In process industries, where production downtime leads to increased outlays and lost opportunities, reliable manufacturing equipment backed by high-end service and support is critical to business success. Businesses that rely on mechatronic drive technology to keep their product lines moving offer a prime example of this principle in action.
In the food-processing world there are many examples of conveyor lines brought to a halt by drive units that couldn’t handle the daily dose of high-pressure washdowns and chemical cleaners. But a Victorian meat-processing works has found a solution. More than six years after investing in purpose-built, sealed mechatronic drives, its conveyor lines are still running smoothly.
In food-processing environments, cleanliness and hygiene reign supreme. It’s a given. And when meat is the product at hand, there is no margin for error. At the end of each day’s work, all the conveyor lines, and all of the drive units that keep them running, are washed and scrubbed clean with approved chemical cleaners and high-pressure hosing. The cleaning process is manual. André Vanschie, maintenance manager at Hardwick Meatworks, described it as being similar to handwashing the dishes at home, but on an industrial scale.
At plants like Hardwick’s, traditionally designed drive systems are prone to damage from water ingress and frequent exposure to the cleaning products.
This often causes them to fail early in life. With a thriving beef- and lamb-processing business that includes exporting to approved countries around the world, the challenge for the Kyneton-based facility was to find a drive system that could withstand the daily cleaning. It would also need to meet the stringent requirements for operation in a food-processing environment.
More than six years ago, in an endeavour to overcome this challenge, Hardwick’s chose a different approach, and selected SEW-Eurodrive’s MoviGear mechatronic drive system to power the conveyor lines at their meatworks. The drive systems are still operating today, despite the harsh operating environment. In a processing plant the size of Hardwick’s, which supplies to both wholesale and retail outlets, the improved reliability and longer lifetime of the drives translates into savings.
The longevity of the drive systems in this environment of constant washdowns and scrubbing is due to the fundamental design and fabrication of the units. A difference between MoviGear and the more traditional drive systems is that the MoviGear units have an enclosed housing with no fan design. The inner workings of the mechatronic drive are protected from water ingress and the cleaning products. Vanschie said that this has resulted in reliability of drive systems at the meatworks.
Earlier designs would last around one year, whereas the MoviGear drives have been operating for six years. “It’s an amazing record. Because they’re sealed, they don’t let the water in. That means there’s no corrosion, so they don’t burn out. They last a lot longer,” Vanschie said.
This assessment comes from an experienced and knowledgeable operation. Hardwick’s is a family-owned business that has been processing meat for more than 40 years. They offer restaurant-quality products to the local market in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, and export Australian produce to countries across the world, particularly in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions. Product of the same quality is also available to the general public, via Hardwick’s retail store in Kyneton.
Employing more than 400 people, its 800sqm plant runs two shifts per day, starting early in the morning and finishing around 10.30pm, depending on the volume of work. Over the two shifts, they process approximately 200 cattle and up to 8,000 sheep. The plant has two processing floors, one for beef and the other for lamb.
The meat is bagged, ready for sale, in the deboning room, where there are 34 conveyor lines, each powered by a MoviGear mechatronic drive unit. The switchboard that controls the drives is housed upstairs, away from the meat products and wet areas. Enclosed in a stainless-steel ‘dropper’, the cables that connect the switchboard to the drive units are also well protected.
Designed for wet areas
John Gattellari, national industry specialist – food and beverage at SEW-Eurodrive, explained that the version of the MoviGear product family supplied to Hardwick’s was designed for wet areas. The units incorporate design features that enable them to resist wear and tear from high levels of mechanical and chemical cleaning, and high-pressure washdowns with water.
These design features include an IP66-rated housing and an HP200 surface treatment that results in an almost non-porous surface with anti-sticking properties. In addition, all screws, breather valves, pressure-compensation screw fittings and output shafts are made of stainless steel.
In the system of ingress protection (IP) ratings, IP66 refers to an enclosure that is dust tight, offering full protection against dust and other particles. It includes a vacuum seal and is tested against continuous airflow. An IP66 enclosure is also protected against direct, high-pressure water jets.
The HP200 surface treatment provides an anti-stick coating along with resistance to the chemical and mechanical cleaning. At Hardwick’s, this enables easier cleaning and prevents contamination of the drive units, despite the high volume of meat product that is processed daily.
It is these properties that have led to the long working life of the MoviGear mechatronic drives installed at Hardwick’s. In addition, drive units with these qualities are ideal for environments like food processing, where hygiene is a must. The sealed design prevents swirling of air, dirt and germs that can otherwise occur.
Vanschie said that, because of the design and construction of the units, there is no requirement for a routine maintenance program. This provides further savings. And should spare parts be required, the turnaround time has been fast, as has the overall customer support he has received.
As well as the long working life of the MoviGear, Vanschie also reported a reduction in energy consumption.
“Our power usage has halved, so that’s a huge saving,” he said.
Gattellari confirmed that these results typify the feedback he received from manufacturers who deploy the MoviGear mechatronic drives. He said that the energy savings are made possible by built-in efficiency and the seamless, optimised mechatronic interaction of the motor, gear unit, and integrated electronics.
The motor complies with the IE5 ‘Ultra-Premium Efficiency’ class of electric motors and the gear unit has been designed for maximum efficiency.
“The components are perfectly matched,” he said, “and the optimisation facilitates high energy efficiency of the system as a whole. The figure of up to 50 per cent energy reduction achieved by MoviGear drives has been verified by independent university research in Germany.”
For food-processing plants like Hardwick’s, which have demanding requirements for hygiene, matched by a daily regime of thorough cleaning, this combination of long-lasting and energy-efficient drive units is a good fit. Vanschie said that he would make the same choice again if he needed more drive units at the plant.
“The customer service is excellent and the MoviGear units have proved to be more than reliable. Lasting six years in that environment is a very good record,” he said.
At a time when energy costs continue to spiral upwards, saving energy is not just good for the environment, it is important for the commercial bottom line.
According to Jesse Auricht, engineering manager, Yalumba Winery, decisions taken when planning a bottling upgrade at the plant have turned out well in both regards.
He said the choice of energy-efficient SEW-Eurodrive Movigear mechatronic drive units to keep the conveyor lines and bottles moving, contributed to this positive outcome.
The winery is serious about reducing energy costs and monitors energy consumption continuously. Typically, half the cost of energy is based on network charges, so it is important to avoid any spikes in consumption as the wine bottles are filled, capped, labelled and packed in the bottling plant, said Auricht.
“In the energy market, 50 per cent of your cost can be dictated by a half-hour event,” he said. “If you hit that peak once, depending on the time of day, you’ll see an ongoing energy cost increase.”
John Gattellari, national industry specialist – food & beverage, with SEW-Eurodrive, said the Movigear units are designed to minimise the use of electrical power and help manufacturers make savings. Movigear complies with efficiency class IE4 (super premium efficiency) and reduces energy costs by up to 50 per cent, due to the high efficiency of all its components.
Planning pays off
Once it was clear that the plant needed refurbishing, the owners decided not to rush in. Starting with their own design concepts, they issued a tender for detailed design and implementation of the project, and awarded it to Foodmach, a specialist Australian provider of machinery design, manufacturing and control services.
Working closely with Yalumba, Foodmach designed and installed the new conveyor and line control system. The revamped system consisted of the original bottling line with new controls, conveyor and palletisers, and a second line with a new de-palletiser, filler and packer.
SEW-Eurodrive’s engineering and customer service, together with energy efficient Movidrive mechatronic drive system and high precision servo motors and Movidrive controllers, were fundamental in obtaining the desired result.
In addition to saving costs by reducing energy consumption, the upgrade also led to a safer work environment and a reduction in noise.
Noise amplification and reduction
Another key issue was that of noise, especially given the running speeds of the conveyors. Line 2, which is used for wine only, runs at 12,000 bottles per hour. “You get glass bottles banging into each other at that rate and it’s noisy – and potentially dangerous as well,” said Auricht.
Trevor Burgemeister, process control technician at Yalumba, said that to alleviate the noise and danger of uncontrolled collisions, the system had to be designed to detect when bottles were about to collide. When this happened, it set a maximum collision speed.
Auricht said to achieve this, the drives needed to be accurate, reliable, efficient and controllable. As for the noise component, he said that the Movigear is so quiet it’s negligible in comparison to the rest of the system.
These characteristics, along with past performance and a strong relationship, were major factors in the choice of SEW-Eurodrive.
“They have been a solid partner of ours for a long time. It’s a recognised brand and we’ve had a lot of success,” he said.
The key to reducing the noise is creating a pressureless line. In this case, pressure refers to the accumulation of bottles at any point on the conveyor system. It occurs when the conveyor is transporting more bottles than the individual machine process rate. If a processing machine for filling, capping or labelling is operating at a slower speed than bottles are being delivered, the bottles bump into each other, and that familiar sound of glass against glass can be heard. On a grand scale though, it’s not a pleasant clinking sound that you might hear in a restaurant. At a rate of thousands of bottles per hour, it’s more of a cacophony.
Auricht said that if the conveyor keeps running when this happens, the pressure continues to build up. This means energy wastage, inefficiency and noise, along with wear and tear on all the conveyors.
On Line 1, which is used for many different bottle types ranging from sparkling wine with a cork, to table wines with screw tops, the flow is between 5,000 and 9,000 bottles per hour. While the aim is zero pressure on the conveyors, the processing machines require a degree of pressure to function correctly.
To achieve this, the conveyors on this line run at set speeds, while the line’s process machines vary their speed as necessary to maintain head pressure of between five and eight bottles.
In the Foodmach, line control system speeds are controlled by software programmed according to a “recipe” that varies for each production variety.
The recipe specifies which processing machines are required for the product and also their operating parameters. Recipe data – speed, diameter of bottle, gap between bottles and the like – is communicated from the programmable logic controller (PLC) to the SEW-Eurodrive gears and units. These are calibrated so that the speed of the conveyor is set correctly. Burgemeister says that connecting the motion-detecting sensors to the motors and gear units, in order to manage the flow of bottles, was a simple operation. “It was just a matter of plugging the photoelectric in,” he said.
Poetry in motion
Correct flow is set up at the start of the operation on the Foodmach de-palletisers, where thousands of bottles per hour are fed into the two bottling conveyor lines. At this point, several mini conveyor lines, running side by side and at different speeds, cause bunched-up groups of bottles to be fed into a single line. Complex programming, communicated to each Movigear drive in the system, makes the operation look easy. For Auricht, this is what good engineering is all about. He describes the process with a single word – poetry.
“This was probably one of our most successful projects undertaken – both in timeframes and outcomes,” said Auricht. “In the scheme of things, the premium for the high-efficiency, low-energy drives was not that much. Looking back on it now, it absolutely was the right decision.”