Starting Up the Drayton Factory

Starting Up the Drayton Factory

Al Zola, Drayton Factory Manager

Each year a sugar beet factory goes through a regular cycle of operation. It begins with about 10 days of start-up to get the factory running, continues with the beet processing campaign, clean-up after we finished slicing beets, and finally the inter-campaign maintenance period. So what does it take to start-up a factory?

beets entering the factory video

All of American Crystal’s factories have a similar start-up timeline, some differ as they have an extract campaign to work through first, but I will list out the general start-up timeline we have in Drayton.

This year we started slice on August 19th at 6:15 pm. What did it take to get there?

10 days prior to Slice (August 10th) – Water test out
In a beet factory we are cluster of pipes, valves, heaters, pumps and numerous pieces of equipment. Every year during the inter-campaign maintenance period we tear into most of this equipment and rebuild it; replacing gaskets, valves seats, and the general building up of worn equipment. When the work is completed we pump water from our ponds into the Factory to water test everything out. This is usually when we find various leaks and other issues.

5 days prior to Slice (August 15th) – Lime Kiln start-up
A big part of a sugar factory is its Lime Kiln. The Kiln is essentially a furnace that burns Coke with Limerock to give us CO2 gas and milk of lime, which we use to purify (clean) the beet juice from the beets. At this point we do not have any beet juice in the factory yet, but we are circulating water, so the Kiln is used to clean up and soften the water. This is also when the factory becomes a 24 hour a day operation. The many great employees we have go from a straight day work schedule during inter-campaign, to a rotating shift schedule for the processing campaign.

4 days prior to Slice (August 16th) – Boiler start-up
The power source for processing beets into sugar is a Boiler. In Drayton we have one coal burning Boiler that eats up about 350 tons of coal a day to make the precious steam we need to turn beets into sugar. Once the Boiler is brought on line, steam is pushed throughout the Factory, and we start heating equipment up. At this point heaters, evaporators, and the condensate system come to life in the factory. We start boiling water in Evaporators and Sugar Pans, and testing the controls and instrumentation on these systems.

The last 3 days (August 17th, 18th, 19th) – Equipment startup and test out
At this point we are testing out equipment 24/7. We have doubled up our shifts to add extra employees out on the floor to keep up. Electric motors, variable frequency drives (to run the electric motors), and instrumentation along with interlocks for equipment are being started and tested. We are now starting screw conveyors, belt conveyors, elevators, and all other equipment to verify rotation and operation. Most equipment will now remain running in preparation of the upcoming slice.

And finally (August 20th) – Beet slicing begins
If you were reading closely, above I mentioned that Drayton started slicing on August 19th, so why did I just state the 20th? Our ultimate goal was to get all the factories on line by the 20th. The Ag department has piled beets for us, and in August the shelf life of a beet in a pile is very limited, so we need to make sure we are running by the 20th. In Drayton we started slice on the evening of the 19th. The factory was ready, and beets were on the ground, so we got a small head start on the 1.8 million tons we will need to slice this campaign.

With the start of slice, you would think there would be a big sigh of relief from the factory, but that usually gets put on hold for about 2 more weeks. We just started about 300 pieces of rotating equipment, about 500 electrical motors, and energized over 3000 pieces of instrumentation for controlling the factory. Even though we spent the last 10 days testing with water, nothing beats the real thing when it comes to finding problems.

Over the next one to two weeks, the process is watched very closely by management and our crews. None of the steps above would ever happen without the great teams we have at these factories. Each shift or team really works well as a group to get these places moving again. It’s never an easy task as every year these factories seem to teach you a new lesson or two, and challenge you in an area you never thought it would.

As we enter our second week of campaign things are going well in Drayton. The crews are breathing a little easier as the factory is starting to line out and we are making some beautiful white Crystal Sugar. Every year is different and challenging but as a manager there is a great sense of pride as we restart these places. You can see it in the management and the crew out on the floor as we get started on another great beet campaign.

Good luck to all American Crystal factories throughout this campaign season and please continue to keep yourself and your crews working safe.