Grossi Electric Inc

Lean Automation Streamlines Walnut Processing Plant

Eaton's package solution streamlines processes, enabling a clean and affordable panel design

"Grossi Electric has learned a lot from Eaton's innovative expertise, support and collaborative design approach," concluded Grossi. "Eaton is now a critical partner in our company's ongoing evolution and long-term growth plans."

Background

The California walnut industry has been expanding since the 1960s, and, today it produces a crop worth nearly $750M annually*. Growers go to great lengths to cultivate and especially to harvest the perfect edible walnut. Methods of harvesting, cleaning, hulling and cracking continue to become more efficient as growers take on more of the overall processing before selling a final product to buyers.

*Field Guide to California Agriculture (2010) by Paul F. Starrs and Peter Goin.

Grossi Electric Inc. is a fullservice electrical contracting company that specializes in industrial and commercial construction, automation services and computer-aided design and planning. The company's services traditionally place emphasis on achieving safety and efficiency in electrical construction combined with user-friendly lean automation solutions.

Mike Grossi, founder and principal, was interested in expanding their services into lean agricultural automation systems—intelligently controlled electrical projects capable of supporting all aspects of agricultural materials handling, including everything from plant processing to food preparation and packaging.

When a walnut processing plant in Waterford, California hired Grossi Electric to facilitate its hulling, dehydrating and preparation processes, the company began to explore innovative options for making cleaner and more efficient control panels that would eliminate intensive time, labor and costs associated with excessive point-to-point wiring.

As a quickly growing electrical contracting company, one of Grossi's topmost concerns was how to manage risk and cost while attempting to establish a new and unfamiliar service offering in a mature market for control products. The walnut processing plant presented a prime learning opportunity for the company to discover the best way to build more tailored control panels for its customers.

Rey Zavala of Wille Electric, a strong industrial Eaton distributor in the Central Valley, had recently begun working with Grossi.

Zavala understood the technical challenges of Grossi's vision to improve upon the existing MCC used in the walnut processing plant. He invited Mike Grossi to attend an Eaton Tech Day event to learn more about Eaton's entire product and service portfolio. After seeing Eaton's SmartWire-DT® solution, Grossi's ideas for achieving a cleaner agricultural control process quickly came to life: the Eaton products would not only be compatible with the machine control software, but they could also provide for improved diagnostics.

Challenge

On the motor control side, the walnut plant project seemed fairly straightforward. But thinking beyond the project's standard wiring needs, Grossi also saw high potential to leverage his SmartWire-DTenabled design to facilitate a better overall harvesting process. His vision was to enable a lean automation process that was smarter, simpler, more effective and of unique advantage for his clients.

"We learned that some of our competitors offered custom development in lean automation control panels while others simply worked with out-of-the-box solutions where the versions selected often introduced unexpected limitations or other unnecessary constraints," said Mike Grossi.

Eaton's SmartWire-DT solutions appeared to offer an alternative to these scenarios. SmartWire-DT offers an intelligent machine wiring solution that reduces panel and machine wiring complexity by consolidating complex circuit wiring into a single flat cable. Once the machine is built, SmartWire-DT systems streamline testing and reduce installation, commissioning and troubleshooting to save time and money. Grossi also liked the system's professional look and style.

Seeing the overall potential, Mike sought to become more knowledgeable in using all of Eaton's capabilities, even attending a week-long visualization software training out of state. As design challenges arose, Grossi worked closely with Eaton's Product Management Team to ensure that implementation met his expectations.

"This was a fast-moving project with a tight deadline and big learning curves for both parties," said Warren King, Eaton sales engineer. "In order to ensure a smooth startup for the walnut plant, the Eaton and Grossi teams had to collaborate closely and creatively together."

Harvested walnuts come into the facility collected fresh from the fields along with unwanted sticks, rocks and other debris. Next, the walnuts run on a shaker conveyor to remove debris before going through a brush system to remove the outer hull. After another cleaning, they need to be dried over several hours. A dehydrator system was already in place at the plant and it featured very large fans capable of drying several tons of walnuts. Grossi felt that incorporating Eaton soft starts into the dehydrator would facilitate the starting and stopping of the large motors controlling the fans.

"Eaton really listened responsively to the vision and concerns arising throughout the project," said Grossi. "They understood our needs and worked quickly through critical challenges to make sure everything worked as expected."

Solution

By combining Eaton products into a total package solution, Grossi was able to design a very affordable and cost-effective control system for the walnut processing plant. SmartWire-DT enabled the control panels to be built more quickly, with greater reliability, and without adding excess parts and wires. The cleaner design of the Eaton products also reduced the overall enclosure footprint.

The resulting walnut huller / dehydration control system leveraged SmartWire products for lean automation and labor savings; soft starters; motor protectors; power supplies; circuit breakers; and the Visual Designer software tool running on an Eaton XP-503 touchscreen control interface. Ninety-five percent of the resulting SmartWire configuration consisted of Eaton control panels. The project also spanned Eaton expertise and innovations in software, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), contactors, starters, motor disconnects and variable frequency drives (VFDs) for a fully integrated solution.

"The SmartWire products created huge savings on time and labor," said Grossi. "Through its use, our build architectures became completely streamlined: the amount of wiring required is significantly reduced, making the control panels faster to build and easier to install."

"SmartWire has proven to be an excellent solution for the demanding walnut processing machinery," said King. "With Eaton's help, Grossi has designed a completely intelligent and thorough communication and control system for the plant while keeping the panel design very simple.

The system features smart buttons that make troubleshooting easier through the use of "indicators" that signal exactly which pieces of equipment may be disconnected or failing in the handling process. The result is a much smarter machine that will actively assist the plant in making better decisions based on available information."

Results

The final walnut hulling/ dehydration system took about a year and a half to complete. But in the end, Grossi Electric was able to leverage Eaton's components as a complete package solution for a smarter and leaner automation control system that reduced the size, scope and complexity of the walnut hulling machine and related processes.

The final product controls the walnut plant's processes both smoothly and efficiently. SmartWire-DT made the control panel look and feel clean and simple to the end user. The customers love the small footprint, which is a quarter of the size of Grossi's original design.

Working with Eaton has been a great match for the Grossi Electric team. To date, Grossi has been pleased to observe additional returns from the Eaton package solution in terms of improved reliability, ease of system maintenance, and comprehensive cost savings for his company, his distributor, his agricultural clients, and their customers and consumers who are the ultimate end users of the fully automated system for walnut processing.

Although Grossi Electric went into the SmartWire design process with little knowledge of the Eaton product suite, Mike Grossi remained true to his inspiration to improve upon the way things have always been done.

His ability to apply Eaton's industrial automation products to advance machinery control in materials handling and processing facilities demonstrates the enormous value of good working partnerships in achieving high return innovations.

Overall the project has helped Grossi Electric to grow its business in lean automation services. Since this first complete Eaton Controls installation, the company has continued to progress with new SmartWire-DT design projects. Each iterative design for a new control panel continues to refine the key insights and takeaways acquired from the walnut processing plant project, resulting in progressively leaner automation solutions from Grossi Electric.

"We were able to do such a good job at the walnut processing plant that we are now able to implement what we learned into similar projects for other agricultural plants," said Grossi. "Since this first SmartWire-DT installation, we've contracted for two more systems at similar facilities in Chile and multiple walnut cracking plants in the Central Valley."

Grossi Electric is also applying Eaton's programming and HMI software for its work with other clients and projects. They continue to explore potential synergies with other Eaton product lines, including B-Line enclosures and Crouse-Hinds LED lighting solutions. The company especially likes that the Eaton products allow them to create affordable solutions for their customers.