PROJECT | AUTOMATED BATCHING SYSTEM
Grand Rapids Metrology was approached by a customer in need of a solution for a current manual process. This company manufactures printer ink for large, industrial printers and hoped to convert their manual batching system for mixing ink into an automated operation.
INITIAL NEEDS & CHALLENGES
Prior to the project, the customer employed a manual process of batching and mixing ingredients to formulate different colors of inks. The company used an operator who manually opened the valve on one of seven supply tanks, switched on a pump to started the flow of ingredients into one of the mix tanks, then stopped the pump and closed the valve once the product was mixed. They have recipes for each color, but the final product was measured manually by the operator which left room for human error. The company sought to reduce the room for human error and create a process that was more efficient and timely.
Our IDEA team engineers designed an automated batching system that would mix ink colors in a more efficient and effective manner. The system now utilizes floor scales with Weigh-Tronix indicators and a Programmable Logic Controller.
The automated process is run by one system that is connected via Ethernet to the indicators and scale-base which is attached to each tank. The system stores the recipes required to produce all their colors and is able, via touchscreen, to automate the batching process from one central location. The operator will select the color he/she wishes to produce on the touchscreen, which will send a signal to the correct valve to open on the supply tank, then signal to activate the pump to push product into the correct mixing tank. The system uses a “smart fill” function that essentially learns the habits of each pump and auto-adjusts each fill for extreme accuracy.
An additional improvement is that the system allows the operator to run all six mix tanks at once – a feat not allowed by the former manual process. If the company wishes to mix a new color, they must simply enter the new recipe into the automated batching system. The system is equipped for a manual mode through the touchscreen, used mostly for diagnostic purposes.
The anticipated results where that the automated system would (1) make the process of batching and mixing ink colors much more accurate by reducing the probability of human error to almost zero and (2) make the process more efficient. The same operator who had to manually facilitate each step of the batching process beforehand will now be able to hit a few buttons on the touchscreen and their job will be complete. This will in turn allow the operator to manage several mixings at once or perform other necessary duties in the facility.
The actual results exceeded GRM’s and the customer’s expectations for this custom engineered system. The newly automated process cut batching time in half as well as allowed the company to mix up to six batches at once, whereas they previously could only mix one batch at a time through the manual process.
This batching system was customized based on the specific needs from the organization, for their existing preventive maintenance agreement will cover the calibration of the scales and indicators used in the system, and while no routine maintenance is required on the batching system, our engineers are available if it needs servicing. Grand Rapids Metrology is committed to providing creative, quality and accurate solutions to our customers. Our IDEA team engineers are available to assess your current manual processes and advise on measurement-based automated solutions.