Control platform meets the needs of R&D company

Launching new product types or variations seem to be the modus operandi in today’s food industry as consumers’ tastes evolve and cost pressures force producers to adapt. With solid internal R&D efforts, many food manufacturers are finding success with reintroductions, such as Chobani Greek yogurt or the rebranding of craft beers.

Twin Falls, Idaho-based Amalgamated Research LLC (ARi) knows quite a bit about R&D. The organization has been consistently developing large-scale, industrial separation processes for the last 50 years. In the 1970s, the division was the R&D department for Amalgamated Sugar, with the mission to develop more efficient industrial separation processes of sugar beets. Now the company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amalgamated Sugar. 

ARi is also known for its chromatography-based separation processes, and it introduced the first industrial-scale simulated moving bed (SMB) system for high-fructose corn syrup production in 1981.

Now each ARi separation system varies depending on function and industry, but all of the systems share similar hardware equipment: valves, pumps, flow meters, refractometers, density meters, and pressure and temperature measurement equipment.

“In research, we’re always changing things in the process,” says Bill Jacob, group leader at ARi. “We needed a control system with a lot of flexibility.”

One ARi patent uses a fractal fluid control method to maximize process media and reduces the size of equipment footprints in the plant. Another industrial separation process uses nano filtration equipment for syrup decolorization applications to recover regenerate chemicals, reducing consumption and waste generation by 80 percent.

Recently, ARi developed five industrial separation systems with Temecula, California-based Opto 22’s automation and control equipment. These separation applications vary in processes, but all five use the SNAP PAC (Programmable Automation Control) platform. With so many pieces of equipment, the PAC system provides distributed processing via remote I/O. This setup allows for shorter wiring runs, reduces network traffic and relieves the central controller of supervisory tasks.

According to ARi, the advantage of its designs resides in their ability to offer smaller separations systems, and the PAC platform allows ARi to use analog input modules and high-density digital output modules with 32 channels. The analog delivers 32 channels of -20 mA to +20 mA analog current input.

“Developing and fine-tuning our processes take experimentation,” says Jacob, who manages all programming, integration and instrumentation for developing separation-process systems. “We may need to move a valve or a flow meter to a different area of the machine or change its place and control setting in the process. The distributed I/O architecture lets us quickly install or remove a module and wire it.”

With a chemist background, Jacob was able to learn the PAC control programming software to develop control programs for the many types of applications, such as SMB chromatography for fructose purification or biomass SMB for basic sugar recovery.

The PAC platform allows ARi to develop and load up to 60 different control flowcharts on a single hardware controller. This allows operators to switch between control programs for a given test or process, according to ARi.

Operators can also engage in mobile control or monitor a process with Opto’s groov mobile operator interface that works with the PAC platform.

“Operators can use their desktop PC, mobile phone or tablet to keep an eye on process status,” says Jacob. “In the future, we expect most systems will be shipped with this interface installed to meet customer demand.”

Even though flexibility is part of this company’s DNA, responsive control platforms are making inroads for large and small manufacturers.