New Zealand's Grated Cheese Co. relies on its vendor's engineers for tech support of its new combination weigher-from 8ꯠ miles away.
By David Newcorn, Senior Editor
A year ago the Grated Cheese Co. installed a new 10-head computer-controlled combination weigher for filling 6-kg and 12-kg bag-in-box packages of shredded mozzarella cheese for foodservice accounts and food processors. Early this year the machine's manufacturer Triangle Package Machinery Co. (Chicago IL) introduced and installed a modem-link upgrade that allows Triangle engineers to troubleshoot the weigher over a phone line. According to Triangle the modem is now standard on all its weighers. Lower support costs The biggest advantage of the modem link according to Mal Smith joint managing director of the Auckland New Zealand company is that Grated Cheese actually saves on engineering support costs on the 24-hour/six-day per week packaging operation. "If we have a problem at two in the morning-and remember two a.m. our time is something like eight a.m. in the U.S.-the operators don't have to phone up an engineer here. They can phone up America and say okay we've got this problem and the guys there can get the diagnostics onto it" says Smith. He adds "Rather than have a full-time engineer on site [for three shifts] this is a very cheap alternative." Although it's not a video connection the remote link from Triangle's computers to the Selectech 32 computer control on the scale allows Triangle's engineers to see every detail of how the electronics sensors and signals are operating on the machine. Triangle's engineers can then alter any operational parameter as if they were standing in front of the machine. Any change-short of a mechanical one-can be done remotely. A chat mode allows the machine operator in New Zealand to exchange messages with Triangle's engineers by tapping out a message on the machine's touchscreen display panel. Boosting performance The modem link came in handy when Grated Cheese called on Triangle to boost the performance of the machine by making adjustments to its operational parameters. "When you're running four tons an hour like we are you've got to have all your parameters set correctly" says Smith. According to Triangle chief engineer Steve Bergholt the modem connection "allowed us to monitor their timing values their actual running production and their feed characteristics" he explains. "It allowed us to look at the actual weight signal on the machine and diagnose exactly how product was feeding into the machine. "Since we can't see the product in the tray" Bergholt continues "we have to analyze it from looking at the distribution of the weights coming into the machine and determining what changes need to be made to get those weights in the range where they belong." Triangle's engineers can also monitor all of the inputs and outputs for every device on the machine including sensors photoeyes solenoids etc. Triangle has even programmed an oscilloscope mode that provides a graphical readout simulating an oscilloscope in order to monitor the analog weight signals before they're converted into digital signals. The benefit: Triangle can literally see if the machine is being affected by the slightest vibrations during the weighments. Slowing down to speed up The key to Grated Cheese's fine-tuning? "We ended up slowing the machine down to allow it to run more efficiently" says Triangle's Bergholt. That way Triangle actually increased the production to the current four tons/hr. Confirms Grated Cheese's Mal Smith: "They were able to alter values to fine-tune the machine and get the highest volume at the highest accuracy." In actual production volumes of individually quick-frozen cheese shreds convey into the weigher. (Flash-freezing individual shreds of cheese permits the cheese to be free-flowing so that it doesn't clump together.) The weigher fills the 12-kg bag-in-box in four successive dumps. The 6-kg box is filled with three dumps. There is no f/f/s machine here just the weigher feeding directly into the bag-in-box. Accuracy is ±0.5% according to Smith. Bags and boxes are sealed through a proprietary method which Smith declines to reveal. Finished packages are shipped domestically as well as exported to 57 different countries. Easy upgrading Another operation that can be done remotely is upgrading the control programming on the Selectech 32 control. "Triangle either sends a floppy disk or if it's real urgent we can download [the new software] over a modem. "Prior to that" says Smith "they had to prepare EPROMs and send them down to us and you had to get an engineer to install them." EPROM-erasable programmable read-only memory-refers to a hardware memory chip that has software recorded on it. On the whole Smith is pleased with both the weigher and the vendor. "We chose Triangle on the merit of its form/fill/seal machine" one used in another packaging room for a separate product. "Its equipment is of rugged construction and is designed to go long periods with low maintenance."