Cost-efficient solutions combined with high standards of hygiene is a key concept in automated food production. Product, flavour and packaging variety as well as set-up times and system modularity play a decisive role too.
A few examples demonstrate how automation technology can make food production safer and more efficient. Practical for single sourcing where the automation supplier controls both process and factory automation.
From process automation ...
The production process itself takes many forms: mixing and stirring, sterilisation, pasteurisation, homogenisation, filtration, dosing, weighing, filling, ensiling. All these processes are made reliable thanks to automation. Quarter turn actuators as well as open and close ball valves and butterfly valves. To control the various pneumatic quarter turn, many breweries install central control cabinets in their fermenting rooms. The cabinets are made of stainless steel and feature valve terminal technology and service units for compressed air preparation with corresponding sensors.
The pneumatic proportional media valve VZQA from Festo offers clear advantages over flap valves or ball valves: clear product flow, low weight and low energy consumption. It also meters flow rates quickly and very precisely in conjunction with proportional pressure regulators VPPM and the modular electrical terminal CPX. “The version with FDA-conform EPDM membrane is also suitable for use in the food zone,” says Paul Brockhaus, Process Application Management Food & Beverage at Festo.
... to factory automation
In food processing, automation components can come into contact with the food. Corrosion resistance is therefore a must as splash water, cleaning agents or dripping food can damage the actuators, valve terminals, proximity sensors and fittings. If the installation concept includes decentralised valve terminals, the splash-proof Clean Design valve terminals CDVI and the individual valve CDSV can be installed close to the actuators and do not require a protective control cabinet. The standard cylinder DSBF and the guide unit DGRF are particularly easy to clean.
The stainless-steel cylinder CRDSNU is the star of the food zone. Thanks to its smoothly rounded surface, it is really easy to keep clean. Its self-adjusting end-position cushioning PPS saves users a great deal of time in setting up the drive.
The electric cylinder ESBF from Festo in Clean Look is perfect for positioning in sensitive system parts. This exceptionally powerful cylinder, rated at 17 kN, has a stroke of 1500 mm and a speed of 1.35 m/s. Its service life is equal to a running distance of approximately 10,000 km.
The quick and easy-to-install tubing/fitting combination PLN/NPQP ensures that the system constantly runs smoothly in areas requiring intensive cleaning and corrosive environments. In addition, the FDA-conform fitting NPQP is a cost-effective alternative to stainless-steel fittings.
End of line packaging
Festo offers a range of solutions for material transport, packaging, labelling, inspection and checking outside of the food zone at the end of the value chain. These solutions are put together based on the individual needs of the customer, completely independently of the drive type. The automation experts at Festo make use of the entire range consisting of more than 30,000 products, and select the appropriate electric, pneumatic and servopneumatic drives along with the corresponding control and valve terminal technology, sensors or vision systems, adapting it all to the customer's application.
For example, the high-speed T-gantry can easily achieve cycle times of 670 milliseconds. It is a high-speed pick & place unit with a higher dynamic response than a conventional linear gantry and can be scaled to any stroke. It can thus keep up with the cycle times required in the form-fill-seal process. At the end of this process, the high-speed T-gantry transfers the heat-sealed packages to boxes.
Simplicity from a complete package
The ready-to-install system solutions are delivered directly to the machine, fully assembled and tested. All engineering data and circuit diagrams are also supplied, together with a comprehensive operating and fixed-price guarantee. Users not only receive hardware in the form of a ready-to-install module or subsystem, but a complete added-value package. Complete solutions ease the burden on technical personnel, keep design costs low, simplify the procurement process and reduce process costs. "'Fit and forget' is the objective for our customers," explains Alexander Wagner, Head of Food Industry Sector Management at Festo.
Rarely does a handling system resemble the next. The range covers simple pick & place systems, linear gantries, cantilever axes, three-dimensional gantries and the parallel kinematic robotic system tripod, as well as high-speed gantries and individual application-based gripper systems. "Our customers specify the handling task, and we deliver the solution with plug and work directly to the system cell – no need for complex commissioning," says his colleague Frank Schnabel, Head of End of Line Packaging Sector Management at Festo.