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Traveling the world for potato flakes


Our activities at a glance:

  • Development of SCADA software based on Ignition (Industry 4.0) as the next-generation control software for potato flake lines.
  • Complete installation of control systems by local contractors under Eltra’s supervision.
  • Control systems in compliance with ATEX standards, suitable for packaging departments.
  • Interface integration with machines from other suppliers, with line control through Ignition SCADA software.

From China to Israel, and from Uzbekistan to the United States, Eltra’s control systems for potato flake lines can be found all over the globe. Software engineer Tom van Dongen installs these machines at the end customer’s location, which has allowed him to see much of the world in the past 23 years. Tom tells us about his current project, on-site work, and his distant travels.

Can you briefly introduce this project? What does this type of machine do?
“In this project, we’re building the control system for two potato flake lines for an end customer in Eastern Europe. These machines wash, peel, steam, mash, dry, and grind potatoes into flakes. They produce a powder used in crisps, baby food, instant mashed potatoes, and much more. We work together with a machine manufacturer and have installed many such lines all over the world.”

“The process begins
in the Netherlands.”

You will soon be traveling to install a control system. How does that process work?
“The process begins in the Netherlands. Here, we write the software and build the control cabinet, which takes six months to a year. Next, we install the flake machines on-site in collaboration with the end customer’s team. I guide them in installing the cables and setting up the machinery, while I connect the control cabinet myself. We then conduct dry tests, where we start all the motors, check all the lights, and test all the controls and alarms. Finally, we run tests with the product. This process typically takes about three weeks, but sometimes six or eight weeks for larger projects like this where we install two lines.”

You always work with new people. What qualities do you like to see in a team?
“I appreciate it when team members ask a lot of questions. This helps prevent mistakes, which can be time-consuming to rectify later. Working with skilled professionals is always great. There can sometimes be a language barrier, but when working with an experienced electrician, I can explain everything using improvised sign language.”

“Safety is
of course always
the greatest importance.”

What was the main focus in this project?
“Safety is always of utmost importance. Measures against explosion hazards are crucial for these types of machines. Flake lines produce dust and static electricity, which lead to explosion risks. That’s why we adhere to ATEX standards to minimize those risks. For example, we wrap all plugs and switches in dust-free covers and install temperature-monitoring sensors in motors.”

What is the highlight when installing a flake line?
“The true highlight is yet to come. It’s when the first products come out of the machine, the moment you’ve been working towards all this time. We often celebrate with a small party with drinks and snacks. I’ve even seen a client smash a bottle of champagne against the machine!”

“The moment where you
working towards all the while.”

What makes this work so enjoyable?
“Traveling is a real bonus in these projects. I have been to many different countries: Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Israel, the United States… Each place is different: the people, the food, the customs. In China, for example, you’re taken to a restaurant every day. I often have long working days, lasting ten to twelve hours, but they fly by. One of my favourite trips was to the United States. We stayed at a holiday park with beautiful weather. After each workday, we could have a barbecue or go swimming. Originally, we were supposed to return to the Netherlands for a week in between, but I took some vacation days and explored the East Coast of the US by car. I have fond memories of that trip.”