Elite Controls has developed an “intelligent” routing system that, it says, represents a dramatic advance in production speed and efficiency for the beverage and bottling industry. Scottish whisky distilleries are already using the system to transfer essential ingredients from one point to another during the blending and bottling process.
One of the main advantages of the software system is that it automates the setting of equipment such as valves and pumps, that has traditionally been set manually in a process that can take hours, or even days. The new system allows an operator to make these adjustments in seconds from a computer.
“Routing product to a production line used to mean manually adjusting a series of valves and pumps, which, in some cases, could take up to several days,” explains Elite Control Systems’ technical director, Ewan McAllister. “Because our new routing system is capable of creating upwards of 25,000 routing configurations, it’s just a matter of selecting the source and destinations for a route.
“Say you want to transfer 10,000 litres of a specific product from blending tanks to the production lines,” he continues. “The operator simply selects the source and the destination on the routing system, and the route is set up immediately. The fact that the system is intelligent means that it ‘knows’ when a particular route is busy and will alert the operator of this, allowing an alternative route to be selected or the transfer to be queued until the route becomes available. This means that the tank farm can run at full capacity, dramatically increasing production.”
The system allows routes to be added or modified without any changes to the PLC logic.
It is claimed to do much more than setting up transfer routes at the flick of a switch. Because blending of ingredients is critical to drinks producers, the system can control other areas of the production process, such as blending. It is programmed to measure volumes of ingredients to be transferred into the vessels, and how long they should stay in the vessel before continuing with the next part of the process. It can also monitor the temperature, volume, alcohol strength and colour of an ingredient as moves through the blending process.
After the transfer process is completed, the system can provide production data, such as where the input ingredients came from, when they arrived, and even the vehicle that transported the ingredients. This data is stored for future use.
The system guides operators safely and accurately through every step of a process. The program uses object-oriented programming which allows large systems to be broken down into simple-to-manage functional modules or “objects.” The routing information is handled by an SQL routing database.
Although the system is being used primarily for tank farm control in the distilling and bottling sectors at present, Elite Control Systems has also installed the system in a petrochemical plant.