Moving Potato Mountain

How Siemens motor starters move a mountain of potatoes.

At its Hagenow plant, Emsland Food GmbH processes 290,000 tons of potatoes a year. This is possible only with the help of a reliable conveyor system that moves the incoming tubers to storage and transports them to production. More than 200 motor starters from Siemens contribute to the efficient operation of the kilometer-long conveyor system, making life easier not only for the producer but also for the control-panel manufacturer.

When it comes to potatoes, Emsland Food GmbH is second to none. Located in a small town in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, the Hagenow plant alone processes 290,000 tons of potato flakes a year. Some of this semi-finished product is sold for industrial processing and part is refined on-site to become mashed potatoes, potato dumplings, and fried potatoes intended for retailers.


Emsland Food recently expanded its manufacturing capacity and installed the world’s largest potato-starch silos in Hagenow. New storage facilities were also needed as part of the expansion. The plant produces around the clock, which means that supplies must be guaranteed day and night. To feed the different production lines, some two-dozen new potato storage cells were built with a combined capacity of 2,700 tons.

Kilometer-long conveyor system

A complex conveyor system with kilometer-long loading and unloading lines transports incoming potatoes to the silos and then to production. The system was built by Schneider Fördertechnik GmbH, based in Villingendorf, Germany. The system is driven by 224 electric motors and can store 180 tons of potatoes per hour. It is controlled by a Simatic-S7 controller.


A sophisticated control panel designed and built by the automation expert Dr. Günther Schaltanlagen GmbH in Hartha, Germany, ensures that the conveyor belts run safely, reliably, and efficiently. The company wanted only the best, because the rugged world of potato processing requires that solutions be robust, durable, and reliable. This is especially true of the 224 motor starters, which play a key role in the system’s smooth operation. “We chose a solution that’s perfectly suited to the Hagenow plant’s around-the-clock operation,” says Thomas Mielke, owner/operator of Dr. Günther Schaltanlagen.

Modern Simatic ET 200SP motor starters provide the end user with a powerful, highly available, and compact feeder.
Dipl.-Ing. Thomas Mielke, owner/operator of Dr. Günther Schaltanlagen GmbH in Hartha, Germany.

Low installation effort, minimal space requirement

Emsland opted for a new Siemens product, the Simatic ET 200SP motor starter. It not only provides reliable protection from overloads and short circuits, it also offers significant advantages in terms of installation and maintenance. The starter’s installation involves minimal wiring effort because they’re plugged into base units that connect them both to the power supply and to the control system – with no additional cable connections.


In addition, Simatic ET 200SP motor starters combine the functions of a protection device and a conventional reversing contactor. This means that instead of two devices, only one device needs to be installed, thanks to hybrid switching technology. It also reduces wiring effort. “With the modern system design selected, wiring takes just one-fourth of the time,” says Mielke. Space requirements are also reduced, because the plant’s entire drive technology fits in four control panels. A conventional solution for a plant this size would take up twice as much space.


The motor starters have a service life of 30 million operating cycles. With conventional solutions, the main contacts on the contactors are often worn out after only one million operating cycles, at which point they have to be replaced. “This argument also convinced the plant operator,” says Mielke. If a motor starter does need replacing, the permanent wiring means it can be done in a flash.

Precise diagnoses enable preventive maintenance

In the rugged environment of potato logistics – where soil content, moisture, and food components place huge demands on conveyor technology and increase wear and tear – the ability to respond quickly to failures is paramount. “That was extremely important to the end user,” says Mielke. Here again, the solution Emsland chose leaves nothing to be desired. If operations are disrupted due to an overload, for example, the fault isn’t just displayed on the device, it’s also reported via the field bus interface – and can be reset both locally and remotely.


“It used to be that if a contactor failed, troubleshooting was extremely time-consuming,” says Mielke. “Now the controller pinpoints the fault and we can display a precise text message on the monitor for maintenance staff via programming.” The motor starter determines whether the failure is due, for example, to a blocked motor, an imbalance, or a phase failure.

Simatic ET 200SP motor starters also continuously monitor the flow of current. If irregularities are detected, it’s an indication that a motor is no longer running smoothly. This information makes it possible to schedule service activities early on, including anything from cleaning plant sections and lubricating rollers to performing a complete motor replacement.


“Simatic ET 200SP motor starters from Siemens are the perfect automation solution for us, for the machine builder Schneider Fördertechnik GmbH, and for the operator in Hagenow,” says Mielke.

Consumers of Mecklenburger potato dishes can also rest assured that the supplies necessary for manufacturing high-quality potato convenience products like those produced in Hagenow will continue to flow, thanks to state-of-the-art automation technology.

November 27, 2020

Picture credits: Siemens AG / Getty images

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