A canny automation upgrade for brewery’s canning line

Maintaining peak capacity machine operation while retaining the flexibility to accommodate a number of products were the key elements determining the 2002 automation upgrade by Tooheys brewery in the packaging facility at their Lidcombe site in Sydney’s west. An overhaul of the canning line resulted in a major upgrade of the electrical control by Silverwater-based local systems integrator Machinery Automation & Robotics Pty Ltd.

Tooheys’ canning line comprises two key components: the filler and the seamer. While some dedicated high-speed electronics were in place, both components relied largely on relay control for operation, leading to difficulty in troubleshooting faults. The solution presented by MAR combined all associated inputs and outputs into a single processor and provided operator control via a PanelView and dedicated pushbutton operator stations. A new cabinet to house the PLC was fabricated and the entire system complied with Australian Standards for safety.

The canning line PLC was upgraded to an Allen Bradley ControlLogix, an impressive PLC chosen by Tooheys for its future expansion capabilities. The ControlLogix at Tooheys has both a data highway port and an Ethernet port and functions as the central gateway to the remaining on-site PLC’s. During development the programming and testing of the ControlLogix was performed via the Ethernet LAN located at the MAR office. Staff working at the Silverwater premises then mounted the PLC onto a new control panel and the equipment was subjected to extensive testing before transportation to the site for installation.

With a standard production rate of 2000 cans per minute, unidentified problems in the filler or seamer components can be costly to production. The PanelView 550 operator workstation was provided to enable effective operator interaction with the canning process. Where previously faults caused the machinery to halt operation without identifying where the problem had occurred, clear fault indicators on the PanelView now allow operators to quickly locate and eliminate a problem anywhere in the canning process.

Guided by the brewery’s directive for a flexible, highly productive system and with strict adherence to safety guidelines MAR introduced a number of innovative design features:

  • inching – allowing the machine to inch forward rather than run at peak capacity reduces set-up times and product wastage;
  • upended can detection – immediate detection and ejection of an upended can eliminates problems occurring at both the filler and seamer components and ensures continuous peak capacity production throughout the process;
  • missing can detection – detection and removal of a stray can in the seamer component is crucial to maintaining production levels;
  • fault indicators – operators no longer need to waste valuable production time investigating machine failure with clear fault indicators incorporated into the new PanelView graphic workstation;
  • operator-controlled speed facility – allowing the operator to simply alter the speed of the filler through the PanelView workstation has eliminated the need for an electrician callout to change the variable speed drive;
  • enhanced speed control – with a far smoother control of the drive speed, the new system allows the speed of the filler ramp to be reduced more gradually improving overall performance of machinery;
  • improved safety mechanisms – automatic door- and gate-locking devices allowing operator access to machinery only when drives are stationary greatly reduce safety hazards and risk of personal injury.

Tooheys’ Packaging Engineer Manager Shane Hawken commends ‘the increased reliability and consistently high production in the canning process’ following completion of the upgrade. Initially, the brewery contracted MAR to complete a backup of all PLC programs on site, including a full documentation printout of each PLC in the packaging area and storage of the PLC’s both on fileserver at the Tooheys site and on removable disk. This completed, the brewery then elected to make use of MAR’s off-site program storage service – a service providing the added value of a known backup on a secure MAR fileserver. In the unlikely event of a system failure Tooheys is guaranteed an effective disaster recovery plan through immediate access to their off-site backup.

Ongoing collaboration with Tooheys has guaranteed not only the success of individual projects but also MAR’s understanding of the brewery’s future directives for engineering and maintenance expansion.

With this in mind MAR has recommended all PLC’s be connected via Ethernet or, in the case of the older PLC’s, the data highway. This will enable all PLC’s to be programmed directly from the engineering workstation located at the engineer’s office. Even the outdated PLC’s with only serial port access for programming will be brought on to the Ethernet LAN via RS232 to Ethernet converter boxes. Furthermore, MAR’s extensive knowledge of PLC products will ensure the smooth integration of all Tooheys’ packaging area PLC’s, which currently include equipment manufactured by Siemens, Mitsubishi, Allen Bradley and Schleike.

Tooheys continue to enjoy the benefits of MAR’s partnership style of working. MAR currently provides support across all brands of PLC and is set up to provide assistance with further projects including automation, safety and 24-hour breakdown support. The success of the canning line automation upgrade has ensured that Tooheys’ plans for future enhancements with MAR are already in the pipeline.