Through a transparent cup, you may see swirls of chocolate and vanilla pudding, a column of caramel right up the middle or even a wagon wheel of fruit sauce with yogurt-filled "spokes". Dairy-industry food designers are always looking for new ways to catch the customer's eye from the supermarket shelf.
These complex designer products aimed at the upper price segment can't be produced on the same lines used to fill price-sensitive products like traditional plain and fruit yogurt, which are still designed around a mechanical line shaft.
"Many of these designs require high-performance servo drives to fine-tune the filling process at the levels of speed and precision that the manufacturer requires," says Gasti's director of operations and procurement Kurt Wolf.
Gasti recognized this trend early on, offering its first servo-driven lines for filling and sealing preformed cups in the early 90s. With a 100-year history, the company has been part of the Italian IMA Group since 2015 and counts among the pioneers of electric direct drive technology in machine building. Time has proven Gasti's visionaries right. Today, servo-driven solutions account for 60 to 70% of the company's sales, with particular interest in lines built for continuous operation.
Preferred drive supplier B&R
Since 2001, B&R is Gasti's go-to source for servo motors, servo drives and motion control technology. It all began with an evaluation of the potential for reducing space requirements. With its sights set on compact actuators from Wittenstein, the company began looking for servo drives and motion control systems to go with them. "In the benchmark testing we conducted, which also included suppliers who specialize in packaging, B&R came out as the clear victor," recalls Wolf.
"One of the decisive factors was that the B&R technology was readily capable of controlling the actuators." Gasti was so encouraged by the results, that in April of 2000 they implemented B&R drive technology in a project that was already underway. The move paid off for Gasti, and the machine was up and running at its new home in Finland in time for the Christmas shopping season.
More power for HMI
Based on its positive experiences with B&R's drive technology and support, Gasti was open to the proposal to use B&R HMI solutions in its filling and sealing machines as well.
When it came time for Gasti to modernize its HMI design and integrate production data acquisition, B&R was ready. The previous solution had exhausted the limits of its potential and was replaced with higher-performance B&R technology.
The harsh environmental conditions that prevail at a dairy plant – including high humidity and the use of aggressive cleaning agents – place particularly high demands on the robustness of automation components.
Custom HMI for the food and beverage industry
B&R developed an especially robust display for Gasti with an attractive stainless steel IP67K housing able to withstand the conditions in the field, and without any dirt-collecting edges for optimal cleaning. The HMI application and PDA system run on a powerful B&R industrial PC in a climate-controlled cabinet. In the current generation of machines, this is an Automation PC 910, connected to the HMI via Smart Display Link transmission technology. Gasti is now using this solution in all of its installations.
"As a builder of specialty machines, this kind of standardization is crucial, because it allows us to concentrate on the aspects of a solution that are unique to a specific customer, as well as minimizing purchasing, inventory and maintenance costs," adds Wolf. "For this to work, you need the kind of long-term component availability that B&R offers."
Well-designed motion control
Gasti uses the B&R motion control solution consistently throughout all of its lines. A pocket-sized controller from B&R's X20 system handles motion control with minimal space requirements. The 6 to 18 B&R servo axes on each line are controlled by B&R ACOPOSmulti servo drives.
"We don't make changes to our automation architecture unless we know they will result in tangible improvements for us or our customers. The switch in 2015 from ACOPOS to ACOPOSmulti, for example, substantially reduced our space requirements," explains Wolf.
Technology with a future
It was at the same time that the company began using mapp Technology. Among its many advantages, what Gasti's engineers particularly value is how the innovative approach to programming facilitates their modular software design – making it easy to integrate new functions or adapt the software for new machines or variants. "Our programmers welcome all the new possibilities that mapp opens up. It's another case where we're out on the front lines, advancing technology that will fuel innovations for our users long into the future," says Wolf.