Thirteen Control Systems for Weighing Machines in the Food Processing Industry
The project at a glance:
- Eltra provided thirteen control systems for weighing machines built by FoodeQ Engineering.
- The machines weigh, portion and dispense using vibration.
- The machines will be installed at the new location of Hessing Supervers, one of Europe’s largest food processing factories.
- To circumvent supply chain issues, Eltra sourced and integrated alternative components.
With an area spanning 62,000 square meters and a daily processing capacity of over 320,000 kilograms of vegetables, Hessing Supervers’ new location stands as one of Europe’s largest food processing factories. For this facility, Eltra designed the controls for thirteen weighing machines built by FoodeQ Engineering. Project manager Mark van Esch and Lead Software Engineer Wallie Span ensured that, despite numerous challenges, Eltra delivered quality work on schedule.
Can you briefly introduce this project? What do these machines do?
Mark: “We’ve designed and built thirteen control systems for weighing machines equipped with built-in dosing vibrators for our client FoodeQ Engineering. This company manufactures machines for the food processing industry, specializing in vibratory technology. These machines weigh and portion the food, then vibrate it into crates for further processing or packaging.”
Can you outline the different stages of a project like this at Eltra?
Mark: “When we receive a request, our first step is to put together a quote, which is one of my responsibilities. Once the customer gives us the go-ahead, our hardware engineer drafts the design and orders the necessary parts. These allow our panel builders to get started while a software engineer like Wallie writes the code. After the control cabinet is assembled, we set it up at FoodeQ and conduct a dry run test. The final step is installing the machines at Hessing and testing them with the actual product.”
“Often, mechanical adjustments are also necessary.”
What does testing the machines entail?
Wallie: “We conduct initial tests with a product that’s easy to handle and clean up, like pumpkin seeds. Then we test with the actual product, and that’s when we might run into challenges. Take frozen fish, for instance; those are bigger, heavier, and far slipperier than pumpkin seeds. Those can slide through the transportation chutes at high speeds and come flying out of the machine. Damp lettuce leaves, on the other hand, tend to stick. Sometimes, these issues can be resolved by readjusting the machine to vibrate more intensely or in pulses, but often mechanical adjustments are needed. We once set up similar machines to handle fish oil capsules. As long as the capsules didn’t break, everything was fine. But as soon as one burst open, a fishy stench permeated everything. That was rather unpleasant.”
What challenges arise with these types of control systems?
Wallie: “One of the challenges that outsiders often don’t expect is the design of icons in the user interface. There are operators in the factory who don’t speak Dutch or English. To ensure that the operation of the weighing systems is intuitive, simple, and efficient for them as well, the icons must be instantly understandable to everyone. For some functions, that’s easy: everyone knows that a green button with a sideways triangle means ‘start’. But how do you represent ’empty the conveyor belt’ in a single icon? We brainstorm with FoodeQ, putting ideas in front of test subjects until we find an image that’s so clear, everyone gets it immediately. For ’empty the conveyor belt,’ we eventually settled on an image of a chute with an arrow coming out.”
“The icons need to be immediately understandable for everyone.”
Eltra has built similar control systems before. What set this project apart?
Mark: “In theory, this is a copy of a control system we’ve built before. But in practice, we needed to make many alterations to our previous designs. This was partly due to the scale of the location and project. Hessing’s new factory is so large that they had to order from multiple machine and control builders. To ensure communication between all machines would work flawlessly, a third party established a set of standards. In order to comply with these standards, we had to significantly adjust the design of our control. We were also hampered by global supply issues. We had to find alternatives for many components, due to lack of availability. This meant we had to thoroughly map component specifications, compare them, and modify both schematics and software. Plus, we were constantly waiting for the delivery of parts before we could proceed with work. All of this required considerable creativity and flexibility from our colleagues. But fortunately, our team is experienced and all on the same page, so we managed to meet our deadline!”