This June 5 combination white paper/drinktec synopsis is a reminder of where controls technology has taken us recently and where it might lead, especially in the area of processing and packaging integration.
Factors such as batch tracing, cost pressure and sustainability – along with the product consistency and diversity demanded by the customer – have radically changed the beverage and food industry. In companies above a certain size conventional 'island' solutions, based on manual processes, can no longer meet these challenges in a cost-efficient way. What´s needed are modern control and automation systems that combine the management and production levels together in a single unit. The automation, control and IT solutions relevant to the production of beer, soft drinks and liquid foods around the world will be on show from September 16 to 20, 2013 in the exhibition halls at Messe München – at drinktec, the World´s Leading Trade Fair for Beverage and Liquid Food Technology.
From cables to networks
The heart of an automated control system is the programmable logic controller (PLC). This is connected to the machine or system via sensors or actuators. The sensors are connected to the PLC inputs and monitor the processing stages. Examples of sensors are temperature sensors, light barriers and limit stop switches. The actuators in turn are connected to the PLC outputs and thus control the machine or system. Examples of actuators are contactors to switch on electric motors or electric valves.
Traditionally, in the field level the signals are exchanged between sensors, actuators and control modules via parallel lines. Increasingly, however, field bus systems are being used which permit digital communication between the automation unit and the field devices via a single serial line. Accordingly, this reduces the requirement for cabling and input/output hardware, which brings tremendous cost savings.
The connection to higher-level control and management levels is represented via network technology such as the Ethernet. For wireless communication, e.g. WLAN, the exhibitors at drinktec 2013 are also offering interesting components. Using this wireless method it is possible, for example, to scan product data on incoming goods, via a hand scanner, into the production control system.
Managing, controlling, monitoring, visualizing and analyzing
Modern production control systems manage, guide, monitor and visualize the entire production process. Ideally the operator can see on the screen at a single glance whether the production processes are running as they should. The control systems also log, analyze, compress and archive a range of data from the process chain from delivery of raw materials through to the completed, packaged end product. On the one hand this secures the legal requirement for batch tracing. And on the other, the production figures thus acquired enable the company to conduct a detailed analysis of the processes. Production control systems can also pass on data to the higher-level ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning), which integrates planning and commercial functions. In this case the company management and production levels are then combined in a single transparent data platform. Operators, technicians, operational managers, controllers and executive managers all have access to the information they require in order to make quantitative and qualitative statements about the current situation. And they have this access at a glance, and in real time, regardless of company size, as drinktec 2009 has already impressively demonstrated: at that edition of the fair, visitors were able to see the smallest fully automatic brewery in the world, with a capacity of 20 liters. Today, this system is in use in research and teaching at the Weihenstephan site of the Technical University of Munich. This trend towards tailor-made automated solutions for all sizes of company, i.e. for global players as well as for SMEs, will continue at drinktec 2013. A second main focus, according to Gunther Walden, Head of Food & Beverage at the Siemens Division Industry Automation, lies in process optimization: "The focus will be on solutions that will help companies in the beverages industry increase their productivity. These offers are aimed at reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the operators, while maintaining high product quality and providing greater flexibility. These include products and solutions to increase energy-efficiency in production."
Automatic production processes mean automatic measurements
Full automation of production processes also has another facet, as pointed out by Olaf Müller, Vice President Pentair Process Technologies: "If you automate your production processes, then you also have to automate your quality control. We have to move away from labor-intensive sampling and time-delayed analysis in the decentralized laboratory towards inline measurement." On show at drinktec 2013 will be not only well known systems for measuring flow and pressure, but also solutions such as inline sensors, necessary for quality control, monitoring pH, conductance, original wort, brix, turbidity and CO2 and O2. Microbiological issues – so very important in the food sector – can also be addressed using a sterile inline sampling system. Müller again: "With inline sampling, as well as inline measurements, you remove the two biggest risk factors in quality control, i.e. the human being and the statistically inconclusive random sample. And it´s all done without interrupting the production processes, without significant product losses and, not least, without spending too much time or personnel input. All of which of course spells real economic advantages."