How an 18-year-old system was uphauled and digitalised


Bowles, an Australian producer of gourmet stock products, was running its food production operations on 18-year-old machinery. Beside the fact the system was close to breaking after its long run, other problems were beginning to present themselves.

The noise and cost factors were beginning to outweigh the well-established system; Bowles’ production facilities were situated in a residential area, and the noise of running the compressor every five minutes to open the valves was getting too much, said Binh Pham, director of Bowles.

“We obviously did things to try and bring that down,” said Pham. “We brought a big air holding tank, but at the end of the day it was just ongoing noise from the compressor.

“It wasn’t so much for us because all that equipment, like the air compressor, was outside. It just meant the neighbours had to put up with that. And especially since it was running all night – especially in the middle of the night – we knew how loud an air compressor could be.”

The precision of the machine was also proving to be an issue. The old machine used to run on air, rather than electricity, which slightly changed how much pressure was going through the valve each time.

“And then we were watching it and were thinking to ourselves, ‘well, there must be cost involved in starting that compressor,” he said. “We thought, ‘let’s look into it to bring down the cost of running the air’.”

It was then that the cogs started turning and Bürkert entered the scene. Bürkert has been in the industry since 1946 specialising in measurement and control of liquid and gas systems.

“A Bürkert representative came out to us and we’d talk to him about the different types of systems that we could eventually get,” said Pham.

“In the early stages we weren’t really looking at buying it for the facility that we’ve got. We were more looking for the future when we move facilities. But year-on-year we’re stuck where we are and then we just said, ‘Alright, let’s put together a package and see if it’s feasible’,” he said.

From there, Bürkert analysed the equipment including the means and costs for automating, easing the road for Bowles to digitalise.

“And the package came back, and we realised ‘hey this is very feasible” and the cost involved to buy the equipment and to get it installed, over a five-year period, was going to pay itself off three-fold,” said Pham.

But there were other setbacks. Pham had just gotten the equipment to digitalise, with hopes to change facilities, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Well, COVID whacked us a big one, you know,” said Pham. “We produce products for restaurants and airlines and catering and half of those don’t even exist at the moment.”

Pham sat on the equipment, riding out the transition period, before returning with Bürkert to complete the automation.

“When we saw ‘ok we’re still going to survive, we can still tread water’, we said ‘ok let’s install it’,” said Pham.

During the process, Bowles hired its own electrician, and with Bürkert’s expertise and guidance, the machinery was able to be set it up efficiently.

“Nelson Chymiak, national engineering manager for Bürkert, came out and met our electrician on site. He ran them through everything and if they had any questions Nelson would come out or be able to fix it on the phone,” said Pham.

“It was absolute ease working with Bürkert. Nelson was very knowledgeable in this field and expertise. He was right onto it if there was problem and if there was, it was easily fixed. It was just an adjustment within the system itself, like our old system was not like that – they literally had to come out and recalibrate something.”

With a new panel system and regulators, the new system was completely different, Pham said.

“The panel system was just amazing,” he said. “We’ve got a touch screen – our old one used to be switches because we’ve had it over 18 years. The old system was just knobs and we had to turn them at certain times – it was a really eccentric system.

“Back in the day when we first got it, it was probably amazing. But it started to fail because of the amount of workload we had to put into it and with the age it was, it was starting to fail in little aspects of cooking,” Pham said.

Another problem Bowles faced with its old system was the cost of replacement and lack of technical expertise.

“This new system is easy to replace – if something does breaks down, you don’t need a degree to go and fix it yourself,” said Pham. “The cost-saving in that alone is brilliant because you can order the part, they’ll have it to you that day if not the next morning, and then you can just replace it yourself. You don’t need to call anybody in or pay an astronomical amount of money for them to install something which you can do in a few short minutes yourself.”

Now with this system, Bowles has scalable capabilities unlike ever before.

“Let’s say we’ve got five kettles or six kettles, and eventually we’re going to have more. The system is going to be able to add screens onto that one system, and you can just add instead of rebuilding,” he said.

With time efficiency and decreased costs, Pham is happy with the outcome despite the initial investment costs.

“And when you look at the cost, not over a year period or a straight up cost, if you can look beyond that and say, ‘what am I going to be saving over the next five years?’ People will work out that they are going to save by doing this,” he said.

With this new system, Pham sees a bright feature with Bowles despite its main industries being halted by COVID-19.

“I see the future going with ease. We know what we can build on now, and we don’t need to ever re-invest more money into setting up different systems for different applications,” he said. “We can just use the open and control it from there.”

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