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To understand the challenges, you need to be on the factory floor

The SMC Corporation Australia New Zealand prides itself on understanding the challenges faced in food and beverage manufacturing, and it’s a philosophy that the company has adopted the world over.

What’s trending in food automation?

Surprisingly, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a positive uptick in automation.

“Companies are changing the way they work,” said Craig Sheppard, sales and marketing director from SMC Corporation Australia New Zealand.

“They’re focused on rapidly and continuously addressing challenges around productivity, downtime, energy savings, safety, hygiene and staying competitive in a tough climate.”

Food security remains an ongoing issue around the world, and Craig believes that automation will play a key role in addressing scarcity in the years to come.

“Other issues that needed to be addressed by manufacturers in the last 18-months is that of a reliable workforce, and perhaps workforce accessibility,” said Sheppard.

“Whilst labour is expensive, COVID enforced lockdowns taught some harsh lessons with respect to staff accessing workplaces and then the need for social distancing created its own set of challenges – especially in plants where productivity (both day and night) is crucial.”

Diego Mirabelli detailed a series of key drivers.

Most food plants operate 24.7, so a halt in food production can be costly and time consuming.

Most areas are arranged in a continuous flow with one area being dependent on the activity of another, from primary material integration, to processing, and finally, packaging.

The OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) can be substantially improved by applying digital predictive maintenance solutions, training operators, and maximizing product reliability.

Diego explains that this fast-paced industry has traditionally been lagging in automation penetration. Robotics, and its stemmed technology, cobots, have been seen as key drivers for enhanced productivity on the factory floor.

The next step is to introduce smart technologies combining flexible and quick format changes with high cycle rates and low life cycle costs.

Food factories are energy demanding; they represent up to 19% of the whole manufacturing industry’s energy consumption. “SMC’s energy saving task force can analyse your plant and help you realise savings and efficiency gains,” says Sheppard.

“Safety and automation work hand-in-hand, and SMC has a variety of safety components which form a fundamental part of our product range.”

What being on the factory floor can do

Talk is cheap. SMC’s energy saving division recently helped successful agribusiness, Fletcher International Exports to save around $65 000 on their energy bill.

Fletcher operates from two facilities in Dubbo (New South Wales) and Albany (Western Australia); combined, these plants process up to 90 000 sheep per week.

“Our team conducted a full audit on the air systems at the Dubbo plant which gave insights into possible savings. In fact, the air compressor is now down from 165kW compressor to  110kW compressors following the improvements SMC and Fletchers have made on the site,” said Sheppard.

“SMC walked the journey with Fletcher International Exports for two-years.

“Big changes don’t happen overnight and our team – spearheaded by Bill Blyth – knew that they were in it for the long-haul.”

SMC energy saving components are embedded into the site processes at all levels, supported by a site maintenance team that is committed to retaining the efficiencies. The site also has an Air Management System (AMS) to ensure energy efficient compressed air consumption as the plant grows.

Components installed include: SMC EX600 Ethernet manifolds and sensor interfaces, many standard SMC ISO air cylinders and fit for purpose; MGPM, CG1, CG5 and CS1 air cylinders, including air preparation, flow and pressure monitoring, vacuum components, rod lock cylinders for precision positioning, analogue cylinder position sensing, SY valve manifolds and proportional control valves and smart valve positioners.

Additionally, there are SMC ANZ specially designed and manufactured guided rodless cylinders and vacuum components.

“Bringing together and applying these SMC products in a design tailored by SMC ANZ in conjunction with the client – in this case Fletchers -, become powerful energy saving tools,” concludes Sheppard.

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