Paper looks into ethics of using robots in agriculture

With automation poised to transform agriculture in Australia in the coming years, Monash University researchers have published the first-ever analysis of the ethical and policy issues raised by the use of robots in agriculture.
Agriculture employs around 2.5 per cent of the country’s workforce and is a valuable export, however, according to Professor of Philosophy Robert Sparrow and Philosophy Research Fellow Dr Mark Howard, little attention has been paid to the ethical and policy challenges that will arise as agriculture is increasingly automated.
Together they investigated the prospects for, and likely impacts and ethical and policy implications of, the use of robotics in agriculture in their paper Robots in agriculture: prospects, impacts, ethics and policy, recently published in the journal Precision Agriculture.
“While there hasn’t yet been widespread adoption of robots in farming due to a lack of technological breakthroughs, it’s anticipated there will be a gradual emergence of technologies for precision farming as well as the use of automation in food processing and packaging,” Professor Sparrow said.
“Already we are seeing the development and, increasingly, the adoption of GPS-enabled autonomous tractors and harvesters, robotic milking stations and dairies, robotic fruit and vegetable pickers, drones for rounding up livestock and crop-dusting and automation in slaughterhouses, food handling, processing and packaging all exist, among others.”
The authors said with global and local food security facing profound challenges including climate change, soil depletion, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and population growth, robots could help farmers confront these challenges by improving yield and productivity, while reducing levels of fertiliser and pesticide use, as well as water wastage.
However, they stated the widespread adoption of robots in farming could have negative consequences, including mismanagement of chemicals, soil compaction due to heavy robots and potential food wastage if consumers come to expect standardised or ‘perfect’ produce.
This could also lead to further standardisation of breeding and creation via genetic modification of crops and livestock better suited to robotic harvest.
There is also a fear that smaller or struggling farms could miss out on the technology and be unable to keep up, leading to a centralisation of ownership in agriculture.
“There’s a risk that robots could impact negatively on biodiversity and on the environmental sustainability of agriculture more generally,” Dr Howard said. “Strong policy that encourages the development of robots that contribute to small-scale, local, and biodiverse agriculture and do not just promote existing unsustainable agricultural practices is a must.”
Read More: First commercial cultivated steak product
Some industry experts suggest robots could also be used to improve the wellbeing of animals in livestock facilities by enabling feeding and watering regimes to be tailored, faster identification of sick animals and administration of medication, more humane veterinary procedures, and more humane and efficient means of slaughter.
“However, it should be acknowledged that, by their very nature, intensive farming practices pose significant challenges to animal welfare,” Dr Howard said. “The activities of robots may actually exacerbate the threats to animal welfare in practice.”
On a positive note, the physically intense labour associated with agriculture work and its seasonal nature could see robots developed for tasks such as weeding, fruit and vegetable picking, food handling and packaging tasks, which could increase productivity and the amount of produce sent to market.
Labour costs could also be reduced, but this would of course mean a reduction in employment opportunities, particularly for those in rural areas where employment opportunities are scarcer.
Researchers said the industry also needed to consider the potential risk that malicious actors might try to “hack”, or launch cyber attacks against, the automation on the farms of other nations.
“The urgent need to move towards more sustainable agricultural practices while, at the same time, meeting an increased demand for agricultural produce globally, means that there is a strong ethical imperative to explore how robots might be used to advance these goals,” Professor Sparrow said.
“The scale of the current global environmental crisis, and the challenge it poses to food security, suggests that every option to try to improve the sustainability of agriculture should be considered.”
Authors said a holistic approach to the uptake of robot technology in agriculture was required, firstly to address public concerns and the social and political impacts that may arise, as well as comprehensive consideration of the ethical and policy ramifications of their use
 

Security and plant upgrades will drive the future of processing

Steven Sischy likes a challenge. The automation and drives business manager for APS Industrial joined the company three months ago with the brief to work together with one of its manufacturing partners – Siemens – to make them the leading automation brand in the country. Siemens already has a great reputation in Europe and Australia, but Sischy is keen to take them one step further.
“My aim is to increase Siemens market share in Australia. Currently, they don’t hold the position of number one. They are definitely a mainstream player in a lot of the sectors where they are active, but they don’t have the dominance they have in Europe.
“My challenge is to see how quickly we can get them up there with Europe and help local industry experience these world-class products and technology. In the short amount of time I’ve been with APS we’ve started to see some returns with having a big focus in particular areas.”
This includes the food and beverage market where over the past two years, the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Industry 4.0 have started to take hold in the processing and manufacturing of goods.
“We also see the packaging industry as a very big market within the Australian and New Zealand markets,” he said. “What we have seen, with COVID, is a lot of people are more interested in knowing where their food is coming from.”
And this is one core principles of how Siemens does business – helping make sure that the food supply is secure, especially when it comes to traceability.
“What is important is cyber security,” he said. “If you look at the food and beverage sector, you will see that Siemens has a cyber security policy within its entire range. When they talk about traceability – especially when you start looking into food and beverage, as well as pharmaceutical – you want to know who has actually put what ingredients where, but they want to now go down to even the operator who packed the product.
“This is part of Siemens core DNA. This technology is already in place and gives manufacturers the capability to say ‘I can show whatever is going into a product has been made with a particular recipe and we will track the entire process from start to finish. We will also note when an operator has changed anything, down to the time and date when it occurred.’”
But there is also a component of the security protocols that is sometimes not taken into consideration, especially when it comes to bespoke manufacturing processes.
“The other side, with the technology – is the intellectual property, which is a massive component,” said Sischy. “Cyber security – because the products are already in place – protects the companies that are investing in these technologies to make sure their knowhow does not fall into foreign hands or any of their competitors’ hands.
“Siemens cyber security is very robust. A lot of the exposure that Siemens has to essential services – whether it be water, wastewater, electricity generation, transport – needs to have robust communication protocols secured end-to-end, so nobody can get in there and potentially harm those processes in any way.”
Sischy said it is also critical to note that Siemens has got a cyber security team that constantly looks at any of these issues that may arise. In the event of a breach, or a potential attack, they can get in contact with the security division who will act on their behalf to ensure that the processes are still intact. Sischy said it is important to protect your assets and if a company already has the necessary security steps in place at a high level, it is easy to integrate these types of measures down to individual processes.
“When it comes to starting your digital journey, we have already got it down to the Siemens LOGO!, which is a very small micro-based controller for home automation, as well as small pump stations,” he said. “It has already got cloud connectivity, so you can put it to the local cloud, or you can send it something like mindsphere if you choose to do that. But the point is you do have that capability.
“Like AI, as well as vison-based systems, we’ll start seeing the evolution of what we call edge-based processors where you are going to have a fair amount of processing sitting very close to the action and then sending that information, or digitalised image, back to some central-based cloud solution, which will then give you the ability to interrogate the information even further.”
Digital twins are also part of the Siemens’ portfolio. Digital twins have come to the fore over the past 12 months, whereby it is possible to create a virtual twin of a physical item. This gives companies the ability to start developing a process, have a look at what they want to do with the process, how they want to improve it, and put in the diagnostics before they connect any physical device to the network.
“Also, through a process that we call Team Centre, you’ve got the ability to also then work out from a manufacturing side, ‘How do I increase the movability? Do I have the right product for the solution? How do I reduce costs and how do I improve the quality of the system?’” said Sischy.
The end game to all these processes is giving processors and manufacturers the ability to achieve the productivity outputs they want, and streamline global processes.
“If you look at it – it doesn’t matter where you look – where any food and beverage company have global location, how do we see whether or not a certain geographical area is more deficient or even profitable versus other areas?” said Sischy.
“What we find, if you have a progressive company, is that they are always looking to be at the forefront of their competitors, or always be ahead of their competitors, which means the uptake of technology is relatively easy. It is where you have companies that may not have the capacities internally, that it becomes more challenging. Sometimes in those instances it can sometimes be harder.”
He said that APS’s philosophy, and therefore something that they are also trying to bring with the Siemens’ suite of products – and Team Centre in particular – is trying to improve the overall quality but also try and lower costs.
“A big part of this going forward, in the Australian market, is to try and reduce your energy consumption and CO2 emissions,” said Sischy. “It is going to be a massive focus going forward, so we need to look at the end goal and determine the true cost of its implementation. With Team Centre, because of the development and also looking at efficiencies, you can also look at the process flows, and that improves it – the actual physical prototyping reduces the development costs and improves the quality.”
He said that Siemens and APS can provide a complete solution including all the Siemens componentry – the PLCs, the drives, the switchgear, the power supplies, the networking devices, as well as panels and cabling.
“Through the company’s system integration program, end users will have the ability to get an end-solution product for the customer,” said Sischy. “It is not only providing product with the inclusion of the APS system program, but it also gives the customer the ability to understand and deliver their needs.
“To make manufacturers locally more cost effective, they need to adopt these technologies. If they are going to try and do this with their standard ways – ‘this is how we have done it over the years etcetera’ – they might not succeed. They need to adapt to the latest technologies.”
Overall, Sischy is excited about the future of the APS/Siemens relationship. It has been a mutually beneficial relationship for both companies – and of course, Australian industry who is better placed than ever to access these products.

Reliable automation technology for the food industry

ifm’s process sensor portfolio is vast and has expanded to include analytical measuring sensors. This is highlighted with the newly released temperature calibration check (TCC) sensor that complies with the required standards and directives of 3A, EHEDG and FDA. This means it is suitable for hygienic installations such as those in the food and beverage industry.

Maximum process reliability and constant product quality are maxims in the food industry, whether in the manufacture of beverages, confectionary, dairy, or in meat processing. The slightest impurities cause great damage, such as the product recall of entire production runs, expensive downtime and then there is the damage to the brand’s reputation.

TCC technology is the sensor that checks itself. Temperature is one of the most important measurements used in process control. In the food and beverage industry, accurate and stable temperature measurement is vital for product quality and safety. But, what happens if the process temperature is inaccurate? What if production managers could eliminate product quality risk due to inaccurate process temperature measurement between calibration cycles?

The TCC is specifically designed to combat the challenges of typical temperature products. ifm’s “Calibration Check” technology provides real-time continuous monitoring of instrument accuracy and measurement uncertainty. Leveraging the digital communication also provides better measurement accuracy and reliability than analogue since there are no signal losses.

Smart diagnostic technology monitors accuracy with two measuring elements in the tip of the sensor to react to temperature changes, with the microprocessor monitoring them for any potential decrease in measurement accuracy. The TCC’s repeatability is less than 0.015°C so users are assured the instrument provides repeatable measurements time after time.

The new technology is designed to give users peace of mind that a product is monitored 24 hours a day. It also monitors its own health and accuracy between calibration checks.
Clean-in-place (CIP) processes are among the harshest to which instruments are exposed. The constant cycling between hot and cold temperatures can quickly cause fatigue of the electronic components and therefore lead to drift and failure. Every CIP cycle is a potential source of drift.

Each TCC sensor is “tested beyond standards” to ensure ifm manufactures the most stable, reliable and accurate temperature products. Throughout the development of this product, ifm engineers identified the primary causes of drift and failure.

The company tested these products and those of three other major manufacturers in its X-treme test lab.

They simulated CIP in its thermal shock chamber with instruments being submerged in a bath at -15°C for 10 minutes and then transferred immediately (< 10 seconds) to another bath at 140°C. Drift was tested after every 50 cycles at a measured temperature of 123°C.
ifm took results shown for manufacturers B and C at a point where each unit failed. There is no data shown for Manufacturer A, since its products failed after two thermal cycles. The TCC measurement drifted < 0.2°C and it did not fail even after 1000 cycles, at which point, ifm stopped the test.

Permanent status checking
Due to the calibration check technology, the TCC permanently checks its own drift behaviour. The sensor compares the temperature value to the simultaneously measured reference value. If the deviation is outside the tolerance range, which can be set between 0.5 and 3K, the TCC provides an optical signal and sends a message to the central controller via IO-Link and the diagnostic output. The same applies to cases of serious malfunctions.

Quality assurance due to event-related measurement
Particularly in production processes where exact temperature values are decisive for the product quality, it is important that the measured values are precise. The TCC allows plant operators to take event-related measurements in case of drifts instead of waiting for the next planned calibration interval. This reduces the risk of losing entire production batches due to faulty production temperatures.

Transparent sensor communication with visual and digital indication: The TCC provides the current status in a simple and clear way. If the LED on the sensor is green, the unit operates reliably. Blue indicates a temperature deviation outside the tolerance range. Red indicates a serious malfunction, such as a failure of the main measuring element. The TCC also automatically stores all the data required for consistent documentation via IO-Link – installation date, operating hours, temperature histogram as well as logbooks on event messages (operating hours and event number) and on the calibration check status (operating hours, temperature value, drift value, limit and status).

All of ifm’s process sensors, which include, flow, level, pressure, temperature and conductivity, are made of food-grade materials. They have a hygienic housing designed and distinguished by high ingress and temperature resistance and protection against high-pressure cleaning with aggressive agents. They have stainless steel mounting accessories especially designed for the food industry and come with protection rating IP68/69K.

Why manufacturing transformation will change Australia’s economic trajectory

Manufacturing and automation is now more top-of-mind than ever before.  As Industry 4.0 takes root in businesses across the globe, the opportunity to embrace highly-advanced technology and new, forward-thinking ways of working has never been greater. From smart cities and cashless payments to autonomous vehicles, there is no shortage of buzzworthy, headline-grabbing advances in modern industry.

One innovation that has become particularly important is intelligent manufacturing or smart factories. A combination of cyber-physical systems, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT), these facilities have the potential to rapidly transform business. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Australia has identified and embraced the benefits that this industrial wave holds. Automation adoption among Australian manufacturers has picked up substantially in recent years. According to the Australian Manufacturing Forum, there are around 83 robots per 10,000 employees in the country. This trumps the global average of 74 robots per 10,000 employees.

Global consulting company, Mckinsey, has also identified the economic potential that the rapid introduction of robots could hold for the country. In its 2019 Australia’s Automation Opportunity: Reigniting opportunity and inclusive income growth report, the agency noted that this opportunity could add $1.1 trillion to $4 trillion to the economy over the next 15 years, providing every Australian with $4,000 to $15,000 in additional income per year by 2030.

“As the country faces a modest 2 per cent GDP growth this year, and some economists speculate that the country could even face a recession in the wake of the recent bushfires and the coronavirus (COVID-19), is it perhaps time that Australian manufacturers grab hold of this automation potential and reshape the industry?” asks James McKew, regional director at Universal Robots.

Curbing Economic Concerns
As close economic allies, China’s halt on production has had significant impact on the local supply chain. Here, McKew notes that advancements in AI and specifically, cobotics, can be used in areas where it’s unsafe for humans to work or more simply Australian workers are unwilling to do the monotonous tasks to which cobots are so well suited.

“One of the latest and most exciting robotic breakthroughs, collaborative robots or cobots – robots that work alongside human operators safely - enable businesses to improve cost efficiency, productivity, and output quality. These intelligent tools foster a more inclusive workspace, too, by relieving workers from strenuous, repetitive and sometimes dangerous tasks so they can focus on higher-value assignments,” McKew said.

Cobots are user-friendly, flexible, compact, safe, and have a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) compared to traditional industrial robots. TCO includes both direct and indirect costs, including maintenance, factory floor upgrades (including the ease a cobot can be re-deployed), employee training, and safety barriers, all of which are factors that typically apply to traditional industrial robots. Cobots are also less costly to set up, which further makes them a financially attractive option for manufacturers turning to automation for the first time.

What can we learn from the COVID-19?
Besides finding a vaccine or a cure, automation has now also been lauded as one of the safest ways to bridge the gap between the virus and service delivery.

In light of the global COVID-19 outbreak, the opportunity exists to further understand and implement automation across the country, placing Australia in a stronger manufacturing position and improving its global competitiveness rank.

“The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index revealed that those economies that have invested in innovation capabilities are best placed to revive productivity and weather a global slowdown,” said McKew.

While Australian manufacturers are lagging slightly behind global and regional peers in Industry 4.0 adoption – compared to Korea’s 631 robots per 10,000 employees – the country is renowned for its high number of SME and micro-businesses in local manufacturing. “Many of these producers are hampered by costs, which could reduce as the uptake of automation on the factory floor increases. To better compete as a major player in global supply chains, they should embrace the digital transformation with haste,” said McKew.

McKinsey supports this notion, estimating that between 25 per cent and 46per cent of current work activities in Australia could be automated by 2030, helping to drive a renaissance in productivity, income and economic growth.

Utilising robotics and Industry 4.0 technologies, the pivot to intelligent manufacturing may just be the solution that helps countries in beating coronavirus now and future viruses that might arise.

 

 

 

 

Automation is part of the solution to rebuild areas hit by fires

With an estimated 12.35 million acres of land and 2,500 homes and business having been destroyed in the recent runaway fires that ravaged the landscape since September 2019, Australia is now faced with the enormous and arduous task of rebuilding the country.

While this might seem like an insurmountable task to many, the fires also bring new opportunities to the adjacent industries involved in helping rebuild the homes, buildings and farmland that were lost in the fire, giving an opportunity to jumpstart the economy. This is particularly true in the agriculture industry, which comprised 14 per cent of the total land that was burned by the Australian bushfires. By mid-January, an estimated 820,000 ha of agricultural land had been destroyed across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Rising up from the ashes
Cobot manufacturer Universal Robots, believes that while this tragic event has left a trail of destruction and Australia still needs to recover from the loss to its ecosystem, companies may be able to speed up the process of rebuilding by implementing technological advancements across the spectrum.

With applications ranging from packaging and palletising, assembly, welding, product handling and many more, UR cobots can tackle those tedious tasks that require superhuman abilities to repeat the same movement over and over again for many hours with exactly the same precision. Cobots have been successfully deployed across a range of industries and have become more common in manufacturing environments.

“A big benefit UR cobots hold in this rebuilding process is that it provides manufacturers and industry with the ability to act fast, increase productivity, profits and offer higher quality products,” said Darrell Adams, Head of SEAO at Universal Robots.

Cobots can be programmed, operated and maintained by existing employees, regardless of the team’s previous robotics or automation experience. In fact, the out-of-box experience for an untrained operator to unpack a UR robot, mount it, and program the first simple task is typically less than an hour according to Adams.

Food production accelerated
As far as the agriculture industry is concerned, the company believes that farmers in Australia need all the help they can get. With automated agriculture going from strength to strength, cobots can offer an effective solution. According to a recent report, the market for agricultural robots is expected to reach $35 billion within the next five years.  “Cobots can prove their agricultural worth by assisting producers in getting their businesses back up and running faster and more efficiently,” says Adams.

He notes that UR cobots can be applied to a number of requirements within the agriculture and food processing sector. Robots are successfully used in planting, seeding, fertilising, irrigation, weeding, thinning, pruning, harvesting and milking applications among others.

The company prides itself in the cobot’s ability to handle delicate agricultural processes and products. Such an example can be found in the dairy industry, where a UR robot arm mounted to a small pallet jack is used to disinfect and milk cows, cutting labour costs and time taken to complete the job. The robot takes up no more space than a human milker and doesn’t require any safety caging.

Another application where cobots can be implemented is in the packaging of goods that are sent to market. Adams notes one case study of a UR10 robot, installed at a food manufacturer. The robot worked independently to pack vanilla cream bags into cartons, but also formed part of a network that includes a carton erector, a carton sealer, and a filling machine. “This is one of the real benefits of cobots – it can work alongside workers and form part of your factory process.”

Collaborative robots are also ideal for hygienic food processing environments, where it can operate around the clock during seasonal periods of high production and can be easily redeployed to new applications as needed, helping local farmers reach their production goals faster.

A local success story
Developed by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in proud partnership with Universal Robots, Harvey, a robotic harvester combines state-of-the-art robotic vision and manipulation techniques to identify and harvest capsicums.

Harvesting labour in Australia ranges from 20 – 40 per cent of operational farming costs and this combined with a shortage of skilled labour can result in some of the crops not being harvested.

In recent trails, Harvey used images from a camera-in-hand system to locate the fruit. A motion planning algorithm was then used to command a novel multi-mode harvesting tool to safely detach the fruit. Results show a fruit harvesting success rate of 76.5% – a significant improvement when compared to the state-of-the-art, which achieved 33% in a similar scenario. Harvey also achieved an average pick time of 20 seconds for this field trial compared to 106 seconds by its predecessor.

This year, QUT will further develop Harvey as part of its involvement in the new Future of Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre backed by $35M in Australian Government funding over 10 years, and $149.6M in cash and in-kind funds from more than 50 participants.

Making cobots accessible to everyone
According to Adams, UR has just released a financial services leasing programme which could prove to be a lifeline for producers who are rebuilding their business. “We are levelling the playing field by enabling all manufacturers to immediately put cobots to work without an upfront capital investment. UR Financial Services offers a fast, low-risk and financially-friendly model to accelerate automation. The partnership makes it easy to upgrade existing cobots, add additional units or test cobots for the first time – and equips users to maximise productivity, quality and profitability, without increasing costs or cash outlay” says Adams.

“It’s time to think more laterally about agriculture. Robotics is the revolutionary new technology which can change the way we think about producing food,” he concluded.

Smart engineering directly in the cloud

PC-based control offers a central, open, and comprehensive machine control platform suitable for delivering highly efficient, IoT-based automation strategies.

It enables machines, plants, and production lines to be connected in ways that unlock their potential across entire processes. In this context, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering adds a new dimension by providing users with an easy means of engineering TwinCAT instances and controllers in the cloud.

With TwinCAT Cloud Engineering, users can instantiate and use existing TwinCAT engineering and runtime products directly in the cloud. Quick and easy to access from the Beckhoff website with a web browser and requiring no additional software, the new solution enables registered users to work with the TwinCAT development environment even from previously unsupported devices such as tablet PCs.

The TwinCAT Cloud Engineering instances generated by users can be connected to physical control hardware over a secure transport channel. Users not only have the features of the TwinCAT control architecture, but distributed collaboration support through a source control repository as well. For new users, having access to a TwinCAT Cloud Engineering instance in the cloud provides a suitable foundation on which to get to know the TwinCAT environment.

In addition, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering enables users to move their entire TwinCAT architecture to the cloud, the only difference versus a conventional TwinCAT environment being that they use a virtual machine instead of a local engineering PC. One advantage is that users need not get used to a new software environment but can simply continue to work in the same, familiar development environment. Another is that they do not have to install and maintain multiple software versions tailored to specific machine generations on their own PCs. Instead, users can run separate TwinCAT Cloud Engineering instances with different software versions, all of which they can access remotely whenever they need to. Project files are stored in a source code control repository which can be accessed directly from within TwinCAT Engineering.

Based on modern source control features, connecting to Git-based systems and managing automation projects on them is easy. The TwinCAT Multi-User functionality enables simple, seamless access to a source control repository without the need for special technical expertise. Here, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering enables multiple users to work together on a number of instances at the same time either by integrating a Git server into the instance or using a Git-based cloud service.

Speed main feature of new controller for automation processes

Siemens latest controller is suitable for high-end machines in the automation space. Here’s why.

To remain competitive both now and in the future, machines and plants must be continually adapted to meet the latest requirements and leverage the latest technologies. If an automation system is no longer up-to-date, then there is no better time to consider an upgrade that will bring a company advantages in productivity, efficiency and availability.
No matter what the automation application is, every machine or system has its specific demands on system performance and complexity of application. The Siemens range of SIMATIC controllers, which are now available from APS Industrial, has the right controller for a range of automation tasks enabling seamless solutions for individual requirements. The basic, advanced, distributed, and software controllers within the SIMATIC family of products offer a lot of scalability and integration of their functions.

And when it comes to high demands on performance, communication, flexibility, and technology functions, the S7-1500 advanced controller within the SIMATIC family of controllers deliver results for medium-sized to high-end machines.

It is the latest controller generation from Siemens and is future-proof. The controller enables users to turn sophisticated machine designs into reality due to the modular structure of the controller, which provides assistance to users as they work their way through the digital transformation.

It features a modular design and can be scaled in terms of its functionality, so users can adapt assemblies and functions to suit a machine’s design. This makes the SIMATIC S7-1500 controllers a suitable solution for all aspects of production automation and applications for medium-sized and high-end machines.

Fast and precise
The SIMATIC S7-1500 has fast backplane bus, PROFINET performance, short reaction times, and a command processing time of up to 1ns in the central processing unit (CPU). The PROFINET interface with deterministic time response ensures reproducibility and precision in the range.

Optimised handling
It offers good handling and user friendliness in numerous new details: Integrated potential bridges, shielding elements requiring no tools to assemble, uniform front connectors, and ergonomic terminal marking. Easy expandability, customised assembly, and upwards compatibility offer cost efficiency and investment security.

Time-saving engineering
The seamless integration of SIMATIC Controllers in the shared TIA Portal engineering framework enables the consistent storage of data, the smart library concept, and a uniform operating philosophy. The TIA Portal provides users with access to the digitalised automation system – from digital planning to integrated engineering to transparent operation. Simulation tools decrease the time-to-market, diagnostic and energy management functions increase the productivity of plant, so users can have greater flexibility and transparency due to a connection to the management level.

Machine safety
One system for standard and fail-safe applications means there is one controller, one communication system, and one engineering environment for standard and fail-safe automation. Safety Integrated means the easy connection of PROFIsafe devices via PROFIBUS and PROFINET, and data consistency between standard and fail-safe program components. It offers support for mixed operation using fail-safe and standard I/O assemblies.

Easily detect errors
Due to its uniform display concept, the diagnostics functionality integrated into the SIMATIC S7-1500 system ensures that error messages in TIA Portal on the HMI, in the web server, and on the display of the CPU are visualised identically as plain text information. The configuration and the diagnostic reporting channels are integrated into the system in a user-friendly manner. The trace function is supported on all CPUs.

Protection for the controller
The security concept of controller includes measures ranging from authorisation stages and block protection to communication integrity. Security Integrated protects investments, helps prevent the reproduction of machines, and helps to ensure a high level of plant availability.

Motion control and more
It is equipped for technology functions – motion control, signal detection and output, and PID control are integrated and usable with T-CPUs to an extended degree. A matched system with the controller and the SINAMCS servo drive system can be connected via PROFINET easily.

The CPUs are the heart of the SIMATIC S7-1500 as they execute the user program and network the controller with other automation components. Due to numerous innovations, the CPUs of the device deliver many advantages in productivity and efficiency. The hardware is compact and certified to IP20 or IP65/67 as standard. These integrated, versatile modules save space in and around the cabinet and reduce the spare parts inventory costs.

The scope ranges from standard and failsafe CPUs for small to mid-size requirements, offering compact size designs with integrated inputs and outputs, supplemented with technological functions, all the way up to high-performance applications.
From high-level controlling, testing and measuring and model-based closed-loop controlling through to assembling, cutting, sawing, filling and more, the SIMATIC S7-1500 automates not just complete production plants but also applications that demand the greatest performance, flexibility, and networking capability.

APS Industrial strengthens commitment to Queensland with branch relocation

APS Industrial has announced that it will be relocating its Brisbane office to 49 Borthwick Avenue, Murarrie, effective from August 19, 2019.

The 1,500sqm facility provides a boost to APS Industrial’s ability to service the local Queensland market with increased local stockholdings and office space. Together these two factors enable greater local access to its product portfolio as well as the necessary capacity to support the ongoing recruitment of technical support, product management and customer service roles.

“APS Industrial is now over 12 months old and in this time we’ve seen a significant uptake of our products and services in Queensland which is very pleasing. To cater for this growing customer base and product demand – both now and into the future, we have invested in a new branch location,”  said David Hegarty, managing director of APS Industrial.

READ: APS Industrial partner with Grace Engineered Products as national distributor

“This significant increase in local stock-holdings paired with our new national distribution centre in Melbourne ensures we are well placed to get the products to our valued customers quicker than ever before and that’s incredibly important to us,” Hegarty continued.

The move follows the launch of APS Industrial on March 1, 2018 where its master distribution partnership with Siemens in Australia was announced as well as other core national distribution agreements with Weidmüller, Rittal and EPCOS (a TDK Group Company). Since those initial launch agreements, APS Industrial has also announced national distribution agreements with KATKO and Grace Engineered Products.

“From the outset of APS Industrial, our focus was clear – partner with the world’s leading industrial manufacturers to bring the broadest portfolio in the industry to Australia and match that with exceptional customer service,” said Hegarty. “There’s no question our Queensland team have lived up to those core promises and this new move enables us to continue and build on this moving forward”, said Ernest Van Niekerk, State Manager – Queensland, APS Industrial.”

ifm helps build reputable businesses that connect with others

Reputation can lead to failure or success. And in a world where many speak about negative experiences more than positive ones, a company needs to hold a good name among industry. As a part of sustaining a reputable business, PwC stated in a survey – What drives a company’s success? – that companies were more likely to succeed if they had a clear understanding of their own business.

The survey shows that companies find it harder to understand their own strengths than to understand their customers. By knowing themselves well, and leveraging their distinctive strengths to build a clear identity, companies can outperform their peers. But many companies aren’t basing their strategies on this insight, the study found. In fact, companies have widely divergent views on how to develop strategy, despite evidence that a capabilities-driven approach delivers the best returns. Additionally, companies with a clear identity –standing for something unique and consistent over time – tend to perform better than others.

The survey, which included 720 participants, identified what people recognised as key strategies for success. The most important drivers of success for the world’s 105 largest companies include having a coherent business strategy where everything the company does points in the same direction. It is also important that of products and services perfectly fit together and support a company’s value proposition.

Successful companies are also deemed to be agile, fast-moving innovators that stay one step ahead of challenges. ifm’s clear business strategy, and its commitment to putting customers’ requirements first, are among the reasons engineering solutions provider, Agito, chooses to work with the company.

ifm sells sensors, safety systems, light curtains and other products to Agito so it can fulfil its projects, which include building conveyor systems, PLC control equipment and automation systems.

Agito managing director Michael Musca said he prefers to work with ifm because the ifm team is takes time to look at a company’s needs. “They care about us and they actually care about what they do. They answer the phone, they provide good services and they are invested in what we are doing.

“They need to understand what we are doing to be able to sell the right equipment to us. They make the right suggestions for new equipment they have because they know what we are about.

“That’s important because if you don’t know what’s available, you might just do what you’ve always done. Sometimes, for example, buying new products can be more cost effective,” said Musca.

He said ifm’s service and support differentiates them from companies that offer similar products.

“They’ve got a good system in place to get the phone answered every time and the people care and are interested.”

Agito uses ifm’s AS-Interface (ASI) system, which allows devices to communicate.
“It’s simple and the installation takes is a lot less time when compared with other systems. We have halved the installation time.

“ifm supplies the network of controls to allow us to drive things. You don’t have to wire a single wire through a device. You add to it as well. That’s what I like about ASI – it’s always able to grow.

“Other systems can be more expensive,” said Musca.

Agito has used the ASI system for many applications, including in food manufacturing facilities and in airport motor control systems. The ASI system includes inductive dual sensors for position detection on valve actuators, position feedback for single and double seat valves and for diaphragm valves, and inductive sensors for use in machine tools.

Agito builds specialty machines such as robotics or PLC control equipment. The company works predominantly in the food and beverage industry on projects such as conveyor systems for bakeries and soft drinks manufacturers.

“We build new equipment. We design it and decide which products to use. ifm’s products are easy to use, provided that people have a bit of training. Nothing is simple in electronics.”

While Agito trains its staff in-house, ifm is also able to provide training to customers. The company offers internal and external seminars and presentations about individual devices or whole product groups. All documents about system documentation are also available
as a download.

Why partnerships are important to finding solutions in automation

Building the innards to the cabinets that control automation processes are the lifeblood of Weidmuller, a company that was founded in Germany in 1850.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 are starting to become mainstream manufacturing technology trends that are being implemented within the food processing industry – something that Weidmuller is well placed to take advantage of due to its expertise in the arena. The company has three divisions. There is the aforementioned cabinet products, then there is device and field connectivity, as well as automation products and solutions. All three have relevance in the food sector, especially the latter where automation has had impacts on productivity and other efficiencies.

Rafael Koenig is the managing director of Weidmuller Australia and has extensive knowledge of automation, connectivity and electronics within a variety of industrial applications including food and beverage. He said having knowledge is one thing, but building partnerships is just as important.

“In today’s technical world it is not just enough to sell components,” said Koenig. “We try more to partner up with customers. We want to give them the value-add component of our business. They want the product, but it has to be fit for purpose. We have many areas that we are looking to build. One is comprehensiveness of the connectivity program, which spans the portfolio by starting with the different types of DIN terminal blocks. You’ve got the spring cage, you’ve got the traditional screw cage, and now the push-in blocks series.

“Then we have the components and stainless-steel cabinets that are designed for the food industry,” he said. “The beauty of automation is that it has broad applications that you can adapt products and solutions into any type of factory setting. Most of our components are not specifically designed for food. They are designed for automation, but can be used in many industries including food.”

Most manufacturing and processing enterprises are coming onboard with the digitalisation that is taking place in the industrial sector. Weidmuller is one company that sees itself as part of the equation, not just in terms of hardware, but also the important, peripheral non-tangible aspects of the technology, which helps companies with the maintenance aspect of their business.

“We have this automation and digitalisation side of the business – and then there is management of data and data analytics,” said Koenig. “For example, we have a highly regarded department for analytics that we use to optimise manufacturing processes. We manage to collect data, then analyse and interpret that data with some complex formula and algorithms to make sure we go towards predictive maintenance rather than preventative or scheduled maintenance.

“Then there is product development, or solution development, which is a lot more about self than it is about the products,” said Koenig. “You will find that a lot of products from different vendors are very similar. So, I think, ‘who can you partner up with who has the specific knowledge of that industry to develop your solution and really fit in that industry?’ This is why I think partnerships are an important part of doing business.

“We currently have a joint venture with a WA company that is probably one of the market leaders globally in the power substation communications. We like what they are doing and the way I want them to use my product is to make sure that the right software is being used. I see this as an offering to the market that is beyond the product. If you want to be in the market and exist in five years’ time you must have something that others don’t. The differentiator these days is the intelligence offering and the way you solve the customer’s problems – not, ‘how good is your component or product compared to the others’.

“One of the things that we are trying to develop is a cloud solution specific to what the customer wants. Some use different clouds. You have the common cloud, Microsoft cloud, Amazon cloud and others. Really, the trick is to have the connectivity you need.”

Along with that connectivity comes communication, according to Koenig, which is also an important component of digitisation. However, along with these aspects of automation, comes security risk. Something that Koenig knows needs addressing.

“Security is one of the big issues at the moment. You have to look at it from both sides,” he said. “One of the keys to being successful in the utilisation of digitialisation in Industry 4.0 is standardising the communication. What that also means is that you should use common communication tools so that your office will only have a residual security risk. The question is how you deal with the issue of security. There is no one-type-fits-all solution.”

There are not a lot of companies that have an individual solution for every company, or can come up with a complete security solution. When it comes to a security solution, Koenig believes it is necessary to have multi layers of protection – and that includes physical protection as well as firewalls.

With that in mind, Weidmuller knows there is strength in numbers and doesn’t only believe in partnering with its clients, but with the bigger players in the market, too.

“We are constantly developing problem-solving competency which I am really proud of,” he said. “I mean, in the big scheme of things we are a relatively small player. However, if you see the German market, where one company has about 85 per cent of the share in control systems, the strength of the industry at large comes from collaborating with German “Mittelstand”, small to medium-sized companies that are technology leaders in their field. Our desire as a company is to be independent. So, we offer solutions that work in tune with those of the big players. The openness of our systems is what is really important to us.”

With automation ramping up in the manufacturing sector, connectivity is going to be an important part of the equation over the next decade. Koenig believes that Weidmuller is one company that can not only provide the products to help run plant and machinery, but has the expertise to give the best advice possible.

Apart from the connectivity solutions, Weidmuller has in recent years vastly expanded its Automation Technology portfolio and has identified digitalisation as a critical strategic area.

“The future direction of companies like Weidmuller will see a significant build up in expertise for digitalisation, communication technologies as well as software capabilities,” said Koenig. “Our activities in industrial analytics is one example that demonstrates the progress of our business towards becoming a technology partner not just for connectivity.

“Our strong relationship and proximity to our customers is key to our success in Australia and we take particular pride in the quality of the distribution partner network we are part of. This network allows us to work shoulder to shoulder with other leading global brands.
“We see our role in supporting our channel partners through our Weidmuller experts and together with them make our customer more competitive in a world that sees massive changes in our industry.”

Futureproofing can help businesses sustain growth

The future of manufacturing – indeed the future of most industries – is becoming increasingly automated.

The director of process automation and software at Schneider Electric, Brad Yager, talks about futureproofing and how it helps a business sustain growth.

Many rote tasks are now being performed by machines and artificial intelligence (AI) with human oversight, and many of the applications that will be needed to manage production in the future have not yet been developed or even imagined.

Operations and plant managers, when thinking about making efficiencies and chasing profitability, would do well to consider the bigger picture and make strategic decisions that could futureproof the entire organisation instead of fixing short-term problems.

READ: Schneider Electric and Foss and Nutrition Innovation collaborate to produce low GI sugar cane

Ultimately, this will lead to a streamlined, more profitable business.

This holistic approach can take many forms — it goes far beyond merely upgrading existing technology and instead identifies and implements new sources of automation enabled, sustainable business value.

It is essentially cost effective modernisation — in addition to boosting revenue through improved execution of business strategy, it can reduce overall modernisation costs by up to 10 per cent over haphazard piecemeal approaches.

Some examples of the types of applications that can make the process plant of the future available – and affordable – today are the following:

• Server virtualisation, which allows the user to consolidate many PCs and servers into a high availability virtual host server, reducing heat load, weight, and power consumption, as well as improving maintenance efficiency and hence reducing total cost of ownership associated with maintaining many computers.

• Workflow automation software, which, for example, might store and enforce a sequence of proven procedures by which a plant worker might respond to an alarmed incident or event, notifying all affected parties of status and progress in real time.

• Real time energy management systems, in which profitability based on consumption in energy intensive operations is monitored in real time, in the context of dynamic energy markets.

• Real time online modelling, in which, for example, every bit of raw material that comes into a process is tracked, measured, and compared to output with analysis of variance pointing to process variances.

• 3D virtual reality simulation systems, in which, for example, workers can train on handling hazardous situations in a realistic virtual situation much like a pilot trains with a flight simulator.

• Controlled combustion, where advanced process control software monitors the firing of boilers and other equipment, and adjusts in real time to minimize excess O2, CO, and NOx emissions.

It’s not always possible to predict the challenges or the demands of the workplaces of the future, but change and development is a certainty.

By taking that extra step and thinking ahead and planning for more automation, plant managers can make the most of technological upgrades and improvements to make their organisation more profitable.

Top of the line industrial plastics

Plastics play a critical role in modern food and beverage manufacturing operations. Among their many applications, they are designed to make components used in feed scrolls, star wheels for packing equipment, and machined components for fillers and mechanical mechanisms.

However, plastics are not all the same. In industrial contexts, choosing the right plastic material for a given application can be a complex task. Due to their amorphous or semi-crystalline nature, plastics have different properties to metals and as such require a different approach when designing for a particular application.

E-Plas has the expertise to advise food and beverage manufacturing businesses on the most suitable material for their specific applications. The company has the right combination of experience, expertise and customer service to deliver the right products at the right price.

Established in 1981, E-Plas has branches in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. Its head office, Victorian sales department and manufacturing department are all in Melbourne.
“We offer in-house machining and fabrication facilities. We have a full range of engineering-grade plastics, with an increasing range of enhanced material grades to meet the increasing demand on efficiency for modern business,” Sean Kelly, E-Plas national operations manager told Food & Beverage Industry News. “Our products offer improved operations, with an overall reduction in cost of ownership.”

So, for example, if an FMCG maker needed guarding to protect its employees from packaging machinery, E-Plas would be able to visit the site, view the application and recommend polycarbonate as the best product for the job.

According to Kelly, the company is continually drawing on product development and implementations that take place globally, and then applying this information to bring new products to the Australian market. “This allows or customers to maintain their systems with OEM quality materials,” he said.

E-Plas works closely with well-known international suppliers, including Quadrant EPP, Rochling Sustaplast, Guarniflon and Spartech Corporation to provide support and advice on complex project material requirements in the food and beverage manufacturing sector.
“As a long standing supplier of engineering grade plastics to the Australian market, E-Plas is a proven business partner for commercial solutions,” said Kelly.

Complete automation solutions

Over the past few years, as cost and pricing pressures have continued to make life difficult for manufacturers, it has become increasingly apparent that automation and Industry 4.0 are the best long-term bets for businesses that want to streamline production.

“Industry 4.0 really is the answer. It allows the monitoring of production lines, bottlenecks, condition monitoring and potential energy savings to improve the line efficiency and reduce costs,” Peter Sammut, Rexroth business unit manager (automation and electrification) told Food & Beverage Industry News. “Automation also allows manufacturers to be flexible and agile… to produce different products in smaller batches and bring them to market faster.”

On top of that, any process that needs repeatability with quality and/or traceability verification will benefit from automation. “Industry 4.0 is just an extension of that process. It’s using real-time with shorter, more efficient response cycles to the deviations. It’s just preventative maintenance at the next level. Any industry that needs repeatability with quality can benefit from automation,” Brendan Walsh Rexroth business unit manager (linear technology and assembly technology) explained.

Broadly, Rexroth’s offerings within this space fall into two categories – linear motion technology, and electric drives and controls. Both have applications in the food and beverage manufacturing sector.

Linear motion technology is used in primary packaging (putting end products in boxes), secondary packaging (placing the containers into either shipping boxes or pallets), and the conveyors used as transport between those points. Electric drives and controls, on the other hand, are used by the machine builders (OEMs and the special purpose machine builders). They help these people build machinery that is more flexible and modular and has faster set-up and changeover times.

Automation without technology bias
According to Walsh, an important aspect of Rexroth’s approach to automation is the fact that the company can offer a complete solution, which includes mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic machine components; as well as sensors, Industry 4.0-enabling products and even high-end ERP software (in conjunction with parent company Bosch).

“We’re one of the few companies that has everything in the whole range,” said Walsh.
Rexroth manufactures products based on an open architecture system allowing integration to third-party products. Therefore, the company has wider scope to provide the customer the best solution for a given application. “For example, the IoT gateway accommodates many different PLC manufacturers and communicates to them with ease,” said Sammut.
The breadth of its offerings means that Rexroth is not biased towards one technology. “We offer hydraulics, electric drives and controls and linear technology. We’re going to offer the best possible solution to the customer,” said Sammut.

In contrast, many other suppliers focus on one area and therefore tend to push that solution even if it may not be the most suitable for a given application.

NHP to acquire Rockwell Automation related business assets

NHP Electrical Engineering Products (NHP) announced today the acquisition of the Rockwell Automation related business assets from Rexel Industrial Automation, a business of Rexel Australia.  As part of the transaction, NHP has been granted exclusive distribution rights for the complete range of Rockwell Automation products, systems and solutions throughout New South Wales and South East Queensland. This acquisition expands NHP’s existing distribution coverage for Rockwell Automation to now cover the entire South Pacific region.

“With the acquisition of the Rockwell Automation related business assets from Rexel Industrial Automation which includes a strong team of automation professionals, we have strengthened NHP’s position as the local choice for specialist electrical and automation products, systems and solutions. As the exclusive distributor across the entire South Pacific for Rockwell Automation combined with NHP’s existing complimentary product solutions and value-add manufacturing capabilities, we have the largest coverage of automation and control solutions in the region,” said NHP’s CEO & Managing Director, Stephen Coop.

The acquisition by NHP expands opportunities for Rockwell Automation in New South Wales and South East Queensland by leveraging NHP’s extensive manufacturing and partner network.

“We are proud and excited to be expanding our relationship with NHP across the South Pacific region as we work together to further enhance the efficiency of our customers, by delivering smarter, safer and more sustainable operational outcomes through Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise solutions and by providing a simpler model to engage with our businesses across the South Pacific. We would like to thank Rexel for their strong partnership and collaboration over the past 17 years in this region,” said Scott Wooldridge, Managing Director Australia and New Zealand, Rockwell Automation.

“Rexel Industrial Automation has made a very positive contribution to the Rexel business as an authorised Rockwell Automation distributor over the years.  The sale of Rexel’s Rockwell Automation related business assets to NHP, represents a good outcome for all parties. Rexel remains focused on continuing its growth in the traditional Electrical Distribution market and developing its business across a number of specialty areas with a wide range of technical offerings,” said Rexel Australia’s Managing Director, Robert McLeod.

NHP will assume responsibility for the distribution of Rockwell Automation throughout the entire South Pacific region on 1st May 2018.  During April 2018, NHP and Rexel Industrial Automation will continue to trade as separate entities throughout this one month transition period. NHP will be in contact with all existing Rockwell Automation customers from Rexel Industrial Automation throughout April.

Image:  (l-r) Scott Wooldridge (Rockwell Automation) and Stephen Coop (NHP)

 

SMC makes the grade in the FORBES Global 2000

Japanese automation firm, SMC, has been listed in the FORBES Global 2000 as one of the world’s largest public companies.

The influential FORBES Global 2000 ranking is based on a composite score from equally-weighted measures of revenue, profits, assets and market value.

The 2017 list features public companies from 58 countries that together account for $35.3 trillion in revenue, $2.5 trillion in profit, $169.1 trillion of assets, and have a combined market value of $48.8 trillion. All four metrics are up from the 2016 ranking, with market capitalization up 10% from last year.

Wayne Driver (pictured) from SMC Australia | New Zealand said: “SMC is delighted to be listed in the FORBES Global 2000 alongside such prestigious international businesses. It is recognition of our leading positioning as one of the world’s most successful automation providers, on which we have built a reputation as a solid and reliable partner.

“This is also an endorsement of our financial stability and our partnership approach with our customers, with whom we enjoy mutual respect, trust and loyalty.”

Founded almost 60 years ago, SMC operates in 83 countries, employing 19,000 people across the globe. It has an R&D engineering team of 1,450 and an 8,200-strong sales force, who are experts in their field and enjoy a close working relationship with SMC’s customers. To deliver automation solutions for its diverse customer base, SMC offers more than 12,000 basic products with over 700,000 variations. SMC is the world’s leading pneumatics provider and has been voted for three consecutive years as one of the most innovative global companies by leading business magazine, Forbes and is listed in the FORBES Global 2000 as one of the world’s largest public companies.

SMC has made the Forbes Top 100 Most Innovative Companies on three different occasions as well.

A smart panel revolution

Global Automation offers a range of operator panels that provide high quality information to improve operational efficiency.

Operator panels, also known as Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), allow operators to interact with and control machinery, generally via a graphic user interface (GUI).

As John Thomson managing director of Global Automation told Food & Beverage Industry News, given that all food and beverage manufacturers have various types of packaging machinery and automation equipment, most have operator panels. As such, there are plenty of HMI panels on the market for manufacturers to choose from.

“Currently the way most HMIs on machinery used in manufacturing (and particularly in food and beverage manufacturing) work when creating reports is they create basic CSV files of data coming straight out of the machine’s controller,” Thomson said.

He said that when deciding on what operator panels to implement, food manufacturers should take into account the quality of information they provide on the machine floor. This is not just about HMIs interacting with their human operators. It is also about HMIs interacting with manufacturing systems.

Global Automation is the Australian distributor of Beijer Electronics X2 series of operator panels. According to Thomson, these units have advanced reporting features which sets them apart from its competitors.

“The X2 panels use internal SQL databases for data logging, recipes, audit trails and alarming. With their advanced reporting functionality, excel templates with embedded SQL queries can be easily downloaded as part of the HMI application. This translates to complete finished reports at the factory floor which are easily accessible via USB stick, CF memory card, email and FTP to production management teams. Nobody has to do any more work to them,” he said.

“Using the old way of getting raw data into your spreadsheet, somebody has to go in, interpret the data and create a report themselves.”

Moving to practicalities, Thomson pointed out that food and beverage manufacturing environments are harsh. The caustic chemicals often used in wash downs, coupled with the heat of cooking and the cold of refrigeration mean that hardware used in these settings needs be strong.

“X2’s Extreme range covers this requirement. Theses panels can handle high and low temperatures as well as high vibration. We also have fully-enclosed, fully-sealed units that can be out on movable arms and hosed down as well,” he said.

Advanced functionality

X2 operator panels come with iX-Developer configuration software included. The advanced functionality of the software is another strong point. For example, it includes an audit trail (FDA logging strategies approved) which allows for advanced process tracking, as well as user identification linked to time and place of process events, enabling recalls and rationalising of production processes.

The list of other functions is quite extensive. With the X2 software, developers can create and customise the functionality of a single action or the whole application using their own scripting in the C# script editor.

Software revolution

According to Thomson, things are set to change for the X2 range. This year Global Automation is releasing Warp Engineering Studio, a new piece of software that will be included with the X2 panels.

“Like a middleware software, it’s a rapid engineering tool which allows users to create integrated HMI, control, drives and data communication solutions in minutes instead of days. They will be able to download objects/code from Beijer’s smart store and WARP will implement this in your HMI application,” he said. “Like magic, it all happens before your eyes,” he said. “This will be a revolution.”

Automatic grape harvesting with 3D technology from ifm

With EasyPilot, the manufacturer of multi-equipment carriers and harvesters, Grégoire, has created a sensor-assisted automatic line guidance system that boasts a precision of 3 cm without needing a GPS position signal.

A great success: and ifm has played a role in it.

No other beverage holds so many secrets and divides so many opinions as wine. Wine: The Italians claim it as their national beverage, and the cup of the everlasting covenant of the Christian faith is filled with it – for in wine is truth: “in vino veritas”. One truth about wine is that it is necessary to harvest grapes to produce it. And in our days which are marked by technological progress, the most important question is: man or machine?

The romanticised image of the grape harvest, which we often see in movies and which will surely have inspired one or the other Hollywood star to buy their own vineyard, actually looks quite different in reality. Considering that in Germany alone the average citizen drinks about 20 litres of wine per year, it becomes quite obvious how much work has to be done in how little time by about 80,000 German winemakers who cultivate and harvest wine on an area of about 102,000 hectares.

How is it possible to be successful against this background?

Success through technology: Many winemakers use state-of-the-art harvesting machines like grape harvesters instead of manual labourers. Grape harvesters offer various advantages. One hectare, for example, can be harvested in 3 to 5 hours. Achieving the same result with manual labour requires 40 to 60 workers.

How does an automatic grape harvester function?

The French company Grégoire is a manufacturer of grape harvesters. Their grape harvesters can additionally be equipped with an automatic line guidance system: the “EasyPilot”. This system boasts a precision of 3cm without depending on satellite signals.

The grape row is detected by ifm’s O3M 3D sensor system. It analyses the scene in front of the harvester “point by point” using ifm’s patented PMD technology (time of flight). By creating a digitised version of the scene in front of the machine, the general properties of the vines can be gathered and visualised in abstract form. Inaccuracies caused by vine branches from the side or high grass can be excluded.

While the grape harvester moves over the vines, it creates a tunnel beneath the driver’s cab. This tunnel is provided with glass fibre rods that create vibrations. These vibrations shake the vines, so that the grapes fall off. They tumble on a conveyor belt that transports them to a collecting container. A fan removes unwanted elements such as leaves and tiny branches. There is another sensor that looks down from above and that is mounted in a central position under the cab of the harvester. This sensor is directed at the bottom and determines the height and thickness of deposits. When the signal is processed, a guiding track is generated that visualises the grape row as a model. This model is used as a basis to calculate the ideal route for the harvester to take. When the machine is in the grape row, the driver starts the EasyPilot via the screen in the cab. Once the system is started, all the driver needs to do is have an eye on the operating speed and the tools – everything else is taken care of by the system. When the end of the grape row is reached, a visual and acoustic signal will inform the driver that the harvester needs to be turned around to move along the next grape row.

There were times when the time for the grape harvest was ordained by the government. Today, winemakers can decide for themselves, and with the grape harvesters from Grégoire, grapes can be harvested at any time – even at night.

Innovation pays off: Grégoire have won the innovation award for their new automatic line guidance system EasyPilot that is based on the O3M sensor system from ifm. The automatic grape harvester will be presented at the SITEVI, an important trade fair dedicated to viticulture.

The result of a long history. And the beginning of another success story for ifm: After they had adopted ifm’s 3D sensor technology, Grégoire also became fascinated with other ifm products, such as our controllers. Thanks to the grape harvest project, Grégoire has become a huge ifm fan.

The application was successfully implemented by ifm France.