SCADA team in cider

Experience shows that open systems technologies and teamwork are key to linking disparate business and on-line automation systems BY Richard Heathcote

Integrated teams are key to removing traditional automation barriers

When HP Bulmer embarked on a modernisation programme four years ago, it wanted open packaged solutions to integrate manufacturing vertically and horizontally.

Bulmer has 53% of the UK cider market, producing 50 million gallons a year, and the project was to re-develop its process. FMA was selected as system integrator, with Allen-Bradley providing the PLCs, and Pantek, Wonderware’s InTouch SCADA software.

In terms of scale, we’re looking at a mid size project. Currently at Phase 3, some 4,500 I/O are now linked in on site, and there’s an additional 1,600 coming on stream. These comprise 1,450 valves, 70 pumps and 400 analogue instruments.

SCADA is being networked across the production areas to provide for operator process control, downloading and management of recipes created and maintained by the business computers, and system diagnostics. It’s also used in the QA laboratory.

And, at the moment a customised plant information management system is being developed, using data historian concepts. Here, its the connectivity of InTouch through netDDE that’s making the data available without any re-engineering implications.

As the project has developed, it’s been evident that the openness of the Allen-Bradley PLCs and the Wonderware SCADA system have been among critical factors in allowing for flexibility. The diverse PLC comms and the ability to upgrade InTouch automatically across all versions has allowed the control strategy to develop freely.

But not without some help – FMA and Bulmer worked on several standards from day one. Common code was used across the PLCs; and common symbols and standard operator interfaces were used. This ensured ease of use for operators and maintainers, and meant that the Oracle business systems could link easily and consistently to the SCADA system.

The link between the Oracle-based manufacturing systems and the SCADA system is a good example – of the connectivity of the software and of the teamwork necessary when implementing a control system.

Bulmer’s IT Division knew that it wanted to achieve an integrated system for downloading and control of recipes, so that recipe updates could be managed without IT intervention – and would be instantly available for the SCADA systems. In developing this link, Bulmer, FMA and Pantek worked closely together. We developed a prototype and, once proven, implemented the production version.

Most importantly, we ensured a fully supported solution over the project lifetime by using standard InTouch features throughout, simple SQL-based Oracle extracts and industry standard comms protocols.

So now, Bulmer’s Technical Development Department can edit a master recipe. From here, a routine on the manufacturing system creates a file which is downloaded automatically to the plant SCADA. All terminals then have instant access to the recipe via standard InTouch, and the new recipe values are instantly in use. No special code is necessary at the SCADA terminals, and the Oracle system only has to produce a new file using simple SQL commands to extract the data.

Delivery of this level of integration was only possible because of team-working. As a result, the four year project has run largely to time and budget, whilst the volumes of cider required from the plant have increased by some 80%.

Finally, it’s worth noting that all components of the automation systems at Bulmer are off-the-shelf. To keep the software up to date, only the fractional cost of software support is necessary – clearly much cheaper and much easier than maintaining what would otherwise be a complex custom solution.

Richard Heathcote is IT project manager at HP Bulmer, looking after the development of all manufacturing systems. He has over 17 years’ experience in IT, and has latterly taken process automation under his wing