a clear upgrade path for use in a new virtual environment.
  2. Confirm application ownership. It’s common to discover software ownership issues during the application collection and migration process. Establish and distribute an ownership schedule for each application. This will help flag the coordination needed to ensure the correct version of the application gets migrated and installed on site.
  3. Establish proper contacts with each software vendor. You’ll need their help with any technical challenges that come up and with ensuring you’re using the correct software product versions that have been tested for compatibility.
  4. Use a collaboration tool. Matrix and the manufacturer used SharePoint, other good tools are also available. Ensure everyone can review and corroborate documents from a common repository.
  5. Select an experienced, dependable automation partner. A complex migration project demands a high level of expertise in system integration, in-depth knowledge of plant management software and hardware, and the ability to fully understand and support your company’s proprietary processes and approaches.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation solutions for food and beverage manufacturing, contact Mike Dunstan, Senior Consultant (Team Leader), mjdunstan@matrixti.com, (419) 897-7200 x 323 or Brad McDaniel, Senior Consultant, bmcdaniel@matrixti.com, (419) 897-7200 x319.

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