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Automation expertise stops leaks at potato factory

As a staple food item the world over, the potato plays a key role in the world’s food supply. This humble starch is the world’s fourth-largest food crop and was first introduced to European diets in the second half of the 16th Century by the Spanish.

Now, more than 400 years later, the South Australian Potato Company, founded by the Raschella family, has been supplying potatoes for every recipe, occasion and season for more than 20 years.

“Despite the bad rap that potatoes sometimes get, they are virtually fat free and have 40 per cent less carbohydrates than cooked pasta or rice. Potatoes are also gluten and cholesterol free and contain more fibre than five bananas,” says Jay Dawson, maintenance manager for the company.

The company is an independently run business situated in Mount Barker, South Australia. The team comprises more than 100 employees who help to grow, pack and market over 60,000 tonnes of fresh potatoes for consumption each year.

“Exclusive to the South Australian Potato Company, and what’s made us famous, is the Kestrel Potato which is instantly recognisable by its smooth white skin and unique purple spots,” said Dawson. “The purple skin markings are formed naturally by antioxidants called anthocyanin, the flavonoid also found in other superfoods such as blueberries.”

Dealing with more than 60,000 tonnes of potatoes annually requires quality automation by reliable suppliers to ensure always-on productivity and extreme care with this wholesome produce. When looking to kit out its factory, which does everything from washing and sorting to weighing and packaging potatoes, the company looked to SMC to help find a solution.

“In selecting the perfect automation partner we look to deciding factors such as an excellent, broad product range, superior technical expertise, a factory maintenance plan, a reputable brand that aligns with ours and a company that is innovative and keeps up with the trends,” said Dawson.

“Cost is also a big driver for us. In both the good and bad times, we enjoy steady, competitive pricing and great value. We want to build relationships with our suppliers and as such, SMC fitted the bill to the tee.”

Saul Weste, an SMC area sales manager in South Australia said the project’s objectives were so much more than just “kitting out the South Australian Potato Company’s machinery” with the team looking to help drive down costs and improve efficiencies. “The state-of-the-art machinery contains an automated air processor with electronic solenoid valves controlled by a PLC; here, digital flow switches were included,” said Weste.
“This project saw a big focus on energy saving and a mandate to minimise air leaks to help save on money and energy,” said Dawson. “In conducting an air leak audit, the maintenance team at The South Australian Potato Company tested the cubic feet of air used and wasted.”

“When using a sonic tester to find and measure the leaks, we realised that leaks were costing the company about $95 of energy per normal operating day [cubic feet study],” says Dawson.

Based on the findings, SMC supplied a range of products for everyday use such as air cylinders and solenoid valves, as well as our more advanced energy saving products, such as digital pressure switches, which form part of the process control systems.

“Thanks to the upgrades and replacement of components, The South Australian Potato Company saw a major improvement on leaks,” said Dawson. “This translates to a saving of approximately $24,000 per annum.”

Weste said that SMC’s mandate is to provide savings for its customers and that the team is working closely to ensure that the right products are selected for the application to minimise energy use. SMC provided advice to customers on best practice when replacing old parts or starting out on new projects.

“We strive to work closely with our customers to help them realise savings and achieve a competitive advantage,” said Weste. “The South Australian Potato Company is a valued customer and we have worked hard to ensure that they truly experience the benefits of partnering with SMC.”

“We have a reputable, reliable partner in SMC. We always feel supported and valued, and we look forward to a long-lasting relationship with SMC,” said Dawson.

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