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Workers managing the conveyor belt in a packaging facility, industrial automation, machine control, original equipment manufacturer.

A new South Island whiskey distillery is thriving on a Schneider Electric electrical and automation solution and is well on track to deliver is first run of the liquid gold.

Nestled high in the mountains near Wanaka, the Cardrona distillery sources its water from New Zealand’s highest alpine pass and, after blending it with malt, barley and a little tradition and magic, transforms it into top-quality whiskey.

The distillery is the fruition of a dream by four members of one family – Desiree and Ash Whitaker, together with Desiree's parents, Alvin and Judy Reid. They began operating the plant late last year and the first bottles of what they know will be a distinctive single malt whiskey will be available in 10 years’ time.

Building the plant with its various hoppers, tanks and conveyors was one thing – getting it all to function smoothly as a coordinated unit fell to Kane Rangiawha – a director of Timaru-based company Farm Electrics, specialising in industrial automation and electrical engineering.

“We were contracted to design and build the plant’s automation system as well as its electrical infrastructure. Not having been in a distillery ever before, I was a little apprehensive and it took a while to get my head around what the process required. Fortunately, using Schneider Electric as a single source supplier made things quite a bit easier.”

The entire process is controlled by a M340 PLC coordinating 27 variable speed drives. These control pumps, blowers and conveyors in a finely-tuned sequence that delivers the barley, malt and water in the right quantities at the right time – and then controls the fermentation and distillation. Around 40 Festo pneumatic valves and a further 15 Belimo valves are also coordinated by the PLC. The installation uses some 300 I/O.

“Designing the system was only one facet of the project,” says Kane. “The installation and commissioning, of course, involved quite a bit of programming, and this is where using a single source supplier paid dividends.

“Because the programming code for various devices is embedded within the PLC’s Unity Pro software, creating function blocks is literally a drag-and-drop operation. Not having to write code for third party variable speed drives not only makes configuration and commissioning easier but also much quicker. Communication between the various devices is virtually automatic.”

Not all components of the system could be met with pre-existing code however, and because parts of the technology had to customized to the distillation process, Kane did have to write code for a few segments. “Again, the job was made much easier by using SoMove – a Schneider Electric programming tool designed for the variable speed drives. I’d never used SoMove before, but it’s very user-friendly software and ideal for setting up motor control devices.”

Kane has used Schneider Electric equipment in numerous previous projects, but the company’s touch screen HMIs were a first for him. “The Cardrona plant doesn’t have a SCADA system. Instead, the Magelis Vijeo designer 12-inch touch screens are the main interface for the operating crews who use them for controlling and monitoring the entire process. It’s a very elegant solution – simple to understand and use.” He has also installed a dedicated server on the site for remote access, allowing him to activate software updates and provide real-time service and support. While the distillery is currently running a 10-hour operation, Kane’s design has incorporated an element of future proofing – allowing production to be ramped up to 24/7 if necessary. The plant’s electrical infrastructure is also a Schneider Electric solution – and includes the switchboard, switchgear, terminals, relays and circuit breakers. All automation and electrical equipment was supplied by Schneider Electric’s supplier in Timaru, Telfer Electrical.

Ease and speed of installation and commissioning, says Kane, where the major advantages of using the Schneider Electric equipment.

“We were presented with a very tight deadline and needed to get things up and running fairly quickly. The plant’s operating smoothly – and I am looking forward to toasting its success when the first batch of whiskey is ready.”

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