An intuitive shift towards greater automation

Automation and remote operations are on the move. Nowhere was this more clear than at our recent Rockwell Automation On The Move – a unique event where from 3-4 March we saw 119 customers attend 15 breakout sessions in Auckland, New Zealand, engaging with new trends, new technology and each other.

It was truly a hands-on experience where customers apply the latest automation and remote operations technology to a business problem, with the support of an experienced technician, working along with their team. It was a chance to demystify Industry 4.0 and the reality of what automation and IT/OT convergence can mean for businesses – making it real for customers.

Increased demand for automation
This is critical and becoming more important with each passing day. Businesses want to get to market quicker. They want to know how they can leverage data better to improve productivity and sustainability.

Then there’s the challenge of accelerating learning. Many knowledgeable veterans will retire. At the same time, younger generations change jobs more readily and businesses are struggling to find people who want to live and work in harsh or remote conditions.

Coronavirus is encouraging some companies to explore increased automation solutions and remote operations due to the challenges posed to business operations. A lot of customers, partners and engineers are unable to go onto site right now. I expect this to change the way we think about how we can run plants effectively without people onsite.

Many challenges aren’t different – but the technology is
While COVID-19 may be the latest and greatest threat, many of the challenges businesses face today are no different to 20 years ago. Businesses want to know how to get information to decision makers in a timely way, particularly when many IT systems do not interface easily with one another.

It was hard to correlate or find manufacturing trends. There was too much data that took too much time to retrieve and was not real-time. We built custom, costly and complicated one-sided solutions.

With the arrival of Industry 4.0, the tech has accelerated, and we can do things differently. Digitalisation is the next quantum leap in terms of trying to get more done with your systems.

The convergence of IT and OT can help us make sense of as much data as is available and process it in a timely way. Machine learning can assist with automation and spotting trends, and augmented reality (AR) can support accelerated learning, remote training and enhanced operator experience.

AR has pass through the hype phase and is now part of the mainstream. It’s allowing the overlay of the digital and the physical worlds. This includes both being able to visualise and move around a machine that isn’t physically there and being able to overlay a physical machine with an AR visualisation, which can support training and maintenance.

Behind this shift lies the fact that sensors have come down in price, computing power has gone through the roof, latency has reduced, cloud computing has now become pervasive in our lives and cybersecurity has become top of mind.

Whereas in the past we saw that many IT projects tended not to fail because of tech but because of issues with adoption and understanding, usability and user experience are now becoming a primary objective of many solutions – and that will allow more successful projects. A lot of the tech is becoming configurable and open.

What this means is that businesses can now make sense of as much data that is available and process it in real-time to make decisions that can change the way a business is run, instead of waiting until it’s too late. It means more efficient maintenance and training. This is reducing downtime, while increasing productivity, agility and speed to market.

Getting started
Technology may have become increasingly intuitive but getting started isn’t always as easy. When getting beginning your journey towards Industry 4.0, consider the following: what data you want to connect, how you can make solutions repeatable, use machine learning or predictive analytics to analyse trends and retrieve insights, how you will deliver relevant insights to those who need them in a consumable way, and what happens when you do spot something unusual or interesting.

Try to strike the right balance between off-the-shelf and customised solutions. Prioritise solutions that are repeatable from an infrastructure perspective but which offers an over the top user experience fits what you need.

Platforms such as Rockwell Automation’s Factory Talk Innovation Suite™, which has PTC technology inside, includes specific applications around remote monitoring, creating digital twins with AR/VR, and an IoT platform that extends to Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and predictive maintenance to support productivity, sustainability and integrated supply chain solutions.

These extensible platforms allow you to tap into a range of in-built applications relevant to your needs today – and position you to add in those which might become useful down the line.

Then get started. Don’t worry about gold plating it from the start. See what works and what doesn’t. Find a balance. Iterate. With the help of this remarkable technology we can get through this latest crisis and come out stronger on the other side.

Q&A: The future of food production technology

A Senior Systems Engineer shares his first-hand insights into the current and future challenges of food and beverage manufacturers – and how technology is being used to solve them.

Senior Systems Engineer Stuart Mitchell has worked with food and beverage clients such as BD Farms, SA Water, Arnott’s Biscuits and Tiptop to improve their control systems and enhance use of food production technology.

We asked Stuart about the current challenges food and beverage manufacturers face, and how technology will be used to solve them:

Question: What are some of the new challenges food and beverage manufacturers are facing now?

Cost is the biggest challenge for our food and beverage clients by far. They’ve got to keep costs down to remain competitive and the rising cost of energy is especially pertinent for Australian manufacturers.

Other challenges are in standards, quality and repeatability of process – food and beverage manufacturers need to know that they’re making the same product, every time.

Following from this they need to respond to growing consumer demand for traceability, i.e. ‘what’s in the food I’m eating’? How do companies recall batches and communicate so quickly? Legislation and technology is moving towards allowing mass traceability from source to plate which means that manufacturers must start looking at what’s available.

Finally safety is paramount. Food and beverage is incredibly diverse but essential safety best-practices, risk audits and compliant control and automation equipment is required across the board.

In general, manufacturers are very proactive about safety and the nature of food and beverage means each plant will have different safety risks. For example, we recently implemented electrical earth monitoring in flour and sugar tanks for an international biscuits brand. The tanks are monitored to the earth to detect abnormal currents in static electricity (a by-product of mixing process), warning operators of fire risk. So you’ve got an entirely different solution here compared with risks associated with say, carbonated drinks production.

Stuart Mitchell, Senior Systems Engineer at Sage.
Stuart Mitchell, Senior Systems Engineer at Sage.














Every SAGE project will typically address all or most of these challenges.

Question: What are some of the new efficiencies food production technology can offer existing producers?

Downtime and yield performance monitoring, quality improvements and traceability, and time and cost savings across the value chain — these are all key improvement areas that current control system and software technologies can offer food and beverage manufacturers today.

In particular, preventative and predictive maintenance has seen the most improvement of the past few years.

More companies are reaping the benefits of sensor technologies as they come down in cost. Sensors that measure weight range or ingredient sample analysis can improve product quality while those that measure equipment temperature or vibrations inform operators if it needs maintenance.

An Australian food manufacturer is using a dual sensor on its sugar grinding equipment. Vibration and temperature readings inform the plant if the equipment is operating at a safe rate, and predict when it will need servicing and/or replacement bearings.

Question: Where do you see food production technology heading in the next 5 years?

There’s three key areas that are really relevant today and will be in the next five years:

IoT and what it means for the software market

The explosion of the IIoT and IoT has really opened up the market. We are now seeing products and services entering the market that aren’t being created or offered by the traditional major vendors. As a result there been a shift away from ‘proprietary only’ solutions to open source or a combination of both.

Companies want choice, and how they can more easily mix and match to suit their needs, for example companies are buying from different suppliers and selecting operational software that can be integrated with other business systems.

Software integration

Our sister company Nukon is big in this IT and OT integration space and we’ll see more and more businesses demanding this ‘connected enterprise’ type operation. This approach along with innovative software, data collection and processing tools and cloud-based storage will meet the increasing demand for visibility and connectivity across the entire business.

Energy consumption

Another more pressing issue for Australian manufacturers is in energy consumption. In order to mitigate rising energy costs manufacturers will need to invest more in energy consumption technologies that, for example that tell conveyors to switch off when not in use. These technologies are readily available but we will see this space grow as energy becomes more expensive.

Some companies are already optimising their use of alternative energy supply for production.

For example, a dairy processing client is expanding its use of solar heat exchanger in pasteurisation. Right now the solar exchanger is only used for the sterilisation process but we’re helping the business integrate the technology to perform more energy demanding processes such as pasteurisation. This integration is paired with robust automation processes to switch back to traditional power if needed. So we’re seeing more and more that manufacturers’ ‘energy mix’ can be diverse and reliable with the right systems in place.

For more best thinking

Robotics and food processing at foodpro 2017

This year, foodpro’s educational series will include a seminar by Omron Electronics’ Chris Probst entitled “How Technology Has Advanced Mobile Robots and Improved Food Processing”.

Robots are being increasingly used to improve efficiency and productivity in manufacturing processes. While many people are familiar with fixed mounted robots, there have also been significant advances in mobile robot technology recently.

Mobile robots are able to carry loads between locations, and can do so 24/7 without rests or breaks. As the loads they convey can be hazardous, heavy or in hard-to-reach places, it’s highly desirable to automate this common but mundane and sometimes dangerous task.

AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) have been the most common mobile robot. They have fixed travel paths set out by tapes or other floor mounted markers. While they work well, AGVs are inherently inflexible due to their fixed, predefined path.

However, Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles (AIVs) are a far more flexible transport system. As their name suggests, AIVs are autonomous and are therefore able to chart routes for themselves. They do his by storing a digital floor map they have previously determined. They do not use fixed sensors or markers along their route.

Chris Probst
Chris Probst, Omron Electronics.

Using a standard wifi connection, monitoring systems can plot locations, and when multiple AIVs are used, a central fleet management system can forward plan routes to ensure loads from various locations are transferred as efficiently as possible.

The environment AIVs work in is often highly dynamic, with temporary obstacles commonplace. AIVs carry localisation sensors to detect these obstacles and are then smart enough to dynamically plan an alternative course for themselves to circumvent obstructions.

Another big advantage is that AIVs are made with human collaboration in mind! Their sensors can detect moving objects, and can even playback voice synthesized messages to alert humans. They are a true “co-bot”.

SEMINAR: How Technology Has Advanced Mobile Robots and Improved Food Processing

SPEAKER: Chris Probst, Omron Electronics

TIME: Tuesday 18 July, 1pm

Robotic products at foodpro 2017

 Scott Automation & Robotics

The Automated Robotic Beef Rib Cutting system is a first of its kind, eliminating all key risks to employee Workplace Health & Safety and is capable of operating at line speeds of 520 sides per hour.

Beef Rib Cutting is the first point at which yield can be lost during the boning process and also poses a large risk of personal injuries or amputations to operators.

The Automated Robotic Beef Rib Cutting system uses a combination 3D scanners, x-ray and colour cameras.  The 3-D scanner is used to scan the carcase and assist in cut placement and transforms the vision processing results for the robot to perform the cut. A colour camera is also used to identify a point of interest on the carcase to help determine the correct cut location. Finally a circular saw is mounted to the end of a robot to enable the cuts to be performed on the carcase

Beef rib cutting is a typical case where current manual tasks can be replicated by an automated system. The major benefits of this automation are increased yield and the positive impact on critical industry OH&S issues.

Universal Robots

Universal Robots’ complete range of collaborative robot arms has revolutionised the market for industrial robots. The robot arms are tools that are collaborative and safe, working alongside human workers.  Universal Robots are lightweight, flexible and user-friendly, allowing fast setup and easy programming to solve new tasks, meeting the short-run production challenges faced by companies adjusting to ever more advanced processing in smaller batch sizes. With an average payback period of 12 months, Universal Robots can help to increase companies’ competitiveness by automating processes and raising productivity. The collaborative robots free employees from tedious and monotonous tasks, allowing effective manpower reallocation to other processes where required.


Ultra flexible table-top robot

Universal Robots UR3 is an ultra flexible table-top robot that weighs only 11 kg, but has a payload of 3 kg, 360-degree rotation on all wrist joints and infinite rotation on the end joint. It is the most flexible, lightweight, collaborative table-top robot to work side-by-side with employees in the market where size, safety and costs are critical.


A highly flexible robot arm

A highly flexible robot arm that automates repetitive and dangerous tasks with payloads of up to 5 kg. The UR5 is ideal to optimise low-weight collaborative processes, such as picking, placing and testing. With a working radius of up to 850 mm, the UR5 puts everything within reach.


A collaborative industrial robot

Universal Robots UR10 is the largest industrial robot arm in the family, designed for bigger tasks where precision and reliability are of paramount importance. With UR10, you can automate processes and tasks that weighs up to 10 kg. With a reach radius of up to 1,300 mm, UR10 is designed to be more effective at tasks across a larger area.



Robots at AUSPACK 2017

Global and local robotics and automation experts will present the latest  advances in robotic technology and intelligent automation across processing and packaging at AUSPACK 2017.

Among the exhibitors to look out for include Scott Automation & Robotics (Stand 250), Robotic Automation (Stand 266), Kuka Robotics (Stand 53); Foodmach (Stand 260 ) and ABB (Stand 502).

Collaborative robots (cobots) have captured market attention in Australia recently, and a few will ‘strut their stuff’ at the show.

Cobots will change the face of productivity and manufacturing in Australia.  Able to work alongside humans without the need for safety guarding subject to risk assessment, cobots open vast new applications for robot technology. They are easily integrated into existing production environments, and the tasks they are suited for are wide-ranging.

“Applications for cobots are limited mainly by imagination,” says Mark Emmett, MD of HMPS (exhibiting on Stand 69).

“There is a shortage of labour for repetitive tasks. Robots do an amazing job at doing the same task over and over with complete accuracy. We are finding even smaller producers have a need for automation. We are able to offer from very basic to very complex, customised solutions,” he says.

Working closely with robotic partners ABB (Stand 502), HMPS is now able to offer a new era of robotic co-workers that are able to work collaboratively on the same tasks with humans while still ensuring the safety of those around it. YuMi is the world’s first truly collaborative dual-arm robot and it will be on show at the show.

Building on the YuMi innovation, ABB has recently launched SafeMove 2, a robot supervisory system that enables ABB’s industrial robot range to be safely installed into collaborative applications. ABB’s Peter Bradbury says this eliminates the need to compromise throughput by potentially having to utilise much slower, collaborative robots of lower payload capacity.

Global leader in collaborative robot development, Universal Robots (UR) has tied up a new distributorship deal with AUSPACK exhibitor Foodmach (Stand 260), who will showcasing a number of UR cobots in action.

Foodmach will feature a UR10 cobot performing palletisation, depalletisation and label application duties.

The 10kg payload UR10 will be controlled by Foodmach’s innovative and flexible Robowizard pallet layer programming software. The company will also display a smaller UR3 robot to demonstrate the ease of control and safe operation of UR collaborative robots.

And to round this all off, in an exhibition first for Australia, visitors will be greeted at registration by a robot who will answer typical enquiries about location of exhibitors stands; location of meeting rooms; eating and restroom facilities; shuttle bus pick-up points and times; and educational and networking event timetables.

AUSPACK 2017 will run from 7 – 10 March 2017 at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park.


Ocado showcases robotic arm for grocery picking [VIDEO]

The Ocado Technology robotics team has created a robotic arm capable of safely grasping a wide variety of products, including many from Ocado’s current range which includes over 48,000 hypermarket items.

The robotic arm comes as a result of the close collaboration between Ocado Technology and the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB), and represents an integral part of the SoMa project – a European Union-funded, Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation in the field of humanoid robotics.

The SoMa project also includes researchers, academics and scientists from the University of Pisa, the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, the German aerospace agency), the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, and Disney Research Zürich.

“Ocado and its academic partners are developing some of the most innovative technologies in the field of robotics. With SoMa, we are pursuing a new direction for robotic grasping by developing robot hands that can safely pick easily damageable items such as fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Graham Deacon, robotics research team leader at Ocado Technology.

“The RBO Hand 2 designed by the Technische Universität Berlin offers a versatile, cost-effective and safe solution for robotic grasping and manipulation that integrates very well with Ocado’s highly-automated warehouse retail solutions.”

To avoid damaging sensitive and unpredictably shaped grocery items, the robotic arm uses the principle of environmental constraint exploitation to establish a carefully orchestrated interaction between the hand, the object being grasped, and the environment surrounding the respective item.



Robotics company is complete package for South East Asian food industry

PACKAGING robots from Australia fitted with cameras to allow remote troubleshooting are helping to streamline South East Asia’s surging food and beverage industry.

HMPS is based in Adelaide, South Australia, and is one of the largest automation manufacturers in the country.

It designs and develops bespoke machines to fill specific industry needs, including packaging, organising, weighing and x-raying materials to ensure there are no foreign substances.

HMPS machines are being been used in a number of countries in South East Asia including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It also has machines operating across Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

The company won the Export Achievement Award at the 2015 Auspack Awards for their unique dual-function machine they supplied Nestlé in South Africa. The device processes sachets of food into boxes and trays simultaneously.

img - industries_manufacturing_technology_HMPS_P2Design, prototype, final build and testing all happen at the local HMPS factory near Adelaide Airport.

HMPS Business Development Manager Linh Bui said its base location in Adelaide made it ideally placed to service South East Asia because of time-zone similarities and geographical proximity.

He said the region’s rising middle-class growth and the expansion of its food and beverage industries had created demand for effective packaging systems.

“We provide a whole gamut of turnkey products for packaging food and drinks,” he said.

“We provide remote monitoring options for our products where we include a modem and camera on the machine.

“As soon as we get a phone call we can review footage and identify what the problem is and where it occurred and work with the customer to resolve it quite quickly.”

HMPS has more than 300 machines in the field and has grown by almost 30 per cent in the past three years.

It is in the process of developing other niche products including machines with Internet of Things (IoT) technology to further improve its remote servicing.

The company is trialling the technology in Australia and plans to roll it out to its international clients if it proves successful.

“We are developing a way in which the customer and us would be able to monitor performance and put in preventative procedures during production,” Bui (right) said.

“For example, if you’re looking after multiple sites, you would be able to monitor the situations on your mobile or tablet while you are traveling, and make sure the machines in the factories are working how they should.”

HMPS will showcase its machines in Thailand in June, at ProPak Asia 2017.

ProPak is Asia’s largest processing and packaging event and this year’s show will feature more than 1200 exhibitors from more than 20 countries.

This article first appeared in The Lead.

Coca Cola Amatil on the hunt for automation guru

Coca Cola Amatil is on the lookout for an industrial automation lead, to scope projects aiming to optimise technology investments.

ITNews reports on the news, and said that CCA would not comment on the issue.

According to the article, the industrial automation engineer would be based at the Richland, Queensland factory, and drive “the development and implementation of a national strategy, covering industrial automation and electrical systems”.

Tasks like unloading, packing and picking are highly automated at the company’s Northmead and Eastern Creek (both in Western Sydney) sites, and the article speculates that such automation efforts will expanded to other Australian sites.

Automation seminar for food processing and packaging sectors

Omron will hold a free seminar, addressing automation technologies and their effectiveness in areas like safety, productivity, tracking, counterfeiting, and product recalls.

The three FTAs Australia has signed with China, Japan and South Korea present unprecedented openings for the Australian food industry. But to fully capitalise on these opportunities, food processors will need to overcome some major challenges.

The company’s team of engineers will introduce the latest technology that can add value to your business. They will hold demonstrations, run videos and discuss real life applications.

Topics to be addressed include:

  • Quality – Visual inspection systems can avert product recalls that are both costly and damaging to reputation. Machine vision solutions can help automate meat colour grading, expiry date, 360-degree labelling solutions, etc.
  • Productivity – Automation and robotics can counter high labour costs by improving efficiency. Mobile and fixed robotic solutions for packaging, processing & logistics applications will be discussed.
  • Safety – Protect workers from harsh and dangerous environments by controlling machinery. Omron can do risk assessment for safety applications.
  • Traceability – By using “big data” and IoT (Internet of Things), products can be tracked from paddock to plate. Big data solutions can use RFID, 2D/1D bar codes and databases.
  • Simplicity – A single, future proof automation platform – Sysmac – is here now. It integrates control, motion, safety, robotics and sensing technologies into one platform.

The seminar takes place in Brisbane on 29 July.

Small electric motors for food makers

Maxon motor has released two new motors to their range.

A new range of DC motors in 50mm diameter with power, length and voltage options. Produced by high quality manufacturer KAG and available on request.

The M50x28/I and M50x65/I. Fit between the existing M48 and M63 range offering more accurate motor size selection for food equipment applications. 

The new 50mm x28 DC motor produces 7 per cent more power compared to the 48mm and equals the power of a 63×40 version. 

The motor DC voltage range spans 5V through to 42V DC and the two motor body lengths are 91 and 126mm. It can be supplied with an optical encoder and gearhead to suit the application requirements. 

The configuration choices include Planetary, Spur and Worm gearhead styles and safety holding brakes. Nominal speeds near 2800rpm and efficiencies of over 80 per cent have been measured. Data sheets and 3D models are available online.