The Simmental cattle owned by farmer and Hetwin Managing Director Josef Hetzenauerf clearly lead a well-fed and comfortable existence. The barn is large, bright and airy, strewn regularly and supplied with fresh feed twenty-four hours a day. The digital transformation has reached the dairy farm, bringing with it enormous benefits. Tasks that used to cost farmers hours of manual labor – and often their health – are now being taken over by robots. Hetwin develops integrated solutions for innovative barn management. To implement its most innovative solutions, the Austrian feed technology manufacturer relies on experience and technology from B&R.
Raised on his parents' farm, Josef Hetzenauer had a career path all laid out for him – but, following his parents' advice, he first completed a mechanical engineering apprenticeship at the Tyrolean energy supplier TIWAG. "Twenty years ago, you could make a good living with thirty dairy cattle and selling firewood. My parents realized early on, though, that there would come a time when the business would have to be either expanded, supplemented with additional income or abandoned altogether," says Hetzenauer.
Given these three options, he chose option number four. For him, remaining profitable was first and foremost a matter of making the daily work easier to manage. He would also need to find a way to increase milk yield with the help of concentrate feed made from sources such as cereals or rapeseed. At the time, however, it was customary to serve concentrate feed manually twice a day, which led to the cows developing a metabolic disease called acidosis.
To avoid this, Hetzenauer developed the first concentrate feed robot. With the help of specially programmed software, it calculated each cow's precise requirements for feed concentrate. The robot then stopped at each cow and dispensed the appropriate ration, depending on the amount of milk given. This prevented strong fluctuations in the pH value of the cows' rumen, which was reflected in the good general health of the animals and also led to a higher milk yield.
While the feed robot was initially designed and used only for Hetzenauer's own farm, other farmers soon began expressing interest in getting one of their own. Although it was difficult to gauge the actual demand for the robots, Hetzenauer decided to give the business a try. In 2004, he founded the feed technology company Hetwin – a portmanteau of his own surname and that of his then business partner, Winkler.
"In the beginning, we did practically everything ourselves – we formed the sheet metal and produced everything in our shop at the farm. Then we hired our first employees. Eight years ago, we started renting a factory building in Langkampfen, Tyrol – and five years ago we bought it," recalls Hetzenauer.
Over time, farmers began looking to expand the use of feed robots into other applications. In addition to concentrate feeds, they also wanted to automate the supply of hay and silage. Thus was born the idea for the Aramis II feed robot, among the first of its kind in Europe. After less than nine months of development, the first device had been installed in a barn. In addition to one other Austrian manufacturer, Hetwin's main competitors are to be found in France, Holland and Scandinavia.
Hetzenauer sees the strength of Hetwin particularly in his own experience as a farmer. Every machine is tested in his own barn before it enters the market until it functions absolutely smoothly. "When we look at the products of our competitors, we're often reminded what an enormous advantage that is," notes Hetzenauer. "Products designed in theory while sitting at a desk tend to run into problems when they come up against real-world challenges."
The next device on the market was the Stallboy feed pusher, which pushes feed up to the feedbunk where the cows can reach it. The arduous and repetitive task of pushing tons of feed into place is now completed fully automatically. Every two hours, the Stallboy slowly travels the length of the feedbunk, pushing the fodder two centimeters closer to the cows. Apart from eliminating the physically strenuous task of manual feed push-up, this has the advantage that the feed cannot be salivated on by other animals, so every cow always receives fresh feed. The premium version, Stallboy feed, offers an optional fixture that can be used to serve supplementary feed, such as yeast, in small amounts of approximately 100 grams per cow daily. This not only has the effect of enticing the cows to eat more, but also increases the number of visits to the milking robot.
Hetwin has delivered Stallboys to 16 countries worldwide and is one of the two market leaders in this field. 70% of the systems are deployed in existing barns. The smallest farms have around fifteen cows, the largest a few hundred. Up to 500 cows can be supplied with one device – after that, a second system becomes necessary. "The Stallboy is also popular for sheep and goats," explains Hetzenauer, "because they otherwise tend to quickly pick out the concentrate and leave behind the hay or silage."
Hetwin has been working with B&R for over five years. The decisive factors for the cooperation with B&R were the proven quality of B&R's "Made in Austria" technology and the rapid on-site support.
The first application of B&R technology was the Aramis II feed robot. The feed robot, which can perform five operations – weighing, cutting, mixing, dosing and conveying – is virtually unrivaled on the market. The B&R hardware used for the Aramis II includes a 10" Power Panel C70, a compact X20 controller with integrated I/O and a frequency inverter. In the feed kitchen, where the feed is mixed and precisely dosed, an X20 controller with integrated I/O and a frequency inverter are also used. The two X20 controllers communicate with each other via WLAN. "The integrated weighing technology was of particular importance, as exact amounts of feed had to be delivered to the respective animal," says Bernhard Schmidthammer from B&R's sales team in Austria.
In the second joint project, both the Athos feed robot and the Astor strewing robot were equipped with B&R technology. The Athos – a more economical variant of the Aramis II developed for small and part-time businesses – uses a 7" touch screen panel, an X20 controller with integrated I/Os and an ACOPOSinverter frequency inverter from B&R. The same B&R components can also be found in the Astor. Both Athos and Astor are managed with B&R's Automation Studio software and use the same software components. The great advantage of this was that it substantially reduced the development time of the Athos. "For smaller companies, such as those common in South Tyrol, Athos is the best choice," says Hetzenauer. "We sell about 15 Athos robots a year in that region alone."
In the fall of 2018, Hetwin will be presenting its latest innovation at the EuroTier agricultural trade fair in Hanover: the Aranom, a further development of the Aramis II feed robot. A special feature of the device is that it moves without rails. The Aranom has two axes, which are operated without electricity by means of a rechargeable battery. The battery technology used is currently unique on the market – it runs on high voltage, allowing Hetwin to use the same motors as for the Aramis II. Like the Stallboy, the Aranom is built on a chassis that moves autonomously using magnetic induction sensors in the ground as reference points.
The fact that the Aranom can use all the 400-volt motors of the Aramis II makes for a considerable cost advantage – also because existing components can be used. "This year, we have set up a photovoltaic system at our development barn that provides the electricity charge the batteries, which serve simultaneously as energy storage units. That will be our next innovation," says Hetzenauer. The plan is to offer two different battery sizes. One battery charge can supply an operation with 500 cows.
More projects are already being planned for the future. For example, the Stallboy will be adapted and equipped with a B&R controller. "Everything else is all trade secrets, though," laughs Hetzenauer.
Managing Director, Hetwin
"The decisive factors for the cooperation with B&R were the proven quality of B&R's 'Made in Austria' technology and the rapid on-site support."