Our R&D department has been working with solutions for Industry 4.0 since 2017; I joined the team in 2020. Piab has always emphasized the importance to have strong ties with the users of our products, and it is even more relevant these days when we see faster shifts in technology and more changes in the world.
R&D is an essential function at Piab, striving for the simplification of the vacuum conveying process and making it more and more reliable. No applications are alike and solving the conveying problem is an interesting challenge.
So, keeping the ease of use in mind, we developed a fully automatic vacuum conveyor: the user pushes the start button, and the conveyor automatically sets itself up. All settings can be stored by material or recipe and evoked with material changeovers. We currently offer this solution called Auto-tuning with the piFLOW®p product range, and it works with the ECU-15 electrical control unit.
Each year, our Vacuum Conveying Division runs an in-house innovation contest, piDEA, where everyone can develop ideas related to specific topics. Everyone participates, including sales and application engineers who have the most contact with our customers. During this internal contest, we received a lot of ideas and feedback on the main benefits of the automated solution. Based on Auto-tuning and these feedbacks, we realised that we could further simplify it to make it available for a broader range of users.
We concluded that the vacuum conveyor charge timer is the most critical parameter that needs to be set because it reduces the possibility of human error from the operators' side by avoiding filter damage due to overfilling. It does so by optimising the conveyed batch volume and by protecting the filters in the conveyor. We also wanted to make this product compatible with all our control units and our available vacuum conveyors in the Food, Pharmaceuticals, and Chemicals industries, including piFLOW®f, i, fc and p product ranges.
The development process was fascinating. I really like this job because I get to do design, lab testing and work with automation. Learning and working with the control logic was the part of the job I found most challenging and the most interesting to work with. And it is, of course, great to see how the product takes shape from idea to a certified product.
So, it might sound controversial, but what made the product development particularly complicated was the required simplicity. The new product had to be modular: fitting and working together with all other building blocks of a well-functioning vacuum conveying system. We also had to maintain the ease of cleaning and maintenance of the standard vacuum conveyors – as we say in Sweden, we aimed not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I am pleased that we found the optimal solution, Batch Volume Optimization, which is customisable at scale.