Automation specialist Bürkert has developed and introduced a number of technologies over the past few years that have specifically assisted Australian F&B manufacturers introduce digitalisation in their plant utilities space.
Plant utilities is the term given to equipment that is not used in the direct manufacturing process, but is required to facilitate that process. This includes such applications as creating steam for heating heat exchanges that can pasteurise milk, water blending, water quality monitoring or Clean in Place (CIP) processes.
Bürkert’s national segment manager, Ryan Orbell, said it is an often overlooked area of processing and manufacturing, but an important one. This is the space where Bürkert has a lot of expertise.
“We’ve built a strong reputation in this are. It’s given us a really strong framework and understanding of the benefits of digitalisation and automation for F&B manufacturers,” he said. “Bürkert has a number of different solutions, especially around fieldbus connectivity – like I/O link, industrial Ethernet etc. We work with these types of technologies every day, so we have very good experience and understanding of the best requirements for an application.”
Bürkert provides flexibility in its hardware by working with a number of different network and fieldbus providers. This adaptability enables Bürkert to provide unbiased advice, it therefore becomes an individual approach to a customer’s needs instead of being limited to only one providers offering.
“We are not aligned with just one company, so this allows us to speak to our customers with an impartial objective,” said Orbell. “We therefore consider what our customers are aiming to achieve, and customise a solution that works specifically for them.
“Often we find that a customer may be considering bespoke, complicated solutions, but we can bring our varied experience to the table and provide them with several options to help them resolve their challenges. We then assist to drill down and understand short- and long-term cost advantages and benefits that can be offered for adapting, upgrading or implementing to existing or new applications.”
Orbell sees Bürkert’s approach as holistic as he believes some suppliers only offer part of a solution.
“A lot of suppliers might be just providing an instrumentation package, but we can take a wholesome look of the entire plant utilities framework and look inside the process to help them develop ‘automation control architecture’ for their site,” he said. “It allows us to bring valves, sensors, transmitters and controllers together as a complete infrastructure solution.
“The way we work with customers is that we use a consultative approach to understand what the customers’ ultimate goals are. Then we put together a packaged solution that supports what they are looking to achieve.
“At Bürkert, we talk a lot about decentralised automation and distributed automation – this is how we summarise the way we can communicate with all of the many different levels of automation devices to provide the best performance of processes for our customers.”
It’s the collaboration and expertise across the most common digitalisation solutions that Orbell sees as Bürkert’s unique offering. He said a lot of Bürkert’s customers are open to these discussions, often because Orbell and his team consult first and foremost different ideas. He said it helps them build long lasting partnerships with customers.
Orbell is also all too aware that there is a lot of trepidation about embracing automation and the potential costs involved, especially with those companies that are concerned about how their legacy equipment can be utilised. Some customers are caught in the dichotomy of realising that they need to adapt to the modern world and changing manufacturing environment, but upgrading plant utilities usually doesn’t equate to big dollars and large capital outlay, said Orbell.
“A lot of the time it will depend on their budget and what they want to do,” he said. “With older legacy equipment, our devices can communicate on I/O link, for example, creating a real advantage. This means for a minimal start up – they can use traditional, old hard-wired sensors already being used, and we can bring in masters on top of that, allowing them to communicate. That is a real cost-effective way to start customers on their journey of Industry 4.0 and providing digital connectivity. This solution is fast to install, cheaper to adapt and offers all the diagnostic information for them to bring their plants up to scratch.”
It will make them more competitive, according to Orbell, because at the end of the day, it’s all about having strong frameworks in place. He believes if these food and beverage manufacturers have got a strong automation process structure, combined with quality equipment, it will be reflected in the cash flow to the bottom line of their business.
“The reality is, those older sites need to get on the journey of industry 4.0, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “Bürkert can support them by taking baby steps and concentrating on one area at a time. It doesn’t mean a wholesale change or taking their existing equipment out. We can even utilise the aforementioned I/O links and help them digitise their site with new connectivity technologies. This can then communicate to higher level architectures like Industrial Ethernet at the top level, while still using a lower level fieldbus that is more cost advantageous.
Orbell said the whole idea of modernising a site is all about saving money in the long run. If companies don’t adapt they will get left behind, “it is as simple as that”, he said.
“Look at Kodak. They didn’t take digital seriously until it was too late and they lost their business. That is where we are as far as modern food and beverage manufacturing sites go,” he said. “Information on things like the health and performance of their assets relates directly to cash flow and bottom line. If they’re not able to monitor these efficiencies in productivity, then they are at risk of being left behind.”
Burkert devices do this, with advanced diagnostic capabilities. The end customer has total transparency on the performance and management of their assets and can trend and predict the health and performance at all times. This results directly in consistently reproducing a quality product out the door to the consumer for Bürkert’s customers.
And to aid those just starting out on their journey, Orbell and the team at Bürkert have produced a series of videos and webinars that are designed to show various fieldbus connectivity options and how easy implementing processes can be with regard to plant utilities.
“One of our webinars talks about CIP. An animated presentation to give a good understanding of what the principles of CIP are,” said Orbell. “We’ve also developed a presentation on Solutions for Plant Utilities: Best Practice showcasing animated applications that Bürkert supports in modern food and beverage plants.
“For example, fermentation application shows users where a product drops in and acts with the interface application, showing the cycle and how each part of the process works within that cycle. This webinar also shows examples of water blending systems, water quality monitoring and heat treatment.”
“We even have a video where we have some of our team members wiring a tank system together using a number of typical glycol valves and hygienic product valves combined with control heads, demonstrating old traditional legacy connections on one side of the tank. At the same time, the other side of the tank is being wired utilising Industry 4.0 digital connectivity technologies. It shows first-hand the considerable time you save when utilising digital connectivity technologies in real time.”
This is a an example that shows Bürkert has moved beyond just applications outside the process in Plant Utilities, said Orbell. The company’s wholesome approach means it also works inside the process, directly in the manufacturing and production processes, which directly supports the connection between the two areas for seamless integration. He is confident that his team, and Bürkert as an automation specialist, can help food and beverage manufacturing enterprises on their digitisation journey, by offering advice that best suits each individual’s company needs.