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Smart manufacturing for the sugar industry

South African food producer's modernisation and digitisation of its ageing sugar mill with EcoStruxure Plant has led to an increase in throughput of up to 20%, helping them become more efficient and reliable to stay competitive.

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The Challenge

Founded in 1960, Durban-based RCL Foods has over 20,000 employees across three core divisions — Consumer, Sugar and Milling, and Logistics. Its Pongola mill, located in the north of the KwaZulu-Natal province, is one of three sugar mills which collectively produce over 544,310.8 tonnes of sugar a year.

Its obsolete DCS system for the juice preparation and crystallisation areas of the Pongola sugar mill was in desperate need of an upgrade. They experienced extensive downtime, breakages and stoppages, including 33–40 blackouts a season. Their dependence on external resources for any maintenance also caused extended production losses due to slow response times. RCL's modernisation was designed to achieve:
• Improved uptime and reliability
• A scalable & expandable solution
• More operational information
• Empower the workforce to improve decision making
• Process control optimisation
• Access to local support & expertise

The Solution

Connectivity and Efficiency with EcoStruxure™ Plant

Apps, Analytics & Services: AVEVA industrial software*: System Platform, Historian, Historian Client, InTouch HMI (Remote Client)
Edge Control: Modicon M580 PAC, M340
Connected Products: X80 I/O, ConneXium network switches, Magelis HMI, Telefast ABE wiring interfaces

• Complete IIoT-ready EcoStruxure Plant solution, with integrated software and domain expertise provides better data access, visualisation and connectivity to the software.

• DCS modernisation: System Platform 2014 R2 is used as the supervisory to the juice preparation and crystallisation plant areas of the Pongola sugar mill. Each of these areas uses a level-3 M580 processor, X80 I/O and ABE field interface units. During the project, the scope was expanded and the sugar handling system was added on to the new M580 processor, thereby adding a platform for the expansion of the refinery section of the plant and removing the last bit of the old DCS at the site. Remote X80 I/O was used in a redundant ring with NRP links to fibre to distant substations. Magelis HMIs are used for the local displays in the factory.

• Partnering for success: To deliver the combined IIoT-ready hardware and software solution, Schneider Electric partnered with Control Software Solutions (CSS), a Master Alliance System Integrator Partner and Certified Wonderware Partner, because of their expertise in innovative and customised solutions and their track record for successfully delivering solutions using System Platform and Schneider Electric PLCs.

* The Schneider Electric industrial software business and AVEVA have merged to trade as AVEVA Group plc, a UK listed company. The Schneider Electric and Life is On trademarks are owned by Schneider Electric and are being licensed to AVEVA by Schneider Electric

The Results

A reliable and flexible automation system using EcoStruxure Plant, underpinned by the capabilities of the IIoT, returns control to the hands of RCL operators, backed by strong local support.

• 20% increase in the plant's throughput
• Improved competitiveness
• Enabled technology (simplified process optimisation)
• Modern, high performance PLC system with high availability in RIO & Hot Standby
• Reduced downtime for better reliability
• Remote visibility and diagnosis
• Improved operational information thanks to new software standards
• Expert local support
• In-house first-line support

Alan Williamson, Manufacturing Executive Pongola Sugar Mill, RCL Foods.

Customer Testimonial
"Over the period of implementation, the Schneider Electric system has substantially contributed to our 20% increase in throughput in the plant. Our vision for the future is to continue modernising the plant in partnership with Schneider towards our mission — more food to more people, more often."
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