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PC-based automation enhances food processing machines

Machinery can be managed, monitored and controlled with greater ease, development time is down and end users are happy.
FILED IN:  Controls  > Machine control
It’s no secret that processed meats, fish and other food products don’t just magically appear in our meals or freezers in their cleaned and pre-portioned glory. These popular foods require food processing machinery and systems. Kansas City, Kan.-based Baader-Johnson aims to remain one of the leaders in this highly competitive industry by using PC-based automation technologies to provide real-time monitoring and control on its food processing machines.

Baader-Johnson (www.baader.com), a member of the Baader-Linco Group, has global headquarters in Trige, Denmark and representation in over 60 countries. It focus on total solutions and supports a Safe Food Policy in all aspects of the company. The entire organization is dedicated to providing innovative solutions that enable modern processing plants to maximize quality in finished products while optimizing yield.  The company also helps its customers reduce labor requirements by eliminating repetitive manual tasks with safe and hygienic automated solutions.

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“Beyond our primary North American customer base that leads us to particularly focus on the poultry industry in North America, we also serve other food markets with our weighing and packing solutions, such as fish, pork, beef, fruits and vegetables,” says Ryan Foltz, sales project manager for Baader-Johnson.  In order to maintain the company’s competitive position, he says Baader-Johnson constantly evolves and develops new solutions for its customers.

Baader-Johnson machines “supply real-time data for each stage of production with full traceability, while giving plant managers the power to make necessary adjustments on the fly in order to improve performance, quality and throughput,” says Foltz. “Rather than installing one machine in isolation, Baader-Johnson works with customers to thoroughly evaluate their processing needs in order to provide the most efficient and financially viable solution for the job at hand.”

The processes for fish and poultry are similar; primary machinery from the Baader Group fillets and trims the product, then sizing equipment weighs, sorts and delivers the product to packing stations. There, boxes and bags are packed according to pre-defined criteria such as product weight, product type and quality. PC-based control technology from Beckhoff Automation (www.beckhoffautomation.com )—a German company with U.S. headquarters in Burnsville, Minn.—provides real-time monitoring and control throughout the process. Embedded PCs, EtherCAT I/O and TwinSAFE safety systems enhance machine flexibility, as well as reduce machine development time by 25 percent and electronic control costs by up to 50 percent.

Baader-Johnson continuously develops and improves the technology behind the monitoring and control of their production systems. “We’ve been using solutions from Beckhoff Automation for about six years,” explains Foltz. “I originally encountered Beckhoff during a search for a robust, flexible hardware platform that was able to communicate in a variety of ways such as EtherCAT, Profibus and Modbus. I was tired of the excessive hardware and software costs that often came along with other vendors whenever I needed to add functionality. I also sought to utilize powerful programming tools such as the Windows .NET framework to successfully accomplish tasks.”

Functional safety
More recently, Baader-Johnson added functional safety technology to its systems using TwinSAFE, Beckhoff’s integrated safety system. In Baader-Johnson’s world, safety includes workers’ welfare and safety, animal welfare, traceability, hygiene, product quality and environmentally responsible production. TwinSAFE Terminals help ensure optimum safety in highly automated plant environments.

“TwinSAFE helps us efficiently implement important safety functionality for E-stops and in other areas,” says Foltz. With distributed safety I/O terminals such as the Beckhoff EL6900 EtherCAT Terminal with TwinSAFE Safety PLC, Baader-Johnson can efficiently and effectively manage safety throughout the plant while adjusting safety zones by using TwinCAT as the standard TwinSAFE programming tool.

“On large, plant-wide projects, it’s beneficial to use EtherCAT Terminals as the standard I/O system that also enables users to add safety I/O terminals on the same node and same network,” explains Foltz.

With the installation of the TwinSAFE architecture, it is possible to shut down Baader-Johnson machines and conveyors very quickly if anyone on the plant floor enters an unsafe part of the machine. “Our machines have some large magnetically coupled, pneumatic devices that move large boxes and other items. So, we ensure that machine operators can hit the E-stop and successfully cut off machine operation at any time,” Foltz said. “The methodology for E-stop wiring in the past was rather cumbersome, especially in a large plant; this is where functional safety and the TwinSAFE Terminals come in very handy. This cuts down on wiring and provides the flexibility to properly manage our safety implementations.”

In addition to supporting safety programming efforts, Baader-Johnson technicians appreciate the TwinCAT software platform’s ease of use, says Foltz. “It operates hand-in-hand with the familiar Windows [operating system] and is the definition of reliable,” he says. “I find that Windows-enabled machinery is much more user-friendly and our technicians can more easily manage troubleshooting efforts. Before heavily utilizing Windows, we frequently had to rely on upper level support and specialized programmers in order to properly support every application.”

In addition to having safety well covered, Baader-Johnson machines are well-equipped and in control of every other machine process using embedded PCs. Beckhoff CX1030 Embedded PCs with 1.8 GHz Intel Pentium M processors are directly connected to the EtherCAT Terminals, including those for TwinSAFE, and they run TwinCAT PLC software for the logic. Additional EtherCAT nodes use EK1100 EtherCAT couplers to distribute the I/O across the machine. The combination of the CX1030, EtherCAT and TwinCAT enables very fast control processes in the low microsecond range.

“We have improved on our reliability compared to the previous machine generation,” says Foltz. “The CX1030 processor is stable and, with the use of solid state memory, there are no moving parts aside from a simple and easily-replaceable fan cartridge. These factors contribute to the overall dependability of the system and keep critical processes running.”

“We’ve virtually eradicated system failures,” adds Foltz, “reducing them by up to 50 percent compared to the previous hardware platform. Additionally, we have one centralized controller that can be easily programmed in one standard software platform and operating system. This also reduces costs, and greatly simplifies system design efforts.”

The PC-based automation components in Baader-Johnson machinery enable multiple tasks, such as the activation and control of motors, the receiving of data from the Baader photo-eye solution, handling process weighing data, business logic, printing and labeling, as well as all safety functionality.

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Worldwide, there are approximately 70 Baader-Johnson food processing machines with Beckhoff control architectures, such as the 1910 Sizer, the 1902 Carton Weigher and the 1914 Check Weigher, “the market’s most accurate systems for sizing, weighing and transferring poultry at high speed,” Foltz says. Beckhoff technology also easily interfaces to Baader-Johnson’s Production Management Software for enterprise level functionality and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) calculations. These solutions combine to create a powerful toolset for optimizing overall performance and decision-making on the plant floor.

Since the integration of PC-based control, EtherCAT and TwinSAFE, Foltz says Baader-Johnson machinery can be managed, monitored and controlled with greater ease. The company also has chopped down development time, making it much easier to spend time instead on support, maintenance and troubleshooting, if need be.

“It’s much easier to store, move and retain data and display information versus traditional PLC systems. We can also scale down our electrical cabinets using embedded PCs, EtherCAT I/O and TwinSAFE,” says Foltz.

Baader-Johnson machines are “installed in expensive plant real estate,” says Foltz, especially considering that they typically require stainless steel and wash-down cabinets, which come at a premium price. “I can conservatively estimate that we’ve reduced our electrical cabinet space by an impressive 25 percent,” he says. “Our new Beckhoff solution reduces our cabinet costs by up to 50 percent when compared with our previous three processor solutions.”

With such striking results piling up, Baader-Johnson is exceeding its goal of creating long-term competitive advantages for its customers via the highest performing, yet most cost-efficient food processing equipment on the market.

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