Open automation architecture speeds up time to market for food sector OEM

Posted on 5 May 2014 by Tim Brown

A leading manufacturer of cheese cutting equipment has updated its extruded cheese cutting solution with an open-architecture machine automation controller from Omron, resulting in a range of benefits to itself and customers alike.

Newtech is a leading supplier of cheese cutters for the global food industry. Its cheese cutters employ ultrasonic cutting technology that can cleanly and accurately cut all cheese shapes; including round, wheel, block and extruded varieties.

The control upgrade project began when the company made the decision to bring its code development operations in-house. The new control engineer was keen to explore the latest technologies available, which led to a review of the control technology used by Newtech.

Phil Waters, sales manager at Newtech, takes up the story: “Because we were bringing the coding operation in-house we were looking for a controller that could offer ease of programmability as well as a modern, compact design to help us enhance our product offering. We were also looking for reliability and, having worked with Omron for over 10 years, we felt comfortable with the quality of its products. We know from experience that Omron can offer state-of-the-art, reliable and cost-effective solutions that allow us to offer our customers high levels of portion weight control, high output and good levels of consistency.

“We needed a programming environment that would allow for fast configuration, programming and offline simulation, owing to the tight delivery timescales demanded by many of our customers. Omron’s Sysmac NJ controller offered us all of this.”

The Sysmac NJ, which forms part of the Sysmac automation platform, provides synergy with the whole Omron range of Sysmac devices, including the variable speed drives, servos and remote input/output systems used by Newtech in its cutting machines. The decision to update the controller to a Sysmac NJ therefore also offered the company a good foundation for more of its future control systems to be based upon the Sysmac NJ, allowing it to benefit from the openness and synergy between the machine components.

Doing more ‘clever things’
Alan Smith, field application engineer for Omron Electronics, explains further: “The Sysmac NJ allows Newtech to do a lot more ‘clever things’ with their machines. One of the main features of the controller of interest to Newtech was its single programming environment. Traditionally, there has been a need to use multiple programmes for different systems. However, Omron’s new Sysmac Studio programming environment features just one embedded system with a programming environment that allows you to link together all the various control architectures.” This greatly simplifies the programming operation, increasing application development productivity and helping to speed up time to market for new product developments.”

A truly open system
“The NJ controller is a truly open system, using the high speed EtherCAT network to link to a huge range of devices. It also runs PLCopen motion function blocks, and adheres to the commonly used IEC 61131 industrial control programming standard,” said Smith. Because the controller uses these open technologies, that are driven by end users and widely employed through industry, a control engineer should immediately understand the technologies, making migration to the new controller easy. The resulting code should also be more reliable, better structured, and therefore more readable, which means lower maintenance costs throughout the life of the machine it is controlling.

The first cutting machine in the Newtech range to benefit from the control upgrade was the Autosonic-E machine which is designed to accurately and consistently cut extruded cheese products. The first of these machines to incorporate the new controller was to cut extruded, blended cheese products. “The simplicity of the Sysmac Studio programming environment enabled us to design, programme, implement and test the machine within just a few weeks and helped us to ensure delivery of the machine within the customer’s tight timescale of only nine weeks.”
The Autosonic-E cutting machine includes a robot that controls the cutting action of the ultrasonic blade. However, it is also necessary to sense exactly where a product is on the conveyor and at what speed it is travelling, so that this information can be communicated to the robot to enable accurate cutting. “The machine control that relates to the movement of product is controlled by the Sysmac NJ, while the cutting action of the blade is controlled by the robot,” explained Waters.

Communication between the robot and the Sysmac NJ is via the DeviceNet protocol. “We use DeviceNet because it is a well-defined protocol used extensively in the industry – it is compatible with most control devices offering seamless communication,” said Waters.

Omron is also able to provide local support across the globe. “This is a good selling point for us, in light of the fact that the first of our new Autosonic-E machines was destined for Tasmania. It is an added benefit that we can now offer a machine with remote diagnostics and troubleshooting features. We can connect to equipment anywhere in the world, via the internet, from our offices in the UK.”

Newtech believes that the remote diagnostic capabilities will give it a real competitive advantage, because many food producers are not as self-sufficient – in terms of engineering support – as some other manufacturing sectors, making the remote monitoring capabilities even more important. “The food sector tends to focus more on production and product, rather than automated equipment,” said Phil Waters. “So anything we can offer that provides our customers with peace of mind regarding machine maintenance is a benefit.”

In conclusion, Phil Waters explained why the company standardises on Omron equipment where possible. “It makes sense to have a common supplier so that we have a single point of support for the machine components. We also get good technical support from Omron and we know that all our Omron devices will be able to communicate seamlessly with each other.

“The speed of the controller, its competitive pricing, ease of programming and equipment compatibility, together with the excellent support we always receive makes Omron a good match for what we do.”