Automating can keep you ahead of the pack

Fruit and vegetable equipment manufacturer Compac Sorting Equipment has established a renowned, international reputation since it was established in 1984. The company has a track record in the development of leading edge technology and software. 

As a market leader in the development, manufacture and supply of smart produce handling solutions and equipment to packing operations around the world – Compac’s software and technology is continually under development and improvement to meet and exceed customer requirements. 

Facing increased competition, Compac needed to improve productivity by reducing time and costs associated with engineering disparate machine components. 

The company engaged Rockwell Automation and NHP Electrical Engineering Products (NZ) Ltd to help streamline their machine engineering and design capabilities. 

Established relationship
Compac Sorting Equipment was already using some programmable logic controllers (PLCs) from Rockwell Automation and was familiar with the company and their technology. 

To improve productivity and maintain their competitive edge, Compac Sorting decided to call on the expertise of Rockwell Automation together with NHP to design a solution that would help to reduce time and costs associated with engineering disparate machine components. 

“Together, we worked with Compac Sorting to understand their challenges, which included implementing new technology and the need for local service and support,” said Prasad Nory, industry manager at Rockwell Automation. 

“We then worked together with NHP to design a solution for Compac Sorting centred on how we could streamline their machine engineering and design capabilities for equipment destined for New Zealand, Canada and the US.” 

The solution comprised Micro850PLCs, PowerFlex 4M and 40 drives and industrial control gear. According to Nory, the team demonstrated the value of the solution using Rockwell Automation and NHP technical resources, including Connected Components Accelerator Toolkit and One-stop Sample Shop. They have also started using Micro820t PLCs for other smaller equipment applications. 

One-stop Sample Shop is a Rockwell Automation commercial program; through it, customers receive free product samples to try in their application. The Connected Components Accelerator Toolkit helps OEMs reduce design overheads so they can instead concentrate on making their machine the best in the market. 

“This is a low risk and easy option for customers to try our component products like small PLCs, industrial control and safety products,” said Nory. “Through these programs, detailed discussions and a successful field trial, Compac realised the value of our Connected Components solution.” 

According to Baden Crabb, senior electrical engineer at Compac Sorting Equipment, “It’s been really good working with Rockwell Automation, they support their product by providing plenty of training and support.” 

“In addition, being able to ‘try before we buy’ was very beneficial, allowing us to see firsthand how the products work and could add value to our solutions,” said Crabb. 

Faster machine building
OEMs and machine manufacturers are facing a wide variety of technological trends in what is a revolutionary era for industrial automation based in motion control, communications and intelligent vision systems – all of which can significantly help improve machine performance and processes. 

In particular, the packing sector has gone through a strong technological revolution as new technology provides the ability to offer higher performance and increased productivity. To maintain their position as a global leader in post-harvest solutions, Compac Sorting invests in cutting edge technology to deliver high performance sorting and packing solutions for the fruit and vegetable industry. 

The Connected Components Accelerator Toolkit helps companies reduce machine design time by providing guidance for the entire machine control application development. It allows OEMs to concentrate on the intellectual property that produces compelling and differentiated machine features. 

“The Connected Components Workbench Software is one of the reasons we decided to use the Micro800 series of PLCs; it’s powerful, and code can be written in ladder, function block diagram or structured text,” said Crabb. 

“The Micro 820s are great for applications with low I/O requirements and one of the very few PLCs on the market that provide great value, delivering Ethernet capabilities and serial modbus control of variable speed drives. The scan time is about three milliseconds in our application which is very fast,” he said. 

The Connected Components Workbench software offers controller programming, device configuration and integration. In addition to the many existing function blocks that are available, the software also has advanced encapsulation abilities with function blocks that are simple to create and then use in the graphical function block diagram programming environment. 

“Micro 820 is gaining popularity among small machine builders, providing a cost effective automation solution. It delivers sufficient control for small applications with Ethernet capability,” said Nory. 

“The Connected Components Workbench Software being a free download enables the operation and commissioning team to carry a copy with them to site. This increases the flexibility and enables quick response to issues onsite for the machine builders and provides a better service to their end users,” he said. 

Wide-spread benefits
Reduced engineering times together with the flexibility to handle different requirements are the key benefits of the solution. In addition, Compac has also seen the benefits of having a single software package for configuring the drives, PLCs and safety components. The new solution is module and scalable to meet varying plant requirements. 

According to Crabb, “The training and support provided by Rockwell Automation and NHP for the Connected Components Workbench Software helped us to convert the code in-house with the help of their support divisions.” 

Now entirely commissioned and installed at various Compac Sorting sites, the equipment manufacturer is winning more business as a result of the cost-effective solution. 

“We’ve used this gear on about 50 projects so far and it has allowed us to reduce our engineering time by as much as 80 percent. Having non-licensed software is a real advantage for us, allowing us to distribute it to all our service technicians around the world. 

We’re now able to produce control systems much more quickly with the same amount of staff,” said Crabb.

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