3D scanning technology and VR are key components when it comes to Automation Mechatronics installing new plant and machinery. Here’s why.
Started by founder Philip McLean in 1985, Automation Mechatronics is a liquid processing and engineering specialist company that believes new technologies mixed with old-fashioned know-how can offer a range of solutions for those who are looking to install new plant and machinery, or upgrade their current factory.
When the company first started it was mainly specialising in electrical automation projects for the likes of Spring Valley Beverages. In the intervening years, McLean realised offering a total turn key solution was the best way ahead, which meant expanding the types of services it offered.
“We now have a multi-disciplinary team including chemical engineers, instrumentation engineers, mechanical engineers, automation engineers, electrical engineers and MES engineers,” he said. “We can provide clients with everything that they need for liquid processing. This includes the soft drink, brewing, dairy and other related industries.”
One of the company’s key offerings is the ability to do 3D scanning when scoping a job, and using Virtual Reality (VR) goggles that can put its engineers, and clients, right in the space of how the project will look once it is finished.
“We find most of our companies that we work with are very open to new technologies,” said McLean. “Using 3D imagery, we create a point cloud from which we create a 3D model that can then be looked at through VR goggles.”
The company’s national business development manager, Jason Jurgens, said that such a practical step not only impresses a new client, but gives the company’s engineers excellent information on how the build can proceed.
“The 3D scanning allows us to scan the existing operation to make sure there is enough clearances to fit in all the new stuff,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than making a new piece of equipment and then finding you can’t fit it in because there is not enough room due to wrong measurements. VR also allows a client to walk through their new plant and see details such as handrails, manual valves, and things like that. We eliminate health and safety risks in terms of low ceilings or other obstacles, too.”
Automation Mechatronics has many clients in the specialty beverage space that have utilised the technology the company is providing.
“We did an upgrade for Starward Whiskey in Melbourne in 2020,” said McLean. “They are a boutique distillery where they improved their process to increase volume. It was an old factory, and we stripped everything out, scanned it, drew it all up, put in the new gear and used VR goggles to see how it all fitted.”
As well as having offices in Melbourne and Perth, Automation Mechatronics has an international footprint and has helped scope and build several projects overseas. One such project was for Fiji Water, which is a major exporter of bottled water from the Pacific island, being one of the largest importers of premium spring water into the US.
“We took 30 engineers and trades people over there for a three-week shutdown. It was quite a complex job,” said McLean. “We built the filtration plant in Australia and took it over there. We then took out the old and put in the new, which was a difficult job under difficult circumstances.”
Another recent project for Fiji Water during these COVID 19 times was the Clean in Place (CIP) of the spring water bores that are onsite.
Automation Mechatronics 3D-scanned the bore rooms then built the bespoke equipment in Australia for the four different rooms. Due to the pandemic, Automation Mechatronics has no site access for scoping or installation.
“Because of COVID-19 we weren’t able to go over and install it,” said McLean. “We built the equipment in Australia, shipped it over there and we’re undertaking all the software commissioning from Australia. And we are continually supporting them from Australia. We used local trades for the install, however we did all the commissioning remotely. The project started from a 3D scan/modelling and then our trades built the bespoke plant here in Australia for shipping across to Fiji.”
There were lots of complexities. When there was a large downpour in Fiji – and this time of year in the tropics there is a lot of torrential rain – that rain descends through the soil and contaminated the aquifer. Fiji Water had to pump an enormous volume of spring water through the bore system to clean it so that it can get back on line again. What Automation Mechatronics had been doing was automating the CIP process to enable Fiji Water to get back on line and reduce spring water usage. Fiji Water got charged a lot per litre by the Fijian government and it was expensive for the company when it utilises enormous amounts of spring water to clean the bores.
“It is a real environmental saving because the torrential rain has contaminants” said Jurgens. “The rain picks up these contaminants and it leaches into the aquifers underground where they draw the water from. They need to get rid of these contaminants before they get into the filtration plant. It was really important to get the facility up and running quickly and efficiently. The system also has a positive environmental impact as it is saving the environment by making sure they use less spring water with each CIP.”
Other international work they are involved with include Irish ingredient specialists Kerry. This includes projects in Poland, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, China, the US and the UK. Which brings up another facet to the company’s operations – the ability to scope and help plants remotely. This has been especially important over the past 12 months due to COVID-19.
Besides the mechanical aspect, like welding, piping and tank manufacture, everything else is brought to bear by McLean and his team, from the scoping through to proprietary software it produces. McLean said one of the things the company prides itself in is its back-up service and the quality of the products it supplies. And he has noticed that some companies will go for cheaper imports, which in the short term seem an ideal solution, but in the longer term can be costly.
“Sometimes companies will purchase equipment, and only when it comes to the commissioning stage do they realise that it is not going to work,” he said. “We had a situation where I went overseas to check out a piece of equipment for a client. I advised them not to buy it, but they did so anyway. They then paid us the best part of $100,000 to bring it up to standard. One of the manufacturer’s engineers came out to commission the equipment, three weeks later they sent him home and it still wasn’t operational. We rebuilt part of the equipment and rewrote the software and got it working for the client.”
Overall, McLean and his team are positive about the future, despite COVID-19 and its impact on business last year.
“The technology that we use to execute our projects – includes 3D scanning for the initial scope and VR for the final check prior to installation – is top notch,” said McLean. “Take along with that our ability to work remotely due to faster internet connections and upgraded networks, I think we have a lot of offer the food and beverage industry.”