Automating pizza base production exceeds expectations.

Automating pizza base production exceeds expectations.

[Source: Mitsubishi Electric UK]

Bakkavor the leading UK provider of freshly prepared foods is benefiting from  the automation of their pizza base production line. In addition to improving the product quality and consistency, they reduced production costs through by reducing maintenance and unplanned downtime.

Pizza is one of the UK’s most loved foods. With such high demand, pizza makers are in the market for state-of-the-art automation equipment to optimise their production. Bakkavor supplies pizza and other fresh foods to a wide range of leading UK retailers. They include Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose.

At one of the company’s pizza production sites in Lincolnshire, an automated manufacturing line turns the raw materials into finished products. The process mixes the ingredients to make pizza dough ready for rolling, stretching, heat treating and proving. Once the dough is ready, they start round pizza base production.

As each process builds on the previous one, problems at any stage can affect the end result and even spoil the complete batch. In the synchronised system, effective inter-process controls become crucial. When deciding to upgrade the  20-year-old system, their preferred system integrator Control Freaks contacted automation supplier Mitsubishi Electric.

Reverse engineering the processes

On investigating the old control system, they found a separate micro-computer running part of the process. It was there because the original PLC’s 16-bit processor was not able to manage complex mathematical functions. As a result, this separate microcomputer controlled 30-50% of the entire dough rolling process.

There were no diagrams to help them understand what the code was controlling, and the original engineers were also retired. As there was no way to extract this code for use in the new control system, it was reverse engineered to understand how it was working and which functions it controlled.

The absence of documentation on the existing code within the control system made the reverse engineering operations particularly challenging. Mitsubishi Electric’s specialised teams provided extensive support and conducted vital investigations. Their help was key to the successful completion of the project. Having solved the challenges associated with the microprocessor’s code, Mitsubishi Electric and Control Freaks started the system migration.

Pizza base production

For Bakkavor to gain the greatest value from the new pizza base production control system, they planned to complete the migration in a short time frame and in stages, so minimising production downtime.

Installing Mitsubishi Electric Q series controllers equipped with Mitsubishi Electric’s QnUDV central processor unit provided integrated Ethernet-based network communications. This allowed the PLCs to connect to the inverter drives and other equipment.

Next was replacement of the existing third party stand-alone I/O components using the CC-Link IE Field Basic network system integrated within the new PLC modules. This released panel space for housing the new system’s inverters and servos needed to optimise the plant’s equipment.

On completion of the new automation system the food manufacturer noted big increases in the uptime, speed and responsiveness of the bakery line, as well as higher product quality and consistency.

David Hamilton of Bakkavor concluded: “The benefits of this new, automated pizza base production control system were immediately noticeable. Not only did it manage to address the challenges we were facing but it exceeded our expectations”.



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