Early Success with Ignition Leads to Expanded Role

Food Producer Using Software Throughout Facility

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California Family Foods (CFF) is a leading rice mill and storage facility based in the heart of California’s rice-growing region — an area of 450,000 acres in the northern part of the state. Based in Arbuckle, CFF dries and stores more than 200 million pounds of paddy rice each season. The company handles about 10 percent of California’s rice crop each year.

When CFF wanted a comprehensive software package that could run processes across several departments while collecting and analyzing data, it turned to Ignition by Inductive Automation®. Ignition is an industrial application platform with numerous tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

System integrator Industrial Automation Group (IAG) helped CFF select and implement Ignition. IAG is based in Modesto, Calif., and has extensive experience in the food and beverage industry.

California Family Foods began using Ignition in 2016, and has been impressed with the results ever since. The company has expanded its use of Ignition throughout its facility, and will continue to do so. CFF has seen benefits in data access, business analytics, mobility, reporting, food safety, and more.

CFF is using Ignition in three key areas — receiving, mill operations, and packaging. Austin Bartholomaus, a controls engineer at IAG, helps CFF get what it needs from Ignition. “Industrial Automation Group sees Ignition as a very versatile tool,” he said. “Once you show the customers how powerful it is, you can really get a lot out of it.”


Big Effect

CFF has plans for expanding its use of Ignition in 2018 and 2019. “We’re going through a multi-year process of upgrading all our equipment and automation systems, and Ignition is a big part of that,” said Dave Volkman, engineering and safety manager for CFF. “It’ll allow us to control everything from receiving through the packaging and out the shipping door — all with one system.” Future plans also include integration with the company’s ERP system.

In the receiving department, Ignition ensures that each truck bringing in new product is routed to the proper receiving pit (dropping product in the wrong pit can compromise food safety). A correct barcode scan by the driver is required before a truck can gain access to a pit. If the wrong code is scanned, the door to the pit won’t open and the truck can’t enter. The new process has taken human error out of the equation. “Before we had Ignition, all of this was a manual process,” said Volkman. “Now, our receiving process has become a lot smoother, and much more organized.”

Ignition also provides CFF with greater capabilities for business analytics. “The plant runs a significant amount of time, so we’re collecting a lot of data — and the data analytics are really going to help drive our strategies in the future,” said John Konkle, director of operations for CFF. “And we’ll be adding even more data acquisition points, now that we’ve seen what Ignition can do. In 2019, we’ll revitalize our packaging department. That will include quite a bit more automation, and automation controls that we plan to connect into Ignition to do the data collection and the analysis work.”

CFF was drawn to Ignition in part because of its open architecture, which provides greater flexibility than other systems. Ignition’s unlimited licensing was another big factor for CFF, which wanted the freedom to add tags, devices, users, screens and more without having to pay extra fees. “The further we get into this, the more important the unlimited licensing becomes,” said Konkle. “If we had to do separate licensing on all the data-collection points we want to, it would price us out of the market. We would not be able to do what we intend to do. The unlimited licensing we get with Ignition will have a huge effect on our future.”


Mobility and More

Ignition’s mobile capabilities have brought additional benefits. Using tablets, operators can now control the plant from wherever they are. “Before, we were always stuck in the control room,” said Efren Maldonado, process shift supervisor at CFF. “Now I can just grab the tablet and go wherever I need to go. We have a pretty big facility; there are three different floors. I’m able to take that tablet to any floor, and I can still control all the same stuff.”

By bringing the tablet to production meetings, Maldonado can see what’s happening on the plant floor even though he’s in a conference room. And he can show what he’s seeing to others in the meetings. CFF plans to leverage tablets even more in the future.

Reporting is another area in which CFF has seen improvements since bringing in Ignition. “Ignition allowed us to remove the Excel spreadsheets and various Word documents that the operators had to use every day,” said IAG’s Bartholomaus. “It allowed us to contain all the reports in one central location, for ease of use.”

With Ignition and other upgrades to its systems, CFF is more prepared than ever to handle massive volume with a smooth workflow throughout its facility.


Industrial Automation Group (IAG) serves the food and beverage industry. IAG has implemented complex automation solutions across North America. The company is based in Modesto, Calif., and also has locations in Sacramento, Fresno, and Visalia, Calif., and Reno, Nev. For more information, visit automationgroup.com.


David Volkman: My name's David Volkman, I am the Engineering Manager for California Family Foods. We're a rice mill in the Northern California Valley. We started using Ignition in August of 2016. In our receiving process, it is used to log in the trucks, the trucks go to our receiving pits where they scan the barcode, are allowed into the pit, and drop their load in our mill. It is doing all the machinery control, also being used for data acquisition, tank level control, and flow and throughput through the mill. We've been so successful with the Ignition program that we're about to install it into our packaging department.

John Konkle: My name is John Konkle, I’m the Director of Operations for California Family Foods. We have a much stronger capability of pulling business analytics off the floor using Ignition, which will totally change the way we were structuring the business in the future. We are very pleased with where we're gonna be able to take this and then actually open the doors for the thought process of how far we could go with Ignition and mapping the entire process and bringing that into then our ERP systems to be able to meld those two components together for business data acquisition and better business decisions based on real-time data.

Austin Bartholomaus: I'm Austin Bartholomaus, and I work as a Controls Engineer for Industrial Automation Group based out of Modesto, California. Ignition was a good fit here because it allowed us to remove the Excel spreadsheets, various Word documents that the operators had to use every day and allowed us to contain all the reports in one central location for ease of use.

Efren Maldonado: I'm Efren Maldonado, a Mill Supervisor at California Family Foods. Before, we were always stuck in the control room where we had one spot, one control. Now I could just grab the tablet and go wherever I need to go. We have a pretty big facility, and there's three different floors, and I'm able to take that tablet to whatever floor I need to be and control all the same stuff.

John Konkle: Now that operator actually will attend production meetings in the morning and bring his tablet with him, so he can see the entire operation at his fingertips.

David Volkman: Food safety is paramount in our industry, and having Ignition has taken us a large step forward in our ability to trace and find material as we go through our processes.

John Konkle: So just the reporting stages of what we've been able to do with Ignition early on has paid dividends already.

David Volkman: By getting Ignition, we now have the ability to collect all this data into one source, and then everyone that needs it can get the report they want out of the source.

John Konkle: It's been a significant night-and-day difference.

Efren Maldonado: Before, basically, we had the same setup as far as how we run the mill and everything controlled, but we just didn't have the same amount of data that we have now with Ignition, we just didn't have it.

Austin Bartholomaus: Industrial Automation Group sees Ignition as a very versatile tool. It's very easy to install and to start up and start trending and historizing information. And once you show the customers how powerful it is with the unlimited historian and unlimited tags, you can really get a lot out of it.

Posted on February 20, 2018