New control system boosts production for animal feed specialist
Rabar is a leading supplier, manufacturer and distributor of commodities and premixes for the animal feed industry. With facilities in Southern Queensland and NSW, Rabar produces custom formulated vitamin and mineral premixes and “macro” mixes both in powder and pellet form.
Established in 1989, the company supplies its extensive range of nutritional supplements to farmers throughout Australia and some products to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands including Papua New Guinea.
For nearly three decades, the company used paper spreadsheets to maintain its batching records and associated data. This outdated system was time-consuming and costly, as well as being prone to inaccuracies and human error.
Rabar turned to Pac Technologies, a developer and manufacturer of industrial automation solutions, for advice.
The brief was simple: how to move from a paper-based records system to real-time data capture and traceability solution?
Using equipment supplied by Omron, Pac Technologies created a new batching system for Rabar at its headquarters at Beaudesert, south-west of Brisbane. Omron supplied all the quality control hardware, which was set up and programmed by Pac Technologies.
This equipment includes an Omron NX102-9020 PLC and NA HMIs, with Omron V680s RFID hardware in the form of a 3-in-1 RFID system of antenna, amplifier and controller.
For safety, the Omron NX-SL3300 safety system provides a modular safety controller for high-speed, high-precision motion control, and NX I/O provides both standard and safety protocols that enable flexible configuration. Motor control is provided by Omron MX2 VSDs on EtherCAT.
The end result is a fully automated system designed for maximum flexibility.
“We achieved everything on the customer’s ‘wish list’ with a customised solution,” said Omron Qld and NT Manager Paul Gibb. “We mainly focused on the performance and data processing power of the NX102 in conjunction with NA HMIs.
“This hardware creates a massive amount of value through the data handling capabilities.”
Open architecture now gives Rabar the option of using the system integrator (Pac Technologies) for ongoing support as it is not a closed or proprietary system.
Kim Simonsen, CEO of Pac Technologies, said the new batch and data management (BDM) system has streamlined the entire operation.
“The new system has been fully customised to fit Rabar’s requirements,” he said.
New software now controls the entire blending system from start to finish. It has eliminated manual orders, record keeping and other paper trails.
“The BDM can be configured to work seamlessly with all pre-existing inventory software packages,” Simonsen said.
Integrated scales now precisely weigh every ingredient and RFID technology tracks and logs each individual step. The system allows one or a number of operators to work simultaneously on each order, and barcode recognition ensures only the correct products are used.
After nearly 14 months of exhaustive planning and trialling, the new system is now fully operational.
Simonsen said traceability and accuracy in the blending process have improved significantly, and there is no longer a need to conduct a monthly manual stocktake.
Stocktakes are now rescheduled on a quarterly basis — delivering a higher degree of accuracy.
Rabar owner/director Gerald Fong said he’s more than happy with the new system.
“It has improved accuracy and reduced human error,” he said. “Also, production has been boosted by nearly 25% — from 2–3 tonnes per hour to about four tonnes an hour. “The trials have exceeded our expectations. It’s a very good result, and we are very happy with the outcome.”
Rabar employs 12 production staff at its Beaudesert plant.
“Initially the team was hesitant to move from a manual system to full automation,” Fong admitted. “But they have now embraced the change. It’s definitely made their lives easier.”
And rather than shed jobs with the automation, Rabar will probably need more staff to cope with the expected increase in productivity.
“Already, we have reached a stage where we have exceeded our capacity,” Fong said. “But now with the new system we are ready to take on new business when the market eventually recovers from the current drought.”
Fong expects the company to receive a return on its investment (ROI) within the next two years. The next stage will be to introduce Omron’s LD series mobile robots and TM series collaborative robots for picking and packing products on to pallets ready for dispatch.
Fong said the company is now looking to replicate the new batching system at its Moama facility near Echuca on the NSW/Vic border in the New Year.
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