Who Doesn't Love Food? Check out some of our Favorite Food Projects.

Posted by Bill Pollock on Mar 2, 2021 7:30:00 AM

shutterstock_671214985At Optimation we design and fabricate manufacturing equipment. We have about a hundred creative and inquisitive engineers and another hundred creative and talented tradesmen. Optimation engineers create the designs. Skilled journeymen craft workers bring these designs to life in Optimation’s 100,000 square foot fabrication facility. Collaborating as a team they can design and build almost anything. Our passion at Optimation is to grow the manufacturing base in the United States. We have a very diverse client base and the ideas and concepts they want to bring to realization are just as diverse. Recently Optimation was selected by the Rochester Technology Manufacturing Association as a winner of the Manufacturing Innovation Award, Large Company Division. This was a recognition for the talents of our team. We do thousands of projects. It is hard to pick preferred clients or most unique projects, but I have picked a few of our favorites to tell you about in this blog.   While we serve many industries and many technologies some or our most challenging, innovative, and transformative projects have been for the food industry.  

Once Again Nut Butter, located in Nunda, NY, was founded in 1976 by two wholistic individuals who shared a common belief in the importance of herbal supplements, worker-owned cooperatives, organic and sustainable farming, and the power of community. Initially they made peanut butter in their basement and sold it through a co-op. Over time they expanded to manufacture a variety of other organic nut butters. As with any industry, with growth came challenges. Once Again Nut Butter (OANB) became a recognized leader in the manufacture of high-quality organic nut butters. The company developed a strategy to increase their capacity, reduce cost, and improve the quality of production of their peanut butter operation in a multiple-phase expansion over 20 years. The first phase includes a new 40,000 square foot building, 3,500-pound-per-hour roaster and complementary blanchers, milling, and bulk filling equipment with the flexibility to easily expand capacity and change the product mix.  The nut butter industry had a serious food safety concern: peanut allergies. A must-have was isolating peanut processing from the almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds that the company uses to make other nut butters, eventually having separate manufacturing for each nut butter. Once Again decided to expand and isolate their peanut facility in 2015. Bob Gelser, General Manager of OANB, had initially worked with a national firm for a concept approach and wasn’t happy. He wanted the vendor to be local and have all the required engineering and skilled trades under roof. OANB contracted the entire manufacturing facility to Optimation. This included the engineering, equipment fabrication and all the industrial trade work at the site. Optimation started with preliminary engineering – layouts, the process flow, sizing equipment for the size of the building, extra equipment such as chutes and hoppers. Optimation engineers then completed detailed engineering. Optimation skilled tradesmen fabricated ducts, chutes, mezzanines, platforms, hoppers, storage racks and shelving, and various process equipment to complement the large purchased equipment. Journeymen millwrights and electricians installed both the purchased and fabricated equipment and utilities. Optimation provided controls for all equipment including the PLCs and HMIs provided for process monitoring. The state-of-the-art facility designed and built by Optimation can manufacture up to 50 million pounds of certified organic peanut butter annually. Since project completion, OANB has quadrupled its peanut butter manufacturing capability, benefits from reduced costs via scale-up and reduced operator labor content. Once Again Nut Butter was able to move and isolate the peanut butter manufacture from the existing building that manufactures almond butter, cashew butter and sesame seed butter to meet customer requests for peanut-free manufacturing.

A Manager at Once Again spoke about their relationship with Optimation.

“I recognized that Optimation had a lot of expertise there and a lot of transplanted ex-Kodak people that really knew a lot about all sorts of manufacturing, manufacturing processes and could do equipment installs and refurbishing. They fill a void because it’s as close to having that expertise under your roof as it can be without actually hiring people full time.”

Pennant Ingredients, Inc. was founded in 1938 in Rochester, NY (aka “The Flower City”) as Flower City Baking Supplies, Inc., featuring Pennant Branded Products. Over the years since then they have branded under different brand names but they always continued to provide the bakery mixes, the icings and the fillings they were known for.   Pennant Ingredients is strategically positioned to service all major markets in the Northeast United States and Canada. They’ve been a reliable supplier for over eighty years, willing to collaborate with their partners to customize their products and develop new brand labels. Fillings, icings, and glazes are packaged in pails, drums and totes in sizes ranging from 10lb pails – 2800lb totes. Bakery mixes are packaged in 25lb or 50lb bags. Many of our products both dry and wet are made to stock with a short 5 working day lead time. They mix ingredients for a wide variety of donuts and they provide mixes for yeast raised donut mix, cake donuts, chocolate, and old fashioned donuts.

Several years ago, Pennant found their control system becoming obsolete. They needed a have control system upgraded. To make these changes they looked for a partner that could effectively make this upgrade for them and selected Optimation. There were several reasons for this decision. A primary reason was that Optimation had the engineering expertise to design the system and develop the software as well as the electricians and other trades staff who could run the conduit and mount and wire the new controls system. As with most operating production plants being upgraded there were challenges around the upgrade. To do it effectively they would need to shut down the production plant for a period of time. In addition to replacing the control system some ingredient feed systems would also need rerouted. Time for these changes was of the essence. The ingredients they mixed for one of the largest clients had a shelf life of no more than 12 days. To keep this client’s stores open before, during and after the shutdown an upgrade couldn’t take longer than this. A plan was made a with an even shorter down time window to minimize possible risks. The engineering was completed before the shutdown, including layouts, wiring schematics, and all software and programming. Optimation designed a ControlLogix PlantPAx automation system to provide plant wide functionality. Training began and was carried out for the production operators using a simulation system to teach them about the new operator panels. This meant that when the new system was in place they would be fully trained to operate it on day one. Concurrently, Optimation’s electrical installation team installed new conduit and pre-bundled electrical cables in advance of the shutdown window. Once the entire installation team was comfortable with the operation of the system in simulation mode, a dismantlement and install effort began. This included 35 Optimation electricians and many engineers who worked in shifts round-the-clock to make the changes. Optimation completed the project several days ahead of time. In addition to upgrading and modernizing the obsolete controls, the replacement increased production rate by 5%. This productivity improvement more than justifying the cost of the project. The new system also allowed faster response in changing client needs and other production campaigns.

Apeel Sciences of Goleta, CA was founded in 2012. The company’s goal is to provide a solution to the food industry which is fraught with waste caused by crop degradation. By using plant material from food waste, Apeel Sciences engineers a protective barrier from the use of wasted produce which can reduce future crop degradation. Apeel Sciences received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, who recognized the significance such an invention, with $100,000 in 2012.

In the United States 30 per cent of all food, worth over 48 billion dollars, is thrown away each year. Apeel's technology is applied to fresh fruits and vegetables as a water-based coating. The company had a lab-sized test system and needed commercial/industrial scale manufacturing lines that could be placed in fruit or vegetable warehouses gently coating many tons of produce weekly. Avocados, limes, and other produce pose challenges in equipment design. These products require damage-free handling and uniform coating. To be cost effective the machines must have precision automated control with little operator oversight. Optimation’s world-class process engineering and fabrication capabilities led to innovation and rapid implementation to get the initial high-volume systems into the market.  Apeel went on to garner countless awards, recognitions, and tens of millions of dollars of financial backing. Apeel's game-changing technology supported by Optimation enabled Apeel to deliver longer-lasting produce in the company's initial commercial execution.   Dr. Louis Perez, Ph.D. VP of Technology and CTO, Apeel Sciences had some kind words for the technical partnership between Apeel and Optimation. “We were looking for an EPC firm to help us design and build our first commercial application systems. We ran a process with several EPC firms throughout the US and ultimately chose Optimation due their strengths in design, workmanship, software, and project management. It is difficult to find EPC firms that have all of those capabilities in-house, let alone expertise. Optimation was able to deliver several prototype units and deal with the inevitable change requests professionally and timely. The systems that Optimation worked on consistently get complimented and recognized by our partners, internal and external, for their efficiency and reliability. 

Grober Nutrition is a proud Canadian and family-owned business. From a modest beginning in the early 1970s, Grober has grown from a singular animal nutrition company to a dynamic international agribusiness and a supplier of excellent animal feeds. Grober Nutrition supplies dairy industry animal food products in facilities built to human food standards. This is unique to the Northeast. Grober’s product is a powdered formula that is used as a milk replacer for young animals. Surplus Whey from a Skim Milk manufacturer is readily available as a supply component for the formula. The process included evaporating whey to a specific concentration, which was then used as an ingredient in producing a slurry which then fed a large dryer. A few years ago the company needed a turnkey supplier for support of their new 60,000-sq-ft, state-of-the-art facility in Auburn, NY to produce the formula. Optimation provided skilled trades installation services which included mechanical, electrical and construction management support, as well as control panel, pipe supports and frame fabrication to build the plant. Optimation also provided all of the control software and controls engineering to control the plant.

For the process equipment, Optimation installed a liquefier, mix tanks, a surge tank, homogenizer and process filtering equipment, a large dryer, as well as all pipe and electrical between the process equipment. Around ten thousand feet of pipe and stainless steel, some large diameter, was installed as a part of this project. All of the equipment and necessary utilities were installed according to Grober’s specification, which had to meet FDA requirements and sanitary codes. Grober also required an X-Ray inspection of 10% of welds. Another challenge included taking some used existing equipment and installing it without detailed installation drawings. An Optimation team of twenty tradesmen to completed this work using only preliminary engineering drawings. Grober also needed a controls system and Optimation provided a lot of guidance in this area. Optimation conducted interviews to better understand what processes Grober wanted to control. The evaporator was integral to concentrate the product, which needed to be between 40 and 50 percent solids. The batching system made the same product over and over during a run and the system was set up to automatically restart recipes. The recipe system was configured using Rockwell Software’s Sequence manager. This overall system had three unique subsystems, each that ran recipes. The control systems was optimized further by Optimation after completion enabling Process Consultants to easily try new recipes. The plant is running around the clock making high quality animal feed.


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The goal of this blog is to be helpful to readers by providing useful information about applications in industrial engineering, design and skilled trades, as well as industry knowledge. We're passionate about manufacturing in the United States. We have a little fun with it too.  

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