Plant expansion helps meet growing demand for InVigor

In the heart of canola country, Bayer’s Canola Seed Processing Plant in Lethbridge, AB, is humming along — manufacturing and bagging InVigor hybrid canola seed for the upcoming 2016 growing season. Following a $15.6 million expansion in 2015, the facility is now able to keep up with a steadily increasing demand for this high-value brand.

“This expansion makes Bayer’s Lethbridge facility the largest canola processing and storage facility in the world,” says Dr. Marcus Weidler, head of seeds for Bayer CropScience Inc. “The InVigor lineup is very diverse, and as we continue to expand into new traits and technologies we need the capacity and the flexibility to manage an ever increasing number of hybrids. This expansion allows us to do so while ensuring we continue to deliver the highest quality seed to our customers.”   The expansion doubles the footprint of the plant, increasing its processing capacity from eight tonnes per hour to 12. The 43,000 sq. ft. building also has five additional acres of storage bins and conveyances, bringing the total processing capacity of the site to over 30,000 tonnes per year. The expansion also doubled plant staff to 53 full-time and seasonal positions.

“Western Canada is InVigor country. One in every two fields of canola is seeded to an InVigor hybrid,” says Al Driver, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience Inc. “When we opened this facility in 2006, it was hoped we would eventually clean seed for five million acres under the InVigor brand, which we considered at the time as a stretch goal. We really wondered if we could ever fill our storage bins. Now 11 million acres of canola are seeded annually to InVigor hybrids alone, and this expansion allows us to meet the demands of a growing market.”

“We always want to make sure everything works in the best possible way for our customers, and one way we addressed this, in this expansion, was to create small-scale versions of all the cleaning and processing equipment,” says Weidler. “We now have one room with smaller versions of all of our machinery, which allows us to do a lot of research on how we can refine and improve our processes with the ultimate goal to further maximize the quality of our InVigor seed for the benefit of our customers.”

An opening ceremony was held at the Lethbridge facility last October to showcase the expansion. Distributors, retailers, local politicians and growers from the area had an opportunity to tour the facility. The opening was initially slated for the spring of 2015 but was delayed because an unprecedented frost in Saskatchewan and Manitoba forced the plant into production to help meet the re-seeding needs of growers in those areas.

“It was a very good test for this facility,” says Weidler. “Most of our seasonal employees had already left, so we really had less than half the staff. But in less than a week a small, dedicated crew made the most of our new technology and produced more than our company produces in Europe in an entire year. Our team worked day and night and was able to get growers in those areas the seed they needed in a timely manner to preserve their season.”

Over the past decade, Bayer has invested hundreds of millions in canola research and development. “This facility will help us continue to deliver the highest quality InVigor seed to the market,” says Weidler. “We will continue to invest in upgrades to the Lethbridge plant over the next few years. This facility underlines our commitment to the Canadian grower.” FF

Making bigger work better  

Doubling the handling capacity of Bayer’s Canola Seed Processing Plant in Lethbridge, AB, created an opportunity to better manage the movement of product through the facility. To improve the plant’s process flow, Bayer sought advice from its Germany-based engineering colleagues, a group recognized for its commitment to efficiency.

“Back in 2012 when we started to investigate the options for our expansion, we asked for input from Bayer Technology Services in Germany,” says Rob Southwell, Lethbridge site manager with Bayer CropScience Inc. “An engineer visited Lethbridge and spent a couple of weeks with us to learn how our business ran, looked closely at our throughputs in terms of how much cleaning we did in an hour and how much packaging was completed in an hour,” he says. A detailed capacity report was then prepared by the engineer and used when designing the expansion.

The report had two main recommendations to improve efficiency in a bigger facility. The first was to upgrade seed conveyance movements in the “bin farm,” the area that is home to the facility’s 160 grain bins. The capacity of the existing farm could not keep up with the demand, so Bayer had to use third party, off-site storage to hold seed after cleaning and then return it to the site for treating and packaging, which resulted in delays in the treating and packaging process, not to mention additional costs.

“Based on the recommendations, we added three separate sections to the new bin farm and included an elevated load-out consisting of 10 bins,” says Southwell. “On top of being able to manage capacity better, we can now handle our InVigor seed in an even more gentle way.”

The second recommendation was to simply straighten out an L-shaped production line. An earlier, smaller scale expansion in 2009 resulted in large equipment being retrofitted into a smaller room. Turntables were needed to manage movement of the seed pallets, and automation wasn’t possible because of the roundabout way product was moved. Part of the current expansion involved knocking out a wall to straighten the line. Also, pallets can now be shrink-wrapped automatically, adding an additional 10 per cent capacity to the already improved packaging line.

Southwell says these recommendations were incorporated into the initial design concepts for the new facility. Engineers then sought further input from Bayer Technology Services based in Texas, which completed a logistics study on all seed movement within the bin farms and the plant. This group focused on current and future estimated movement of product — both in bulk form and finished product. “The process of this study was a very effective way to remove bottlenecks and potential hazards in a much bigger facility,” says Southwell.

The Lethbridge plant is now running at full capacity, receiving raw seed from Bayer’s 250 contract growers and completing the cleaning and packaging schedules required for this spring’s planting campaign.

Southwell says that, so far, everything is going according to a very carefully developed plan. “We doubled our staff with this expansion, and we had everything geared up in time for our busy fall and winter season. Our bins are filling and the plant is running as expected — and we know we have the processes in place to do this as efficiently as possible while still providing growers with the high-quality product they expect.”