Network upgrade increases performance at distillery

11 January 2008

Irish Distillers Group is the name behind some of the world’s best loved Irish Whiskeys, and core to the production of many of these is the Midleton distillery in East Cork. Combining a number of distilleries in one, Midleton is a complex plant that relies on a sophisticated industrial Ethernet control network. But when that network started to become a limiting factor in terms of speed and availability, Irish Distillers turned to GarrettCom Europe for a high performance solution.

The whiskeys of Irish Distillers draw on a unique tradition from the great Irish distilling houses of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Group distils a number of Irish Whiskeys in Ireland, including the Jameson family, Powers, Paddy and a range of deluxe whiskeys including Midleton Very Rare and Redbreast.

The history of whiskey making in Ireland can be traced as far back as AD600, when Irish monks brought alembic and the secret of distillation from the Middle East, coining the phrase ‘the water of life’. The first documented reference to Irish whiskey can be found in 1405, but perhaps two most important dates in its history are 1780 and 1791, when John Jameson and then John Power respectively established distilleries in Dublin.

In 1966, their two companies, plus the Cork Distilleries Company, put centuries of rivalry behind them and amalgamated to form the United Distillers of Ireland (UDI). When it was realised that UDI also stood for the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia, the name was quickly changed to Irish Distillers Ltd to avoid any confusion between Irish whiskey and African politics.

The Midleton distillery was opened in 1975 as further expansion of the Jameson and Powers original distilleries, on a new site next to the Old Midleton Distillery in East Cork. The Midleton Distillery occupies a 45 hectare site, and is unique in that both Grain and Pot whiskeys are produced there. It is the special blends of these two whiskeys that give the unique character to all the whiskey brands of the Irish Distiller Group.

Effectively combining a number of distilleries into one, the Midleton plant is a complex and sophisticated operation. Indeed it is a measure of the complexity of the operations at Midleton that Irish Distillers had begun to find its existing fibre-optic based network too slow and cumbersome to suit its production requirements. Forming the heart of the control system at the Midleton distillery, the fibre-optic SCADA network extends through all the production areas, including the grain intake area, the brewhouse, the fermentation plant, the stillhouse, the boilerhouse, the feeds recovery area, the vathouse, and the wastewater treatment plant.

‘We had used a fibre-optic star topology to network the various SCADA PCs in the different production area control centres, but although it was state of the art when it went in, the network was quickly becoming a limiting factor,” says Michael Tracey, engineering manager at the Midleton distillery. “Even at 100Mbps we were finding the fibre connections too slow, whilst the star topology and the use of unmanaged switches meant that it was difficult to expand the system and diagnose faults.’

Looking for a new solution that would prove faster, simpler to manage and more tolerant of faults, to ensure high availability of the network, Michael Tracey turned to GarrettCom Europe, finding the answer in its high speed, industrially hardened, managed Ethernet switches. Designed to meet modern requirements of high performance and increased configuration flexibility, the GarrettCom managed switch range combines gigabit fibre ports with choices of both 100Mb and 10Mb fibre or copper ports, all of which can be mixed and matched within any given switch to best meet the needs of the application. The managed switches are supplied with GarrettCom’s MNS software, which provides a complete range of management services.

The switches supplied by GarrettCom are now used throughout the SCADA network, linking all the production areas on a fibre-optic ring at gigabit speeds using RS-Ring Technology.

‘We chose the GarrettCom switches for a number of reasons,’ said Michael Tracey. ‘Perhaps the most important was GarrettCom’s RS-Ring redundancy technology, which provides fast fault recovery in Ethernet LANs, even over the long distances that are typical in a large plant such as the Midleton distillery. Also important were the facts that the switches are both managed products and genuine industrial products. The distillery is an extremely challenging environment for control components, so we needed products that were industrially hardened. In this respect, the GarrettCom switches were ideal. Further, they are managed products, and the supplied software was easy to use and provided a range of security and redundancy features.’

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