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~ Combining precision and efficiency for improved operations ~

Cumbersome overhead lines are synonymous in food processing, as there is often little to no automation involved, making the operation awkward and difficult. Most overhead lines lack technological innovation, but the industry is beginning to move to automated and robot driven processes. Here’s how specialist supplier of industrial drives, electrical motors and gear units, Technidrive helped design a first of its kind synchronised meat processing line.

The typical line is a mechanical process. Gears would run out to a shaft and create a mechanical link up, with everything connected to a single drive system. In a facility with multiple lines, these are usually over a hundred yards away from each other, making mechanical synchronisation a clunky, awkward process.

This design is far from ideal and increases the likelihood of breakdowns, downtime, noise, wear and defects. That’s why Pickstock Foods wanted to venture away from this traditional setup and create an innovative, electrical system.

The food processing company worked with their existing engineering supplier and Technidrive to develop an automated solution. Technidrive is an industrial drive provider supplying product lines such as variable speed drives (VSDs), soft starters and energy efficient motors — all of which surpass the current energy efficiency legislation.

For this project, Technidrive chose several WEG W22 motors and CFW11 variable speed drives (VSDs), with built in programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This equipment is essential for the design of the machine, helping to transport product through the lines efficiently.

Running in sync  

Compared to traditional setups, Pickstock Food’s electrical system has three independent drive systems, mounted hundreds of yards apart. Replacing the huge, cumbersome shafts, these lines are controlled independently, providing the ability for them to move in sync.

This process consists of a master line and two slave lines, all with hooks that carry the product around the system. Technidrive’s task was to ensure that the master line is in sync with the two parallel slave lines.

Unlike previous variations, this process is managed electronically, without any mechanical connections. To achieve this, Technidrive ensured the conveyor calculations were designed with the required torque, which drives the chain to carry the weight of the product hanging from the hooks.

Using WEG’s W22 motors and Bonfiglioli gearboxes, Technidrive integrated an encoder into the motors that gives out pulses to determine the position of the motors and shafts. An encoder is designed into all three of the motors, accompanied by WEG’s CFW11 VSDs for optimal energy efficiency.

Simplicity for reliability

To ensure reliability, Technidrive designed fault codes into the system. With this feature, if the lines go out of sync the operator is alerted via a trip, an alarm, or an error code. This prevents any damage to the product and thus reduces financial losses.

Product damage is commonplace in this industry. This usually occurs when the line is moving too quickly. Pickstock Food’s system provides operators with a potentiometer, a manually adjustable variable resistor to control the speed of the product coming onto the lines.  

Technidrive also provided Pickstock Foods with the necessary equipment and flexibility to create an automatic startup sequence, without the need for external controllers. Along with proximity sensors that monitor the hooks going past the lines, an incremental encoder creates an automatic startup sequence and homing sequence, which aligns the hooks with the three lines.

On startup, the system runs through a sequence where it moves each chain forward until the hooks are all lined up. Once aligned, the lines are at standstill before the system starts in auto mode. An operator simply switches the system on and the lines carry out the auto correct sequence.

“The simplicity of this system’s synchronisation and flexibility allows for start-ups, emergency stops and high loads of processing lines, without the need for mechanics,” explained David Strain, technical director at Technidrive. “The main advantage comes from it being a completely electrical system. The usual system in industry is mechanical. There would be only two lines which would not be synchronised well, or if at all. Our system is actually very simple, but it achieves greater accuracy — it is precise within 2mm.”

Reflecting on the originality of this project, Ash Khan, electrician at Pickstock Foods explained, “I’ve seen other production lines, but this one has the benefit of synchronisation and the ability to log onto the system at any time. Since the start of the project, we’ve had no problems with the equipment’s operation, but it is reassuring to know this would be logged electronically for fast and effective fault finding.”

With the help of Technidrive and WEG, Pickstock Foods broke the industry mould and created an innovative factory setup. By designing a first of its kind synchronised meat processing line, Pickstock Foods can forget about the clunky, conventional manual handling methods and instead reap the rewards of a fully automated system.

For more information on how Technidrive can help improve your food automation processes, please visit its website or get in touch with one of its experts.

Manufacturing Update