A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
J-Tec has a longstanding track record and history with Herba Ingredients, a member of the Ebro Foods Group. Ebro is the global market leader and manufacturer of rice. Herba Ingredients is the allergen-free specialty ingredients division of the Ebro Foods Group.
In the US, Ebro has a subsidiary called Riviana Foods: America’s largest processor, marketer and distributor of branded and private label rice products. Riceland provides marketing services for rice and soy beans grown by its 6,000 farmer-members in Arkansas and Missouri.
Rivland is a successful joint venture between Riviana and Riceland, and has been for more than 30 years. Riceland is responsible for the rice flour operations and Riviana takes care of sales. The Rivland plant is located on the site of the Riceland mill in Jonesboro, AR.
Although successful in US rice flours, Rivland did not participate in the market for extruded flours. Meanwhile, Herba Ingredients operates two extrusion lines for rice flour which were installed in Wormer in the Netherlands by J-Tec. While Rivland was able to import extruded flours from Herba Ingredients, the process was costly and caused extended lead times. The Rivland partners agreed that the best way forward was for Rivland to install a similar extrusion line in Jonesboro.
GOAL: A NEW EXTRUSION LINE FOR THE US MARKET
Rivland identified extruded rice flour as a strategic area for business growth. For many years, Rivland sold a pre-gelatinized rice flour under the trademark Rice-Gel® for specialized applications. Being derived from instant rice, the product had exceptional attributes but was costly to produce. The Rivland partners noticed an ongoing and growing demand for pre-gelatinized rice flours into bakery, pet, and snack applications. The market had clearly switched to extruded rice flour products for budget reasons.
Given the cost and lead time to import products from Herba Ingredients and recognizing the market growth, the decision was made by the partners to install an extrusion line in the Rivland facility in Jonesboro, AR in 2019.
Thanks to Herba Ingredients’ willingness to share their technology, the Rivland partners were able to install an exact copy of the lines used in the Herba Ingredients facility in Wormer, NL. Utilizing the experience and technical expertise gained from years of operation in Wormer, Rivland would therefore move forward cost effectively and with a high level of support.
Considering multiple options including other locations and Greenfield construction, the partners determined that available facilities in Jonesboro made expansion in the same facility ideal for the new extrusion process. Rivland worked in close coordination with Herba Ingredients in the design and procurement phase to ensure the new US line would be an exact copy of those in use in Wormer. As part of the process, the team called on J-Tec for the integration of the line with the ultimate goal being a “turn-key” installation for immediate use and minimal commissioning time.
SCOPE & CONCEPT
As a total solution provider, J-Tec engaged in designing and executing this installation, tailor-made to the needs of Rivland. The J-Tec engineers were responsible for the integration of parts of the installation that were procured directly by Rivland, as well as the engineering of the appropriate bulk and intermediate storage, transport systems, safety systems and automation. The necessary utilities such as water, steam and compressed air were connected as well. The J-Tec construction supervisor was key to guide the construction crew hired by Rivland, to correctly perform the mechanical, pneumatical and electrical installation.
The commissioning technician’s expert knowledge proved invaluable to go through the testing process and setting the correct parameters. The performance tests confirm the final result: an installation that meets the guarantees J-Tec had given Rivland at the start of the project. The existing Rivland installation delivers the milled rice flour into a J-Tec intake silo. From the intake silo the product has to be brought to the extruder in a calculated manner. This is achieved by a combination of a pneumatic transport to a refill hopper and a feeder. Since the product is a flour that still needs to be extruded, and the distance is fairly short, we were comfortable with a dilute vacuum transport.
The extruder, preconditioner and dryer were all procured by Rivland. J-Tec integrated the equipment into the overall 3D design. This equipment came with its own control box, so J-Tec implemented the communication between these and the J-Tec control system. Depending on the desired humidity of the finished flour, the product can either pass through the preconditioner or go directly into the extruder, where the additives are integrated into the rice flour. The extruder heats and compresses the flour, pushing it through a die head, resulting in extruded rice pellets. As a result of this process, these pellets are now humid and need to be dried again before milling them back into rice flour. To get the pellets out of the extruder, a combination of a pressure and vacuum transport system is used. Hot air is blown over the extruder head to pick up the pellets. And because of the very low density of the extruded rice pellets (6,3 lbs/ft³), we use a ventilator to have a better extraction in the cyclone.
Underneath the cyclone, a diverter valve is located, which has two main functions. The first product of a batch coming out of the extruder is not an ideally mixed product, so we can divert the first scrap pellets into a bin and switch instream to the fluid bed dryer. J-Tec also wanted to provide an escape route for the extruded product in case of a problem with the line downstream. This way there is no need of having to go through the whole process of shutting down and restarting the extruder. The dryer is a combination of a fluid bed dryer and a cyclone dryer for the fines. While J-Tec did not supply the dryer setup, we did
supervise the installation.
Now that the pellets are dry, they are ready to be milled. Even before the project start date J-Tec had provided a preliminary 3D layout, where it became clear that the building was not tall enough to fit the mill setup right underneath the dryer setup. Together with Rivland a better location was determined for the mills, with a pneumatic transport bringing the product from the dryer to the mills. This time, a vacuum dilute transport is appropriate, since there are two pickup points and only one receiving hopper. This receiving hopper also acts as a buffer in the process.
The mill, acquired by Rivland, consists of two parts: a 2-step roller mill and two impact mills. It is of utmost importance to protect your mill against the entering of any metal foreign materials that could damage the rollers resulting in costly repairs. In a worst-case scenario, the metal could cause a spark in the mill resulting in a possible explosion which would be catastrophic for operators and equipment. To avoid all of these scenarios J-Tec used a combination of magnets and metal separators before and in between the milling steps.
During the milling process the pellets are turned into flour. From the two impact mills we transport the product into two separators. By using two separators instead of one allows the use of smaller vessels that fit into the available space and ensures we can run from both impact mills at the same time. This transport is a dilute vacuum system with spark detection and fast shut-off valves. The screener contains multiple screens with different mesh sizes and multiple exits with diverters. This allows Rivland to select the grade of the finished flour, without having to change screens between batches. Flour particles that are not milled finely enough, are diverted back to the mill. The good flour particles continue through a magnet into a departure hopper, or can be diverted to take a sample and perform a quality check. From the departure hopper the extruded rice flour is transported to two finished product silos, with a final check for contamination with an inline sifter and inline metal separator. A final pneumatical conveying system pushes the flour to either a railcar filling station or a packaging machine.
Within the explanation of the equipment, we already briefly touched on the subject of explosion and fire safety. This is in fact a very important and essential part of this installation. Not only to comply with the local fire safety regulations, the NFPA and the stringent requirements of the insurer, but even more so to ensure the safety of the installation for everyone that works with and around it. Due to the importance of safety, J-Tec already made an explosion risk analysis during the sales phase to determine the different explosion zones. We used the local NFPA guidelines along with the European ATEX directive to design a safe installation. On top of this, Rivland added a couple of explosion protection measurements to safeguard the process installation. Insurance companies look to protect the installation while NFPA/ATEX protects the people.
THE ENGINEERING PROCESS AND ITS CHALLENGES
As mentioned before, the project is a process copy of an installation at the Herba Ingredients Wormer plant in the Netherlands, with one very important difference: the available height of the building is much lower at the Jonesboro plant. As a result, in Jonesboro the dried pellets are picked up after the dryer with a vacuum conveying system which transports the product towards the milling tower. In the Wormer plant this is done by means of a gravity feed. As Rivland freed up enough space in the existing hall, a good process lay-out could be provided.
The goal of this project was to use the experiences we have with the first 2 lines in Europe and use as much as possible the same equipment. But the equipment needed to be according the local regulations and should have a local service support. J-Tec used our global presence to make the right selection and give the needed support. For the custom parts of this project, e.g. the stainless steel silos, we relied on our past experience working with local companies. After a thorough project-specific comparison was made, the company CST was selected to fabricate the silos. CST is located in Nashville, TN, which is relatively close to the installation site. As the USA Food standard (FDA) differs from the European standard (EHEDG), we had to make sure that all is well understood and the silos were made according the project specifications.
From an automation point of view, the original plant in Europe was designed in Siemens, but for this project the Rivland specification prescribes Allen Bradley, more commonly used in the US. Thanks to the versatility of the J-Tec engineers this was no issue. The start-up of the project was very successful and parameters of the copy project in Wormer, The Netherlands could be implemented and fine-tuned on the spot. Because involvement of Buhler and Ventilex was necessary to start-up the equipment and exchange communication signals, the start-up period was divided in two phases. The first period was planned in late November 2019 to check the various equipment I/Os in the PLC and to test the process sequences where possible. The second start-up period in January 2020 was to complete the communication test with Buhler and Ventilex and to start-up the project with the product. The complete installation was tested sequentially starting with rice flour and resulting in the modified extruded rice flour. All the required capacities were tested and a performance test was done.
The first project challenge that we came across during the engineering phase relates to the limited space availability for the bulk raw material silo and the two finished product silos. The challenge was to make these silos as large as possible with the limited amount of space available between the concrete building pillars where the vessels had to be installed. Solid engineering cooperation between Rivland and J-Tec resulted in a vessel design that had only about 2” clearance on each side between the pillars. To have actual as-built building dimensions, J-Tec visited the site prior to starting the engineering and 3D modelling of the project. The whole project was modelled by the J-Tec designer in the Inventor software program. As a final check, the lay-out was double checked by the Rivland project engineer. During the first mounting phase, the silos were hoisted in from an opening in the roof and moved into place.
Another hurdle came up near the end of the engineering of the project when it became clear that the large amount of structural work that needed to be done by Rivland would cause a delay on the project. In the end this delay would take about 4 months, which was the time that Rivland needed to complete the fortifications and to build the necessary maintenance platforms. During that time J-Tec worked closely with the project team and assisted with the project planning to maintain a good timeline.
From an organizational point of view the project also provided a challenge. Halfway during the project, just before the actual mounting was to take place, the original Rivland project manager retired and was succeeded by a younger project engineer with an automation background. This sudden change called for a large transfer of project information. J-Tec assisted in the support of the new project engineer to get them up to speed with the project. The last project hurdle was to align all different parties (Buhler/Ventilex/J-Tec/Rivland) in order to complete the project start-up. At the request of J-Tec, a meeting was held on site in Jonesboro and the proposal was made to split up the commissioning into two consecutive start-up phases.
RESULT & CONCLUSION
J-Tec worked with Rivland on a turnkey project that launched in 2019. The team began the commercial qualifications process with imported extruded product HerbaGEL 350LCV from Herba ingredients while under construction to ensure commercial operations in Q1 2020. To ensure a successful project for Rivland, the team established predetermined benchmarks.
A few of the highlighted benchmarks include:
- Rice-Gel® LCV 350 equivalence of performance to HerbaGEL 350 LCV as the reference product
- Successful qualifications for key accounts in Q1 2020
- Production rates, online times and operation cost per design
- Flexibility in extruded products allowing further extension of the Rice-Gel® line.
- Commercial launch in Q2, 2020
As the project progressed into Q2 of 2020, J-Tec had already turned over the keys to Rivland for benchmarks to be hit and commercial capacities acquired with the installation. Along the way, J-Tec and Rivland have built a strong relationship in Europe as well as North America that will allow Rivland to grow in their industry and have the ability to expand into the US ingredient markets.
Written by Magaly Wauters, Eric Wilson and Joris Huijskens. Edited by Karen Hendrickx.