9 Things you should know before buying or upgrading your feed mill control system



Date Created: 20/01/2020

Category: Vendor Selection

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Most people involved in feed milling will not be a part of the decision regarding which control system to buy when the need to upgrade or automate arises.  Moreover, those who are in a decision-making position may only do so only once or twice in a long career.  What makes this decision process even tougher is that technology has changed significantly over the last decade and, more often than not, decision-makers are not up to speed on the underlying technology employed by current control systems.  This can lead to a bad selection process and buying obsolete technology or ineffective products.

My purpose here is to help identify those factors that should rank high on your list of criteria when selecting a new control system or automating a mill for the first time.  The factors listed below should also apply to any major mill upgrades as well.  Along the way, I hope to convince you that only Repete Corporation has what it takes for you to make a sound investment.  The guidelines below should help you make more informed and effective choices.

DON’T BUY THE PRODUCT BUY THE COMPANY

When faced with the problem of selecting a control system, our first impulse is often to start comparing product features and functions to see if we can determine which company offering is the best.  And while there are some features that are better than others, features alone are not a good way to go about selecting a control system.  When buying a control system your viewpoint should be “I am buying the control system company first.”  This may seem odd, but you will soon find that the company matters more than the product.  For example, will the company be around to service my product long into the future?  Are they financially sound?  Has the perspective company invested in new technology or do they rely on PLC makers for their core technology?  Does the company have a well-organized service organization with the coverage needed to handle all my service needs?  And the list goes on and on.  The following guidelines will continue and expand on this concept of buying the company first and help you evaluate the right company for you.

WILL THIS COMPANY BE AROUND FOR THE LONG-TERM?

Your investment in a control system changes from being an asset to a liability the day your control company ceases to exist.  How do you get support?  How do you keep your mill running?  What happens if we break down today?  These are nightmare questions that none of us want to have to answer.  To make this even more concerning is that many automation companies come and go.  So how do you know if a company will be around in the future?  Here’s how.

For the case of Repete, we have been a family-owned business for over 50 years.  The owners see this as a heritage business currently owned by the third generation with a desire to own it for generations to come.

Repete is a debt-free company with no debt-service driving prices up to cover costs.

Repete has expanded each of the last seven years without the need for outside funding or venture capital money.  We now have a development center in India and offices in Mexico and Thailand with plans for expansion worldwide.  Again, with no plans for outside money or capital injection.

Repete is a company with extremely low turnover.  We treat our employees as family and compensate them well.

Repete invests in research and uses that research to spearhead innovation.  A long-term company must innovate to continue to grow.

All this all adds up to create a committed company that will protect your investment for a very long time.  Long after you select Repete we will still be here to service your needs.

DOES THIS COMPANY HAVE THE SUPPORT INFRASTRUCTURE AND PRACTICES NEEDED TO SUPPORT MY PURCHASE?

Second to the longevity of a business, service is the next major concern.   When evaluating service two major questions need to be asked.  “Does the product require a lot of service?” and “When the product needs service how effective is the service team?”  I will answer these two questions from a Repete point of view:

“Does the Repete product(s) require a lot of service?”

No, this is largely due to our software being delivered to you fully-tested and ready to install.  We employ state-of-the-art testing practices that deliver a system that is expected to work.

Our mill automation solutions are fully-automated and therefore relies less on operators for a high-quality outcome and product.  This reduction in dependency on operators translates into fewer service calls and issues.  When something does go wrong, Repete automation software has a sophisticated diagnostic system built-in.  Our diagnostic ability prevents the need to plunder around in the PLC to discover what is wrong.  All information is available directly on the operator’s screen.  Even the active level of IO and state of a device.  This leads to a lowered need for support need when compared to our competition.

“When the product does needs service how effective is the service team?”

We have service available 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week.  This service is provided by a team of people specifically assigned to help you.  The service team is located around the world to ensure that we have coverage in all time zones.

Our support team consists of an advanced team of experts with a high level of skill and experience.  A support representative can enlist the help of an advanced team member without asking permission of a manager or supervisor.  A support rep is given guidelines for the time it takes to resolve issues based on the severity of an issue and how much impact it has on the mill.  If these guidelines are exceeded, a service rep is asked to automatically escalate the issue and get an advanced rep involved.

If an advanced engineer is unable to resolve a customer issue, they will escalate the issue to an engineer.  The engineer will be one of the team members that designs and implements solutions for our customers.  This ensures that no matter what the problem, we will have the skill needed to quickly resolve any issue.

Finally, the advanced diagnostics capability of the Repete control solutions is superior in the industry.  They allow a server person the ability to diagnose issues, work around problems and return mills to operation in the shortest possible time.  With all this together, Repete offers a very effective service solution with a best-in-class service team.

DOES THE CONTROL COMPANY INVEST IN R&D AND DO THEIR PRODUCTS DEMONSTRATE THEIR INNOVATION?

After service and support, innovation is a key concern that will tell you a lot about whether you should invest with a certain control company or not.  For example, many of our competitors today have not invested in R&D in over a decade.  Or the control company may rely on large PLC makers for their control solutions and innovation.  In either case, there is a high likelihood that the solution is out of date or lacks the robustness when compared to a company that employs innovation as a basic practice to drive growth.

At Repete, we invest every year in technology that will bring value to the feed milling industry.  Our investment in R&D brings forth innovative features, systems, and capabilities that have significantly improved our position in the market.  Some examples of these innovations are listed below:

  1. A new ground-up control architecture that is maintainable across decades
  2. Uses less expensive hardware than our competition
  3. Is more reliable and results in fewer system outages than our competition
  4. Is more expandable and saleable then our competition
  5. Is delivered fully-tested and ready for commissioning
  6. Does more things at once and more efficiently than our competition.
  7. Boasts single-button recovery as a standard
  8. A new enterprise-class system for large mills that increases redundancy and uptime
  9. Both theoretical and physical lot tracking methods. Both bin and vessel layered lot tracking.
  10. Web-enabled a method to publish all data collected by the controls system.
  11. Introduced the ability to integrate with all ERP systems to exchange standard document types
  12. Orders, purchase orders, shipments, inventory, and production usage
  13. Introduced the ability to aggregate date from all mills into a single repository for analysis
  14. Introduced a new ad hoc reporting tool for analyzing aggregated data.
  15. Introduced a new sophisticated method to help manage multi-species mills to prevent feed contamination.
  16. Introduced a new profiling method for pellet mills. Making them more efficient with fewer plugs without the need for operators.
  17. Introduced a new continuous improvement method that allows a control system to last for longer than our competition often 2 to 4x.

This is not an exhaustive list but should give you an idea of what R&D should produce in a controls company.

Contrary to this approach many control systems providers are using software that is based on now obsolete development tools.  This can be very dangerous for the consumer since many of those tools are known to have intrinsic issues and are no longer supported by their creators.

Likewise, controls companies that claim to do everything in the PLC are hampered by PLC technology not keeping pace with development technologies and new IOT innovation.  This means that by restricting a solution to the PLC only, a controls vendor does not have the testing, maintenance, and support tools now available in the market.  This leads to a control system that is less reliable and maintainable over time, and one that will become obsolete more quickly.  While many will argue with these statements, Repete has consistently out-performed the competition in price, performance, and capability by using both the PLC and new development technologies together.

DOES THE CONTROL COMPANY KNOW WHAT I DO AND HOW I DO IT?

The feed milling industry is a relatively small niche industry, where often, we find competitors who think it’s easy to throw together a solution and head to the market.  This usually doesn’t last long, and they realize that there is more to feed milling than just automating some controls.  Knowing the feed market is a very important characteristic of a controls company that claims to work in the feed milling industry.

At Repete we have worked the feed milling industry for decades.  During that time, we have learned not only how a feed mill works but what is important and even critical about the controls that are employed by them.  For example, Repete thoroughly understands the issues caused when feed is manufactured for multiple species in one mill and how easy it is to contaminate feed.  Repete has developed a set of advanced capabilities and techniques that specifically address this problem.  Feed contamination and the ability to prove that feed was made correctly is another key issue with feed mills. Often, the control methods used in a mill can be subtle and if not carefully handled can produce contamination.  This extends from basic flushing techniques to the proper operation of equipment like turn heads.

Another aspect of feed milling is the unique staging requirements found in feed mills and a control vendors’ ability to overlap stages to get maximum performance.  This can cause serious design considerations to be evaluated and is an area where most vendors get it wrong.  At Repete, we have designed the concept of staging into our standard systems and automatically allow an overlap of an unlimited number of stages concurrently without contamination.

Repete has a long history of getting it right in the feed mill.  That experience leads to peace of mind for plant managers and operators.

What is the life expectancy of your products and can they be maintained?

We live in a time where technology is becoming obsolete at an ever-increasing rate.  Obsolescence has now become a business strategy for some companies.  PLC’s, PC’s, operating systems and all the network accessories are all falling victim to obsolescence.  This has increased the year-to-year cost of control systems because each time a component becomes obsolete, the control system has to adapt to this change.  Some control system vendors are now recommending a major upgrade every 5 years.

Repete has taken a different approach to this issue.  We design systems that can inherently be updated as obsolescence causes the need for change.  Additionally, we offer a Continuous Update Program that guarantees that your system will not need to be upgraded until the industry drives a new generation of technology.  This could be 15-20 years.

What’s unique about Repete’s Continuous Update Program is that your system will remain under warranty for the entire time.  Yearly updates ensure that obsolescence is removed and that improvements to the control system are delivered.  That’s why it’s referred to as a continuous “improvement” program, because each year your system improves from last year.  Compare this with the “Let it rot down” approach of our competitors and you will quickly see that overall your cost of ownership is lower.

Does the control vendor have an Internet-of-Things (IOT) strategy that makes sense?

If you talk to 10 people about the internet-of-things you will get 10 different viewpoints.  This is not because the IOT future is confused but rather, each company is addressing it with an eye as to how they can best take advantage of it.  For Rockwell, as an example, IOT means unlocking the data in the control system and making it available as “Big Data.” And sure, this is one part of IOT but not the main part.

So, what is IOT?  IOT is the idea that devices are becoming smarter over time.  We see this today in feed milling in the increased use of VFD devices.  VFDs have come down in prices, making them a better choice than motor starters.  VFDs each have their own computer inside and offer an interface to the outside world to control.  They also have the ability to provide various amounts of data that can be used to understand mill operations better.

This trend will continue as equipment manufacturers desire to do the same thing.  Lower cost of their solutions by including a small process, usually not a PLC, hides how the hardware works behind an interface that allows the controlling system to ask for it to perform various tasks or functions.  The vision, just like VFDs, is for hardware and equipment manufacturers to just plug in an ethernet cable and have the control system recognize it and make it work.

So why is it important for your control vendor to have an IOT strategy?  Because without one the mill may not be ready for the future.  By the way, the future is now!

At Repete, we have a full set of offerings that allow us to support a complete range of devices, like VFDs and other future applications at a robust and granular level.  Repete offers direct screen display and interaction with all devices, including the ability to command them to perform specific interactions outside those driven by the control system.  This is very useful when diagnosing or recovering from mill hardware field failures.

Repete is partnering with equipment manufacturers now to offer this type of IOT support.

Let us improve your feed mill processes!

I hope this brief article has been a help to you and that you feel more confident about how to choose a controls vendor.  I also hope that you can see that Repete is the premier controls provider for the feed industry.  We have a clear vision for the industry and a clear view of how to bring advanced technology to your feeding operation.  If you would like to know more about Repete and its complete line of innovative products please contact us at:  https://www.repete.com.

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