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Five tips for automating your food processing plant

To optimize ROI, it’s important to learn which areas of your food processing facility are best suited for automation. Below are five tips for improving your plant’s automation capabilities.

Author: Michael Griffith, Manager, Stellar

Total automation may be an ideal for most food processors, but it can be difficult to determine how to connect every system in a food plant-or if they should even be connected at all. To optimize ROI, it’s important to learn which areas of your food processing facility are best suited for automation. Below are five tips for improving your plant’s automation capabilities.

1. Leverage existing connected automation systems—Many systems are well-integrated on a common network and platform, but they don’t do much good if they aren’t fully integrated.

Consider a brewery that had a manual data system in place that was generating a great deal of useful data. Because its systems weren’t integrated it couldn’t put that data into context, making it relatively useless. Once the brewery installed a manufacturing execution system (MES), its packaging efficiency increased by 30 percent.

2. Implement overarching integration—On the packaging side of food processing plants, I often notice that processors have yet to fully implement integration across the number of individual components and machines that must run to have a fully functional packaging line. Often times, when one piece of process equipment malfunctions, the entire system stops working.

It’s important to tie all your equipment together in an overarching system so that the whole doesn’t suffer when one element stops working.

3. Use software to connect processing and packaging equipment—When talking with food processors, I find there is a lack of plant floor connectivity between processing and packaging areas. Why? While the networking capability DOES exist, there’s no software in place to connect the equipment from each area.

Considering space and labor are relatively inexpensive, the ROI on installing software like a material handling systems (MHS) can take up to 15 years, which is much longer than most processors have an appetite for (typically no more than three to four years). So, only recently have food processors recognized the value of a more integrated system.

Subsequently, older plants were often built with such an array of hardware and software that the integration isn’t always so easy.

4. Define a vision of the future—At Stellar, we’re typically involved with food plant owners on a project basis for automation. My focus in conversations with clients is to try to help them define a vision of the future-the sort of “blue sky” version of where they would like to be at some point in the future. Then, we define the scope of the current project as a logical step on the path to achieve the long-term vision.

You must understand the vision for where the system is intended to go. Then, make intelligent decisions about how to best spend capital on current projects to support that vision. It’s best to have a standard for hardware and software that is geared toward the fully integrated system you want to own someday. But keep in mind, technology changes:

  • On one hand, a small increase in costs now can sometimes future-proof the automation system purchased as part of the current project or equipment purchase.
  • On the other hand, it is not useful to add costs to a project to build in functionality that won’t be useful for two or more years.

5. Move toward becoming a data-driven business—The benefits of using real-time data outweigh the cost of implementing the systems that generate it. Automated data collection helps companies determine the root causes of performance issues, as well as enhance the efficiency of day-to-day processes. Automation isn’t limited to big companies; food processors of any size can make good use of data collection. For smaller processors looking to become more data-driven, there are resources available at a reasonable cost.

A historical data repository (historian) is the foundational technology food processors need to add value to their existing equipment and processes. A historian connects to all the existing automation, and is also scalable to include additional points when future automation projects are completed.

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) help track and document in real time the transformation of raw materials to finished goods, which is vital to the efficiency of daily processes.

 

View the original article and related content on Plant Engineering

Copyright: Copyright 2016 CFE Media LLC

What you should know about Robotic Vision Technology

“Robotic vision” is among the latest innovations in robotic and automation technology. Essentially, robot vision is a sophisticated technology that helps a robot, usually an automated robot, better identify things, navigate, find objects, inspect, and handle parts or bits before an application is performed.
Robot vision usually uses a series of carefully-calibrated algorithms, calibration, and even temperature detection sensors that all have a varying range of complexity and application. Just as technology rapidly accelerates in sophistication, robotic vision is constantly improving and moving in smoother directions.
This innovative, yet simple technology can cut operation costs and create a straightforward solution for all types of automation or robotic needs. Robots working side by side, when fitted with robotic vision technology, won’t collide with each other. There is also enhanced safety for human workers, as the robots will be able to “see” any workers who are in the way.
Robots fitted with robotic vision can perform a series of different tasks:

  • Measuring
  • Reading barcodes and scanners
  • Engine part inspection
  • Packaging inspection
  • Wood quality inspection
  • Surface inspection
  • Guidance and checking orientation of components and pieces
  • Inspecting for defects

The process of robotic vison works in two simple steps:

  1. Imaging: The robot uses its vision technology to do its scanning or “seeing.” It can scan two-dimensional things like line scanning and barcode scanning, as well as 3D imaging and X-ray imaging for inspection purposes.
  2. Image Processing: After detecting the object or image, the robot processes it, or “thinks about it.” For instance, it finds and detects edges, the presence of an obstruction, counts pixels, discovers and manipulates objects according to its programming, recognizes patterns, and processes the imagery according to its programming.

Depending on this process and the algorithm used to govern the actions of the robot, a certain part will be assembled, a default in a product may be detected, a product may be scanned and recognized, etc. Robotic vision technology can be applied practically as far as you can imagine, and is already being used in a series of industries, including automotive, industrial, manufacturing, food and product packaging, and parts assembly.
Concept Systems has the capabilities to integrate robotic vision technology, retrofit old robots with newer control systems, provide innovative solutions to your automation and robotic technology, and manage all aspects of the conception and integration.
Contact us to learn more about our planning and integration services! We’re ready to talk about your next project!

Robotics Vision Technologies in the Real World

Robotic vision technology is a refined, safe, and industrious way for businesses to identify parts, and navigate through inventory with a robust efficiency that human workers could never achieve. Vision-guided robots will typically locate a part and adjust it for robotic usage. These robots often replace multiple mechanical tools, which frees up space and reduces operating costs.
More and more companies like Amazon and Best Buy are opting for robotic vision technology because of the device’s ability to increase productivity and cut costs. Robots can quickly move through these ecommerce companies’ massive warehouses, monitor critical sales data over time, and speak multiple languages.
The International Federation of Robotics estimates that over 400 robots will serve in supermarkets, stores, and museums by 2017. As technology continues to advance, these robots are more advanced and sophisticated than ever. They’re faster, and more affordable, making vision robots the predicted future of the service industry.
At Concept Systems, we’ve provided our robotics vision technology for various large scale projects, including:
Reducing labor costs for Vestcom, a company that serves more than 70% of retail food, drug, and mass merchants in The United States.

  • Our vision robots helped Vestcom hang shelf tags for weekly price change activities in a quick, cost-effective manner. This task would have taken days for a group of people, or even smaller machines, to do. A single robot was used to pick up printed labels and stack them on discharge conveyors. The best part about Concept’s robot was the fact that it seamlessly integrated with Vestcom’s existing laminator control system.

Giving the cake decorators at Dawn Foods, a food retailer that sells cakes to large supermarket chains, an intricate “edge.”

  • Retailers requested more intricate decorations on the cakes, and this usually requires time-consuming handwork. There were also complaints about the quality of decorations. Concept Systems’ vision robots helped Dawn Foods create high-quality, symmetrical, and intricate designs with 3-D scanners that use laser triangulation to create an image of each cake. This allowed the robots to know the exact dimensions of the cake so every design could be perfect.

Creating profitability by reducing damage costs for a coffee roasting company that was continuously experiencing ripped bags.

  • The coffee roaster’s robot technology was older and kept ripping the bags. As a result, pounds upon pounds of beans were spilled on the floor, which wasted a significant amount of money for the roasting company. The inefficient robot estimated to cost the company 100,000 pounds of wasted beans each year. Concept Systems’ robots were brought to upgrade the system, making it efficient, safe, and profitable. A control system with advanced 3D vision and PC software was used to precisely locate the position of each tier of bags and allow the robot to move directly to each bag and pick it up.

Collision Avoidance Moves into More Dynamic Automation Environments

Manufacturing environments are busy places with multiple machines, bustling workers and numerous machine-human interactions. Avoiding collisions between robots and humans is a high priority. Some solutions require a multilayered approach, integrating a variety of technologies, to create a reliable system. As more manufacturers add robots, there’s an increased interest in ensuring they work safely with each other and with humans.

Manufacturers that deploy robotic painters, such as the one shown here, can use a multilayered approach that integrates a variety of technologies to create a system that reliably reduces the risks of collisions. Courtesy of FANUC.

Manufacturers that deploy robotic painters, such as the one shown here, can use a multilayered approach that integrates a variety of technologies to create a system that reliably reduces the risks of collisions. Courtesy of FANUC.

Leveraging techniques from stacker cranes
Companies that increase their use of robotic automation can learn from collision avoidance techniques used with cranes, which received early attention because a collision with equipment in the work environment or the component itself was unacceptable. This posed a serious safety hazard that could cost thousands of dollars in lost production time and rework or scrap. By using 3D vision and industrial computers, collisions are now largely avoidable.
As technologies advance, dramatic system improvements are possible. That was the case with Boeing, which found its floor-based registration system for painting planes no longer provided the accuracy it needed. As a long-time partner to Boeing, Concept Systems Inc. stepped in to assist the aircraft manufacturer in addressing this issue by deploying a new collision avoidance system.

A key component of the new system adopted by Boeing in one of its paint hangers was the proximity query package (PQP), which can detect imminent collisions between two computer-generated objects. Information about the exact size and shape of the plane is exported from Boeing’s design software and then rendered as a 3D graphic in OpenGL, a widely accepted open graphics standard. It similarly renders the stacker platforms for validation and troubleshooting the system. Continue Reading →

WEBCAST: Linking Controls to the Enterprise in the Internet of Things Era

Join David McKay and Andy Robinson for this free, one-hour educational Webcast hosted Automation World. Thursday, February 18, 2016, at 1pm US Central. Register Now!

Andy Robinson Information Solutions Consultant Avid Solutions

Andy Robinson
Information Solutions Consultant
Avid Solutions

David McKay President Wave7

David McKay
President
Wave7

The idea of connecting control systems to enterprise systems has been widely discussed for more than two decades, with significant momentum building up recently for company-wide rollouts of such linkages. But just as these shop-floor-to-top-floor connections were getting underway in significant numbers, the Internet of Things emerged on the scene and has been garnering the lion’s share of industry attention. Continue Reading →

Reflection Can Reveal Best Practices

SamJerry
This is an exciting time to be in the automation business, as there are tremendous opportunities to integrate technologies and revolutionize the production of goods. Reflecting on your processes can help make the most of them.

As the year comes to a close, it’s not uncommon to reflect over the past year. We recently had an opportunity to do just that, but in a very thorough way, by completing an application for a national award. The process was both inspirational and educational. I found myself reflecting on how we do business and realized that we are using many best practices that I want to share with you.

Hire the best and brightest.
We have an exceptionally smart team that thrives on learning new technologies and jumps at the chance to do work other companies either can’t or won’t do. We encourage employees to provide suggestions and feedback, especially if it would enhance or encourage continuous improvement. We challenge our engineers to stay on top of emerging technologies and to work with different industries.
Continue Reading →