Nut Oil Producer Caloy Turns to Engineering Unlimited to Speed Deployment of New Plant and Reduce Losses by 40 Percent

California is America’s No. 1 producer of tree nuts, accounting for 90 percent of a crop that is worth more than $7 billion per year, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The Golden State supplies more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds and about three-quarters of the world’s walnuts. It also provides about 98 percent of the pistachios in the U.S.

It stands to reason that California would make an ideal and strategic location for leading nut oil producer Caloy. Founded in 1988, Caloy produces high-end oils including almond, walnut and pistachio among other nut oils. Today, the company provides more than half of the world’s nut oils.

Walnut oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, making it an increasingly popular choice for health-conscious consumers, especially in Europe. Almond oil, on the other hand, is a natural skin nutrient used in moisturizers, lipsticks and massage oils.

Bringing Operations In-House

For most of its existence, Caloy focused only on pressing nuts rather than later-stage oil refinement. Pressing includes mechanical crushing of the nuts in worm presses to expel the nut oil, and then sending the oil through a screening tank and filtration. The resulting crude nut oil was shipped to Europe for refining.

As the company continued to grow, it sought greater control of the production life cycle and decided to establish an in-house refinery. This would help the company better manage quality and potential losses, particularly because the European refining facility used Caloy’s oils for flush outs between changeovers. Additionally, keeping product on-site in California for refining would reduce logistics costs and help Caloy expand its distribution into the North American and Asian markets.

Caloy built its new refining facility at the company’s five-acre production site in Denair, California. The company contracted with a machine builder to design and deliver the facility’s automated processing equipment.

When the equipment arrived on-site in California, however, the Caloy team encountered issues. A factory acceptance test resulted in 10 pages worth of equipment problems that needed to be addressed.

Frustrated by these issues and the lack of support from the out-of-country  automation supplier, Caloy decided to turn to a system integrator to develop the tank farm motor control center (MCC) and programmable logic controller (PLC). Caloy also knew it would need help with support commissioning and installation.

Niche Expertise

Wayne McCalley, President of Caloy, reviewed system integrators in the California area, but found their expertise was largely in nut sorting and grating processes, often lacking experience with liquids. He ultimately selected an out-of-state firm, Engineering Unlimited, a Minnesota-based company with oil-refining experience.

Engineering Unlimited worked with Caloy beginning at the design stage to help identify potential efficiencies and cost savings. That included discussions of using variable frequency drives (VFDs) in place of soft starters to help manage energy costs.

“Engineering Unlimited provided a scenario and all the costs of using VFDs versus starters,” McCalley said. “The VFDs offered a six-month payback, so it was a no brainer. We put VFDs on almost everything we could, even down to 3-horsepower motors, to help reduce demand and increase efficiency.”

To help speed up installation, the Engineering Unlimited team configured systems at their Minnesota location before shipping them to Caloy. The MCC was fully prewired and the PLC was configured with addresses preset for the VFDs and the MCC.

“The electrician just had to pull (MCC wires) from point A to point B,” McCalley said. “We verified the communications, and it was up and running. It was nearly plug-and-play, and it saved us a lot of time.”

Engineering Unlimited also helped establish visibility across the refining operations. That included connecting all plant equipment via the ControlNet network to give operators access to valuable machine and process data, such as motor speed, amperage and RPMs. McCalley can track all operations on two screens in his office, while operators and engineers have four additional screens on the plant floor.

This visibility also can be extended beyond the plant’s walls using secure VPN access. McCalley can use this connectivity to view real-time operations on a mobile device while at home or traveling.

VPN access also helped during the commissioning process, enabling the Engineering Unlimited team to remotely connect with plant personnel to address issues as they arose.

“Having those guys log in and help make changes on the fly really helped,” McCalley said. “Without that connectivity, Engineering Unlimited staff would have had to travel out to California, which can be costly and slow down deployment. It’s especially valuable for those minor issues that inevitably pop up, where it just doesn’t make sense to have a team fly out.”

Improving Quality, Reducing Losses

Since launching the fully automated refining facility, Caloy has reduced losses by at least 40 percent, a significant achievement given the high-value product the company produces. A key contributing factor to this improvement was the company’s newly acquired control over its quality-management processes.

For example, the new facility has quality alerts in place to notify operators of issues as they happen, which has helped improve first-pass quality. Caloy has also implemented a process to remove naturally occurring compounds that the European Union has deemed unsuitable for foods and cosmetics. This capability did not exist in the European facility, further helping reduce losses at the new facility.

“We can only send pure oil to Europe – anything that’s less than 100 percent oil is essentially waste,” McCalley said. “The Engineering Unlimited team was integral to helping us ensure mixing and contamination doesn’t occur in the tank farm where these risks are the highest. For example, they helped us implement mechanisms to ensure an operator can’t put almond oil in a tank designated for walnut oil.”

From a technology standpoint, there are stark differences between the legacy pressing plant and the new refinery. The pressing operations are relatively straightforward, yet they require three operators for continuous human monitoring and control. On the other hand, the refining plant involves several operating units and more advanced chemistry, but it requires only one operator per shift.

“The efficiencies that we’ve gained with automated controls and cutting-edge technologies are already paying off our investments in this new facility,” McCalley said.

The appeal of working with the small but multifaceted team from Engineering Unlimited also left an impression on the Caloy team. At one point, when Caloy workers fell behind on electrical installation, an Engineering Unlimited engineer who was on-site to commission equipment joined them to help complete the wiring.

“Larger system integrators can lack that personal touch,” McCalley said. “Their workers cycle through jobs, which makes it difficult to develop a relationship. They also can have a ‘get-in get-out’ mentality when working on-site. The Engineering Unlimited team sticks with you through the whole process, and they won’t hesitate to jump into other areas to help keep a project on track.”

Looking toward the future, Caloy has plans to build an automated packaging facility, as well as to modernize the pressing plant with new automation technology.

“Throughout this process, they did everything with our best interests in mind and operated like an extension of our team,” McCalley said. “Those are intangibles that you can’t specify in a scope of work, but go a long way in bringing additional value to a project.”

 *ControlNet is a trademark of ODVA Inc.