When Ibonhart wanted to upgrade its bread packaging machine for remote diagnostics and maintenance, it found that Omron could supply a complete suite of automation, drives and safety products, plus full technical support.
Ibonhart, one of the UK's leading manufacturers of automatic bread slicing and packaging equipment, has recently updated the control system for its popular IB360 bagging machine to include remote access facilities. Automation components from Omron were the key to the smooth and successful implementation of this important upgrade.
Ibonhart knew that remote access would provide substantial benefits for users of its machines, as it would enable software upgrades to be installed and faultfinding to be carried out remotely. Machine downtime would, therefore, be minimised. This is an important consideration as bread-packing machines typically handle between 3000 and 4000 loaves per hour, which means that every hour of downtime represents a large loss of turnover and profit.
For these reasons, Ibonhart was preparing to start work on adding remote connectivity to its machines when it won an order to supply an IB360 bagger to one of the largest bakeries in Kazakhstan. Given the cost and inconvenience of travelling to this location, the company decided that remote access would be a major benefit for this contract, and gave top priority to developing suitable facilities.
New supplier required
It quickly became apparent to the Ibonhart engineers that adding remote access to the IB360 control system using products from its existing supplier of automation equipment would be far from straightforward. The company therefore invited several other suppliers of automation products, among them Omron, to put forward solutions.
Chris Barfe, a Director of Ibonhart, states: "There was absolutely no doubt that Omron gave the most authoritative presentation. The company clearly understood our requirements and knew how they could be met efficiently and cost effectively. In addition, Omron was able to show us similar remote access projects it had worked on with other clients, all of which were operating very successfully."
The decision was taken to use Omron automation equipment for all key functions in the new control system. The configuration chosen included a versatile yet inexpensive CP1L-M packaged PLC (programmable logic controller), an NS-series colour touch-screen to provide the operator interface, and four 2kW JX-series inverter drives. All of these major components were linked with a Modbus network.
Additionally, Omron also supplied G9SA safety relays for the machine, along with E3ZM photoelectric sensors that have stainless steel housings and are optimised for food-industry applications. Using a single supplier for all major items of automation equipment was a significant benefit for Ibonhart, as it ensured compatibility and avoided issues of divided responsibility.
In addition, for this project, the close integration of the Omron automation components allowed significant savings to be made, as it was possible to implement the remote communication facilities on the NS touchscreen rather than directly on the PLC. This meant that a lower-cost PLC could be used without in any way compromising the performance or capabilities of the remote access system.
Switching to Omron automation components for the new version of its IB360 bagger did, however, present Ibonhart with an interesting challenge: how to adapt its existing application software for use with the new hardware in the time available. Omron was able to provide invaluable advice and support in this area.
Omron field application engineer, Martin White, says: "We were, in fact, able to reuse much of the programming from the old PLC with only relatively minor modifications. Not only did this save time and money, it also meant that the new code was instantly familiar to the Ibonhart service engineers and that its functionality had already been proved.
"For the NS touchscreen, we did have to write new programs from scratch, but this really was not surprising, as we had added so much new functionality. This included, of course, the remote access facilities, which were implemented as a secure VPN (virtual private network) operating via an on-demand broadband link."
An important feature that simplified the programming of the touchscreen was its ability to handle multiple languages. This meant that it could be programmed in English and then, immediately prior to despatch, switched to Russian to suit the end user. Unlike most other multi-language screens, the NS automatically resizes the text to accommodate the different word and message lengths in the two languages.
The machine and the remote access system were extensively tested at the Ibonhart factory before it was sent to site, a process for which Omron provided on-site support. Barfe says: "Actually, the testing went very smoothly, so we did not have much cause to call on Omron's support, but it was nevertheless very reassuring to have an engineer on site just in case we did need his services."
The usefulness of the factory testing was confirmed when the IB360 bagger reached site in Kazakhstan, as its installation and commissioning was straightforward and entirely uneventful. The remote communications feature also proved to be problem-free in operation, and it gives Ibonhart's engineers complete access to the system without needing to leave their desks in the Ibonhart UK factory.
Barfe comments: "The remote link lets us work with comprehensive diagnostic features on the machine and, while these have all worked perfectly in trials, they have not yet been proved in a real fault situation. That, I am very pleased to say, is because we have not had any real faults! Nevertheless, we have used the link to install a software upgrade and, of course, to make routine checks on machine status. The link does exactly what it was designed to do, and it does it very reliably."
Both Ibonhart and its customer in Kazakhstan are delighted with the performance of the new IB360 bagger, and this underlines Ibonhart's commitment to ensuring that its equipment utilises the latest technology available. As a result of its experiences with this machine, Ibonhart is now planning to use Omron automation equipment on a number of future projects.