Improving a Process the Soft Way

FINLAND - One of the largest whey powder production plants in Finland recently increased its production by more than 10 per cent without having to invest in any hardware or use more energy in the process.
calendar icon 10 February 2014
clock icon 3 minute read

The production plant was able to do this solely by implementing Neste Jacobs’ NAPCON® Suite’s applications for advanced process control (APC) to optimize the critical and energy intensive last stage of the production process.

Whey is a secondary product from cheese production. As it has a high nutritional value, the use of whey powder as a nutritional supplement or as an ingredient in foodstuffs is growing worldwide.

The production of whey powder is, however, a complex and energy intensive process. It is particularly important to control the moisture content precisely.

“Too high water content causes stickiness of the whey powder that can disrupt or even stop the production”, says Antero Ylitalo, production manager at Valio's whey powder factory. “On the other hand, if the powder is too dry it generates dust and uses excess energy.”

The moisture content of the product is set within a spray dryer in the final stage of the production line.

“The critical thing is to be able to control the spray dryer’s load and the hot air streams in an optimal way,“ Ylitalo says. “We needed to keep the moisture content of the final whey powder product very close to its target value regardless of the process conditions, whilst taking into account the dynamically changing multiple process constraints.”

Process with many cross-dependencies

An APC solution was implemented at the production plant consisting of two tools included in Neste Jacobs NAPCON Suite: NAPCON Indicator, which calculates the material and energy balance information and sends it to NAPCON Controller, the multivariable model predictive control software package which is optimized for control of processes with cross-dependencies.

The result was that the APC solution automatically controlled the process so that the factory significantly increased its production. At the same time the risk for system downtimes due to bag filter clogging was reduced.

"We considered several APC providers but became convinced of Neste Jacobs' expertise and the features of the NAPCON Suite Technology," Ylitalo said. "We are currently planning to implement APC technology also in other production plants and hope that we will be able to continue the good cooperation with Neste Jacobs in this area."

No system downtimes

According to Chief Application Engineer Keijo Yli-Opas at Neste Jacobs, the company finished the Valio APC project in only three months from project initiation.

“An important factor was that there were no process downtimes due to installation and commissioning of the NAPCON Suite software,” Yli-Opas said. “This is essential for customers who strive to improve their production plants.”

The Valio case is a good example of how well suited NAPCON Suite is for processes with complex behaviour. “In fact it is applicable in most fields of food industry, but it gives the best results when applied to continuous processes such as the whey powder factory,” Yli-Opas stated.

In addition to the APC solution, the delivery to Valio also included an OPC UA connection (Open Process Control Unified Architecture) between NAPCON Suite and Valio's process control system. “Full engineering and implementation services plus client training were of course also important parts of our offering,” Yli-Opas said.

He summarised the outcome of the project in one sentence:” A more than 10 per cent increase in whey powder production, no increased energy consumption and improved process control allowing an increase in the average moisture content.”

What is really striking is the short time used from project initiation to finish. “One thing that considerably speeded up the project was that it included a remote telecom connection between the process and our engineers. It made it possible to work on the project from distance. The connection also provides a solid platform for maintenance services. ”

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