If you've ever enjoyed a delicious and satisfying ready-made meal purchased at a grocery store, you've probably eaten a product made by SugarCreek. The $700 million food manufacturer prepares ready-to-eat protein and meals for some of the biggest restaurants and supermarkets across the globe.
At SugarCreek, collecting, securing and managing data is nearly as important as cooking, packaging and shipping food. That's why a hybrid cloud environment powered by VMware technology is at the heart of everything the company does.
"SugarCreek faces the same challenges as other businesses—we can't do things fast enough or cheap enough," says Michael Noone, IT director of cloud and virtualization for the Ohio, US-based firm. "We're always trying to innovate and make sure our infrastructure allows people to do what they want to do."
SugarCreek's technological transformation has been driven by an ever-increasing need for quality, safety and security. In 2015, the company opened one of the most technologically advanced food processing facilities in the world. The 418,000-square-foot factory in Cambridge City, Indiana, prepares food using sous vide, a water-based slow-cooking method that produces higher yields and better quality meats than traditional cooking methods.
The $6 million plant was designed from the ground up around the Internet of Things (IoT). More than 250 high-definition cameras monitor every piece of protein as it passes through the manufacturing process, from prepping raw materials to shipping finished goods. Those cameras, along with every other machine and sensor in the plant, are connected to a converged information and operations network.
If there's a quality issue with one of SugarCreek's products, plant operators can view up to 30 days of video history to isolate the cause. By applying data analytics to the video feed, the company can also flag potential problems with raw materials and identify processes that can be made safer and more efficient. Even just a 1 percent increase in the facility's annual yield will more than pay for the cost of the plant, says Noone.
The plant's employees are also part of the IoT network. Everyone on the factory floor wears a “bump cap” containing an RFID tag as part of the plant's real-time locating system. Besides giving the company the ability to perform an instant headcount, the location system enhances safety: If environmental sensors detect an ammonia leak from one of the facility's refrigerators, or some other safety hazard, the network can instantly locate all personnel and direct each person toward the nearest exits.
All told, these IoT devices collect a huge amount of real-time data—cooking and cooling temperatures, smokehouse dwell time and other factors that affect product shrinkage, as well as which employees are working the sous vide line during each shift—and stream it to virtual storage area networks within the Software-Defined Data Center.
Keeping that data secure is a top priority for SugarCreek, says Noone. The company uses VMware NSX Data Center to micro-segment its IoT network, dividing it into dozens of discrete virtual networks. That means if one component of the plant's IoT infrastructure is compromised, the vulnerability won't spread to the rest of the network. And if a major outage occurs, the company's hyperconverged infrastructure allows for seamless fail-over between its two physical data centers.
"Having storage integrated within VMware vCenter Server makes it much easier for everyone to understand how the system is performing," Noone says. "There's just one place to manage it and set up new policies. We can spread the load of storage administration across the whole team."
This level of automation is what enables SugarCreek's IT staff of 20 people to serve 2,200 employees across seven locations in three states, notes Noone.
"We work really hard to be lazy," Noone jokes. "Instead of being day-to-day button pushers, we get to help the business grow. VMware makes that possible." ▪