Precision Material Handling Project Protects Fragile Food Product; Fills Totes at Rate of 12,000 Pounds per Hour
Ensuring product integrity throughout the fullstream of processing and finished packaging of fragile food products requires that this upstream bulk container handling project provide precise handling, inspection, and sorting at high run rates.
Based on the process modeling and feasibility testing implemented as part of the NBE proactive application analysis, this NBE engineered-to-application (ETA) bulk container filler project was designed to provide integrated product inspection and sorting functions previously not performed at this upstream processing stage. The addition of this upstream, automated inspection and sorting sequence enabled batch runs to achieve consistently repeatable rates of up to 12,000 pounds per hour. Process flow begins with bulk totes of the raw food product being conveyor-loaded into a lift carriage. The operator initiates the fully automated process sequence from a single, menu-driven HMI, designed and built by NBE. The tote is nested into the carriage and covered and sealed by a custom-designed discharge hood. The tote is vertically conveyed up to a 23-foot discharge height. During the tilt and discharge actions of the tote, optical sensors ensure the product drop distance reaches no more than five inches throughout the entire 150-degree tote rotation. From the receiving hopper, the product is metered and fed through two stages of high-speed optical inspection and sortation to ensure only correctly specified product reaches downstream packaging operations. The acceptable product is conveyed into a storage tote where a reverse-tilt fill method is used to, again, ensure the five-inch, maximum drop distance is not exceeded. When the storage tote weight reaches to within 5 percent of the target fill weight, the automated weigh scale system signals the receiving hopper to reduce material feed to dribble rate. Final weight of the filled tote is within 1% of the target fill weight of 4,000 pounds.
By protecting and maintaining product integrity during material handling functions, and by completing the automated inspection and sorting functions earlier in the process sequence, this processing and packaging operation was able to increase total production yield while also improving product quality. The weigh scale system keeps storage tote weights highly accurate, eliminating the supply of mis-weighed totes to downstream packaging processes. The integrated automation and controls of the project, designed and engineered by NBE, facilitated the efficient and on-time installation and start-up of the combined mechanical and automation infrastructure.