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Dutch Cocoa SQL Data Writer

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The company

Dutch Cocoa produces high-grade cocoa products for the chocolate, dairy and cosmetic industry world-wide. In the Amsterdam cocoa plant, cocoa beans from Africa, South-America, Middle-America, South-East Asia and Brazil are transformed into cocoa mass, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. These products are then exported to countries around the globe. Dutch Cocoa is part of Ecom Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd, a company with offices in Switzerland, Mexico, Singapore and North-America. Ecom owns six cocoa producing and transforming facilities world-wide. They also have three coffee factories and many trade offices around the globe. It’s not just coffee and cocoa, Ecom also trades in cotton, sugar and livestock. Dutch Cocoa Amsterdam employs over 85 people.

The principal

Lennert Bonnema has been with Dutch Cocoa for nineteen years. As a Senior Process Engineer, he is responsible for the automation of the Amsterdam Dutch Cocoa factory. Together with other members of an improvement team, he works on process and product development in all of Ecom’s factories. Since 2016 he’s also a member of an international team that is implementing the SAP ERP-package in all of the Ecom Group’s production facilities.

The introduction

The Dutch Cocoa plant in Amsterdam was built in 2004. On behalf of automation, pilots with different automation systems were run at the time and Siemens PCS7 came out on top. CoNet implemented the system. “So, as you can see, our relationship with CoNet goes back a long way”, Bonnema tells us. “CoNet engineers visit us periodically in order to update the system. Whenever they’re there they also solve any automation problems we have encountered. They were also very much involved in other big projects, like the expansions in 2008 and 2013.  In other words: CoNet knows our facility better than anyone else.”

The assignment

Bonnema: “Lately we felt the need to gain more insight into the processes. One of the reasons behind this was the idea that we could increase our capacity. We also wanted to eliminate written reports, because they only led to stacks of paper and were very time consuming. The solution would be an SQL Data Writer. CoNet researched the possibilities of different standard packages. But what did they find out every time? These packages did allow PLC-data to be exported, but it appeared to be impossible to link the data to the reports. And that was precisely the thing that was essential to us. Luckily that didn’t discourage CoNet. Software engineer Jeroen Weemhoff was convinced that it was possible. He eventually combined the researched systems with the client’s request and created a brand-new tool. When Jeroen demonstrated his tailor-made solution at our facility, we were just thrilled. It met all of our wishes, and then some.”

The benefits

“The SQL Data Writer presents us with a lot of benefits. Such as the fact that, using this tool, it has become relatively easy to fill the SQL database with process data. After which it becomes possible to do all sorts of things with the data using standard Microsoft tools. Before this, we would have to call CoNet in order to dig up certain information, now we can do it ourselves. And that is not all, we can ‘play around’ with data:  select, combine, make graphs, visualize. In this way we can make the processes transparent and understandable for everyone.”

The goals

“We had defined two important goals up front. First: replacing the written daily reports. Second: replacing the reports regarding production stock. Both goals were attained. We have since discovered that the digital reports are more reliable than the manual ones. At the moment they still co-exist, but it’s only a matter of time until we will switch to digital reporting completely. On the matter of production stock: before we had to manually check stock every eight hours. Now stock is verified automatically every hour. That is a significant gain.”

The possibilities

“It has now been nine months and we still discover new possibilities every day. We are, for instance, building a dashboard in which we can visualize daily performance. What is really nice, is the fact that we can now easily show data, by means of graphs and visuals, so that everyone can see where we stand at a glance. This way we can see, in real-time, which production lines are operating well and which are not. We have made a high-level overview allowing us to selectively zoom in on every individual machine and department. We can now see for instance what the press shop has produced in the past 48 hours. Tracking & tracing now also functions perfectly. We can monitor exactly which silos the beans originate from and what happens to them in production … And I could go on for a while, the possibilities are numerous. We aren’t done finding out for quite some time.”

The result

“The result exceeds our expectations. We really are more than satisfied. A relatively small investment has given us incredible insight into the processes. The Microsoft environment is easy to operate and read. We are training more employees for the system as we speak. We also receive more feedback that helps us. Things like: ‘Hey, if we can extract this bit of information from the system, then maybe we can also do this’. It is really starting to come alive within the organization. The next step would be for managers to start browsing the system in order to retrieve the information they need.

It is still in the early stages, but I am certain that we can render the production process more efficient and sustainable thanks to the tailor-made Data Writer from CoNet.”