For a special-purpose machine builder like Singer & Sohn, success depends on the ability to accommodate customer requests quickly and efficiently. That's why the food industry OEM relies on automation technology from B&R.
For more than 30 years, Singer & Sohn has built hygienic equipment for the meat processing industry. It's products range from robotic loading systems, sausage link separators and conveyor systems to solutions for thermal product treatment and metal detectors.
"Among food processing suppliers, we are unique in our ability to offer a comprehensive portfolio of equipment, while at the same time responding to special requests as consistently as we do," says Singer & Sohn Project Manager Matthias Hiemer. By reducing the time it takes to get new machines developed and put into operation, the company is able to direct more resources to implementing customer requests and developing innovative new machine concepts.
"We're seeing a clear trend towards automation as our large and midsized customers seek to accelerate cycle times while complying with increasingly stringent hygiene regulations and at the same time minimizing costs," explains Hiemer. "Yet, different users with different products place very different requirements on the machine."
To convey a plump, curved Bavarian Weißwurst sausage, for example, you need a completely different solution than you would for a slender frankfurter or bratwurst. The size and layout of food processing facilities can also vary greatly. To ensure its ability to accommodate such diverse requirements, Singer & Sohn relies on a high level of vertical integration and state-of-the-art technology. The machine manufacturer does its own water-jet and laser cutting, pickling and glass bead blasting. Design, planning, programming and implementation are all done in-house by Singer & Sohn employees. The flat hierarchy of the midsized owner-managed company allows for quick, unbureaucratic decision-making.
To ensure that the benefits of this get passed on to its customers, Singer & Sohn also expects short response times and reliable delivery from its suppliers, explains Hiemer: "A few years ago, we were having more and more problems with our controls supplier. After seeking out and comparing a number of potential alternatives, we decided for B&R."
That decision was influenced not only by B&R's innovative products and expert service, but also key factors like compact component design. A particular highlight for Hiemer: the ACOPOS P3. "It's one of the most efficient of servo drives you'll find with integrated safety functions," he notes. With a power density of four amps per liter, the three-axis variant offers the greatest space savings.
B&R's comprehensive hardware portfolio – ranging from cutting-edge track-based transport to hygienic-design motors and HMI terminals. "Equally important to us has been the scope of software functions B&R offers," adds Hiemer. "The majority of the functions we need are right there out of the box. Since we don't have to develop every detail from the ground up, we're able to direct our energy toward advancing the key features that set our machines apart."
After only six months of development and construction, Singer & Sohn completed the first WKT-50 machine with completely redesigned control and drive technology based on B&R solutions. The new machine separates a continuous chain of sausage links into pairs using a motor-driven blade. The main challenge: the blade position is not constant. Prior to each cut, the machine must identify the exact center between two sausage links and move the blade into position. During development of the WKT-50, the engineers benefited from B&R's advanced control technology. The appropriate electronic cam can be selected extremely quickly and cuts are performed precisely and in rapid succession.
"Even though this was our first experience with B&R software, the learning curve was quickly behind us," recalls Hiemer. "B&R provided us with excellent training and engineering support, both on site and over the phone. We were very happy with the solution right from the start."
Almost in parallel with the WKT-50, Singer & Sohn also tackled a new edition to the line: a robotic loading system for placing products such as sausages or pet food into the respective packaging. In its standard configuration, the V-G-E loading system comprises units for feeding, sorting and grouping as well as one or two delta robots, which place the grouped products into the packaging using a product-specific gripper. Between these units, the products are carried by conveyor belts.
Singer & Sohn chose an Automation PC 2100 as the automation platform for its pilot plant – running all of the HMI, control and motion applications. The machine builder created the HMI solution using the software tool Visual Components. "Our next step will be an upgrade to B&R's mapp View, which will bring us the advantages of web-based HMI built on HTML5." That includes being able to easily view the same HMI application on multiple devices and customize the layout of the user interface for different users and user groups.
ACOPOS P3 servo drives and ACOPOSinverter inverters control the pilot system's B&R motors, including those that move the delta robots. For the associated motion control application, Singer & Sohn used B&R's mapp Motion software component. "B&R has thoroughly-tested mapp components that cover all aspects of motion and robotics control, which enabled us to program and deploy the motion control application much faster than a conventional approach," says Hiemer. Commissioning of the delta robots was completed in just one day.
Although the automation for the loading system was considerably more extensive than that for the sausage cutter, Singer & Sohn was able to complete that project in only six months as well, enabling them to premier both solutions at the leading meat industry trade fair, the IFFA.
The new generation of the V-G-E loading system is equipped with an Automation Panel from B&R. The 15-inch IP69K stainless steel panel has additional buttons and an emergency stop switch. Experts are quick to notice the improved movement sequences of the machine's delta robots – finely tuned for top performance and with gentle acceleration and braking for reduced wear.
The two new solutions have aroused great interest among users. Among the numerous orders that have already come in, many have included special requests, such as user rights management via RFID chips. As the company continues to advance and improve its machines, the resulting changes will in turn require new automation technologies.
With B&R at his side, Hiemer feels well prepared for the challenges ahead: "We benefit greatly, not only from B&R's existing portfolio, but also from the innovative products and features they continue to add all the time. The technology has proven itself in practice, and B&R has always kept their promised delivery times. That was enough for us to make B&R our technology partner for all motion control projects going forward."
Author: Franz Rossmann, technology journalist from near Munich
Electrical Project Manager, Singer & Sohn
"We benefit greatly, not only from B&R's existing portfolio, but also from the innovative products and features they continue to add all the time. The technology has proven itself in practice, and B&R has always kept their promised delivery times. That was enough for us to make B&R our technology partner for all motion control projects going forward."