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The journey is the destination

Each year, the luggage of 3.6 million travelers passes through the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Cofely sought a better automation solution for its baggage sorting systems – and found it at B&R.

Cofely_Halifax airport transport system #1
Each year, 3.6 million travelers pass through the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. An automated sorting system ensures that their checked luggage travels reliably along with them.

Intensified security is making airports a more stressful place than ever – a situation that is all too often exacerbated by long waits and lost luggage. Travelers don't want to spend any more time at the airport than is absolutely necessary. Nobody wants to wait in a long line to check in their luggage or sit around at baggage claim to pick it up – or worse, get the news that their suitcase will be spending the weekend in Tahiti while they're stuck at a conference in Detroit. What passengers would like to expect are quality airport services all around – including baggage handling.

With this in mind, Nova Scotia's world-class Halifax Stanfield International Airport – always striving to offer a more pleasant travel experience – set out to further improve its processes and services by implementing a quicker, more streamlined baggage handling solution. At the time, the airport had been using a traditional, centralized baggage handling system, which consisted of 100 conveyors with several sensors each, all wired back to the main control cabinet. Since upgrading their system, the Halifax airport is now able to better serve its 3.6 million annual passengers while substantially reducing costs.

The team at the Halifax airport recruited Cofely Services to spearhead the project of developing an improved bag room solution. Cofely Services is a subsidiary of the GDF-SUEZ group, a global leader in multiservice technical management, including the operation and maintenance of airport facilities. Their airport group operates in over 25 airports worldwide, among them Boston Logan, Louisville International, Montréal–Trudeau, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Athens, Brussels and London Gatwick. Cofely is best known for its airport software solution Bagstage and self-service bag drop U-Drop.

Cofely Services_X67 closeup
A flexible IP67 rated machine-mount I/O system with 16 programmable channels was implemented for conveyor line control, allowing each channel to be individually assigned as digital inputs, digital outputs or high-speed counters.
Cofely_Halifax airport transport system #2
With conveyor bag line usage at 20 hours per day, 365 days per year, network response time is vital. With the new X67 I/O system, network scan times of one millisecond could be achieved.

Requirements for use

"It was important to the project team that the solution would increase added value by using new technology that could be easily integrated into existing as well as new systems," notes Yan Le Meur, Automation and Watch Technology Expert for Cofely Services. In airport bag rooms, the lines are used 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is therefore imperative that their systems are efficient and reliable as well as easy to troubleshoot should an issue arise.

First, the requirements for the bag room improvement project needed to be defined. Cofely determined that the bag room facility should be easy to use for maintenance staff and require minimal training. The control system would have to feature IP67-rated machine-mountable I/O and support controller platforms from multiple vendors, have a web server for diagnostics for each individual node, be able to communicate with scales or automatic tag readers (ATRs) and deliver a network response time of less than two milliseconds.

Flexible and open solution

Cofely knew it would install its Bagstage bag sorting software onto each line to automatically direct each bag to the proper destination. At the same time, screening machines scan each bag to ensure that there is no risk or potential threat inside before being loaded onto the airplane. But Cofley still needed a partner for the conveyor line’s control system. After evaluating multiple automation supplier solutions, they selected a machine-mounted I/O system from B&R, known as the X67 system.

The X67 I/O system includes a 16-channel digital mix module to control the conveyor lines. Each of the channels is programmable, allowing a single module to be used for digital inputs, digital outputs or high-speed counters. Cofely took advantage of the flexible I/O design to configure one of the standard channels as a high-speed counter to be used for an encoder with square signals and in turn reduced the total number of components required for the application. "With fewer components in the control cabinet, we reduced the cabinet size and associated costs, as well as eliminating the need for junction boxes on the machine," reports Le Meur.

To ensure that the system was easy to use for maintenance staff, the conveyor I/O system was equipped with pre-assembled standard M12 connectors, which decreased commissioning time and reduced the potential for wiring errors. By switching to IP67-rated machine-mounted I/O and M12 field-wireable connectors, the number of M12 cord sets for the conveyor lines was significantly reduced. With the previous baggage handling solution, in addition to the abundance of wiring, each conveyor had its own decentralized panel. Now, over two-thirds of those panels have been eliminated.

Enhanced network performance and diagnostics

As required, the solution supported the use of multiple network platforms so that the airport team could continue to work with the existing platforms they were already comfortable using. Using standard nodes on the multiple fieldbus networks significantly improved network performance beyond requirement. "The bus controllers could communicate between different automation platform PLCs with a single I/O module and we were able to achieve network scan times of one millisecond," Le Meur explains. Le Meur continues: "The I/O is easy to support, even when integrated with a third-party master, due to the advanced diagnostics on the hardware LEDs and in the software."

Because of the length of the baggage conveyors, Cofely knew it would be important to implement a solution with a flexible topology. The X67 I/O system adapts to the architecture of the conveyor line. Paired with B&R's free configuration software, FieldbusDESIGNER, the I/O data can populate the controller tags and automatically define input and output sizes, allowing the programmer to work in whatever software platform he or she is most comfortable.

Furthermore, visual status indicators on the I/O modules and advanced status messages are delivered immediately via the bus and produce detailed diagnostic results. The system design features individual sensors and actuators per node, which makes troubleshooting any detected issues simple and allows any faults to be quickly replaced using plug connections. In addition, the serial modules are linked to Cofely Service’s automatic tag reader via Bagstage and I/O modules are linked to SCADA to help deliver diagnostic results. For maintenance and operation, additional savings were realized through the integrated functionality of the X67 system. Sensors and X67 modules are well protected against short circuits and overload.

The new, enhanced baggage handling solution for Halifax Stanfield International Airport delivers a high efficiency line with bag tracking that yields a very low percentage of lost baggage. Cofely reports that since the solution’s implementation there have been no complaints from the airport or its maintenance team. "The decision to work with B&R gave us a solution that was very cost-effective," says Le Meur, "but more importantly, it allowed us to reduce the total number of components and amount of wiring necessary for the application, while also being very easy to support." With Ethernet now established as the fieldbus standard, Le Meur plans to implement the solution of IP67-rated I/O modules combined with M12 connectors as the model for future projects. "We could apply the same connectivity and modules to virtually any kind of new or existing network," explains Le Meur, "and this exciting flexibility is why we will continue to promote this type of solution to our customers – it's an honest win-win solution for everybody."

Cofely_Le Meur Yan

"The decision to work with B&R gave us a solution that was very cost-effective, but more importantly, it allowed us to reduce the total number of components and amount of wiring necessary for the application, while also being very easy to support. Moreover, by implementing B&R's X67 machine-mounted I/O system, we were able to reduce the installation time for our bag room improvement project by 30%." Yan Le Meur, Automation and Watch Technology Expert, Cofely Services

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