Food manufacturer SugarCreek embarked on an 18-month project to design and implement a converged network infrastructure optimized for IoT. The project was focused on the company’s 420,000-square-foot facility in Cambridge City, Indiana, which opened in September 2015 and replaced a 70,000-square-foot building.

SugarCreek started as a raw bacon company in 1966 and expanded into cooked bacon, bacon bits, and more. They make products for top brand names such as Kraft, Hormel, and Butterball, according to Ed Rodden, CIO of SugarCreek, speaking at The Industry Of Things World USA event in San Diego last week.

SEE: Enterprise IoT adoption to hit critical mass by 2019, but security remains a top concern (TechRepublic)

The demand for delicious, smoky bacon is a constant in the US. SugarCreek is on track to grow from current annual revenues of roughly $200 million to $1 billion in the next few years, Rodden said, thanks in part to the digital changes at the company’s main manufacturing plant. The company has six manufacturing and packaging facilities in the US, with approximately 2,000 employees.

The benefits of the project, Rodden said, are the following:

  • Provides automation, network and developers
  • Increases utilization
  • Improves uptime and recovery time
  • Reduces future storage costs
  • Scalable, into the cloud as well
  • Highly secure – microsegmentation and next gen firewalls

“Digital disruption has had a tremendous impact on all markets, and in food it’s been fairly significant,” Rodden said. “The goal for us, for our business, is to be a proactive change agent in the business and provide a secure, stable, and agile environment and manage costs as growth occurs.”

SugarCreek took a three-pronged approach to stay relevant in the food industry. The first was to use a disruptive cooking technique called sous vide, which uses batch pressure cooking to ensure perfect cooking; the second step was to focus on a new labor model to empower workers by making them feel like a part of the process; and the third step was to use IoT, he said.

“With high-performance work teams, collaboration is extremely important. The timely sharing of data and visibility into performance is really key. We wanted to put in a network and an IoT platform not just to support IoT, but IT and the team focused on collaboration,” he said.

Some of the key components of the IoT project, which SugarCreek did in collaboration with Cisco Advanced Services, included designing from the ground up a converged network infrastructure optimized for IoT. “There was significant savings to not do separate infrastructure. We are not managing two individual networks as many people do,” Rodden said.

On the production floor, every machine is connected to the network. Employees wear RFID-tagged caps, so that their location is known during emergencies, and productivity data can be collected. There’s also a network of 240 HD video cameras so that operations can be monitored, and maintenance can be handled from off-site locations. There are also TV screens in custom-built enclosures in each processing room, with production data and process data available to show everything from cooking temperatures to freezer temperatures in real time.

The company is 99% virtualized with all the software needed to run each machine. This increases security and allows the company to control the software, rather than having it on individual laptops, Rodden said.

SEE: Harnessing IoT in the Enterprise (ZDNet Special Feature)

One of the problems they ran into during the project, which Rodden said was the largest the company has ever undertaken, was the IT contractor that they used for the installation of door security and access points. “We had used them for a long time, they’d always done excellent work, but what we hadn’t anticipated was that they had never done a project of this size. As we got into the project, they struggled. They brought in people who didn’t have the skill level because they just needed bodies, and we ended up with install problems that we had to go back and rework,” Rodden said.

“A big lesson learned by me was to properly vet your contractors–any contractor–to make sure they have the resources necessary to complete your project,” he said.

The company was pleased with Cisco’s Advanced Services. “It was more expensive than using a partner, but we wanted to get the design right. We plan to take this to other facilities now which are still operating under traditional infrastructure,” he said.

Making changes to enable collaboration and improve data access are part of what will keep SugarCreek in business. “We try to align all of our activities to support and drive that strategy. This is something that is a fundamental change in our business, if you’re going to be a successful leader going forward, you must be a change river.”

SugarCreek is moving beyond connecting devices and expanding the IoT landscape, Rodden said, calling that “easy to do.” “The difficult part is dealing with the deluge of data, and the fact that the data is sitting all over the place. I don’t really have a good handle of how many databases we have today, but they’re all connected, they’re all linked in some manner.”

He said his team of 20 IT staff members are responsible for everything that plugs into the wall or connects wirelessly within the company. A recent data center refresh with a software defined data center has improved security, which is even more important when IoT is involved.

SugarCreek partnered with VMware and uses the vCloud Suite of vSphere, VROPs, VRO and VRA. It uses vSAN software to power the hyper-converged infrastructure solution over two data centers. The environment is designed to be scalable to move to the cloud if needed for additional resources or storage for month-end or year-end needs, he said.

“It’s highly secure. The amount of IoT devices out there that don’t have security is astounding,” Rodden said.

The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. SugarCreek completed an 18-month project to design and implement a converged network infrastructure optimized for IoT.
  2. Cisco Advanced Services designed a ground-up converged network infrastructure optimized for IoT for SugarCreek.
  3. SugarCreek partnered with VMware and uses vSAN software to power a hyper-converged infrastructure solution over two data centers.

See also