F&G: How can automation help promote feed and ingredient safety?
Davis: The integrity and safety of our customers’ product is absolutely critical. Automation gives them the ability to trace product from supplier out to a specific group of animals, and provide for both regulatory compliance, as well as risk mitigation in a commercial sense. One of the goals of traceability is to make sure risk is allocated appropriately to the supplier, and it provides a means of making sure the suppliers are accountable for providing safe product coming into the facility and then ensuring and documenting that the feed manufactured was safe.
We have tools available with our system that dramatically reduces the likelihood of operator error. It requires the operator to scan the right product with the bar code, ensures it is put in the right bucket that corresponds with a particular type of feed, and finally makes sure that bucket goes in with the right batch.
Berndtson and Bollinger: A lot of companies are realizing their old procedures are unable to accomplish what they need to with regard to ingredient safety. With the 24-hour turnaround requirement for recalls, many people simply cannot do that with paper trail systems. But with automation, detailed information is a couple clicks away with all of the production runs, pelleting runs and load-out information, so the track and recall procedure is streamlined significantly. Customers can take what was previously unachievable in even a 24-hour time frame and cut that down to one hour.
Repeatability is another key to feed safety. Once a system is fully commissioned, an automation system consistently performs a repetitious task at high accuracy levels, while never getting distracted. Controls continuously monitor the process without needing a break. We have had customers say they paid for the automation of their batching system within three months just from the reduction of routing errors.
Shoen: User security settings can be used to limit access to information like formulas so that they can only be changed by someone with the proper authority. Also, interlocks can be set up and flushing can be automated to prevent ingredient cross-contamination.
A good automation system maintains a comprehensive audit trail of everything that happens in the feed mill. If a problem is suspected, the user can analyze the audits for alarms or anything out of the ordinary such as manual overrides of equipment.
F&G: How does automation control labor costs?
Olson: Control systems generally reduce the head count in the plant. One operator in front of a workstation can run multiple processes efficiently. The control system never gets sick, takes a day off or complains about doing the same task over and over, year after year, and it does it all at a speed and accuracy level a human could never achieve.
Berndtson and Bollinger: Automation, in some cases, can altogether eliminate an entire job function. For example, we can set up systems that make use of “free labor” — the truck driver. Traditionally, when a truck driver arrived to pick up a load, the operator loaded up the truck. Today, a load-out system can allow a driver to select the load he’s supposed to take and with a few clicks, or touches on a touch screen, the driver can initiate that load-out process without any true mill operator present.
Davis: The impact of automation on labor costs is pretty profound. Beyond the obvious ability of the system to control the process automatically without human intervention, there are some benefits on the administrative side. Our system reduces the need for data entry. The system is automatically able to reconcile your inventory of controlled commodities in process.