SMC’s latest wireless solution ticks all the boxes for leading manufacturer, CopRice

With a rich history spanning more than 70 years and nearly 50 countries, SunRice (Ricegrowers Limited) is one of the largest branded rice food companies in the world. Starting its journey from a humble grain of rice so to speak, SunRice is proudly Australian and today offers a broad portfolio of subsidiary and complementary businesses.  Built on innovation, initiative and operating excellence, SunRice delivers delicious goods to satisfy consumers all over the world. SunRice also announced their listing on the ASX recently.

The company welcomed CopRice to its growing portfolio more than 40 years ago; CopRice manufacture and supply quality livestock feeds. The manufacturing process includes rice brokens, rice bran and rice hulls which are supplied through the rice milling process.

CopRice also manufactures a wide range of quality equine feeds as well as companion pet food and cat litter which are sold through grocery chains, speciality pet retailers and ag retail across Australia and New Zealand.

Based on growing demand, CopRice operate three stockfeed mills each with a capacity of up to 125,000 tonnes pa and an extrusion plant of 36,000 tonnes pa capacity. “We take pride in our operational excellence and all of our facilities are accredited to international Standards for Quality and Food Safety Management Systems”.

The problem, the solution

CopRice has a primary Robotic Palletiser which is crucial to their business. Used daily, this 500 kg payload robot is fitted with a SAS Fork tine gripper to pick and place stock feed SKU’s.  With various sized bags needing to be palletised, the gripper tines had to be in different positions when picking up these bags to ensure that the best quality products are stacked onto pallets for customers.

“We made use of a manual spacer to perform this process previously and looked to SMC to help automate this process for improved efficiencies” says Dawid Croucamp, Robotic and Automation Engineer for SunRice & CopRice.

“In terms of the application, the robot gripper needed to adjust the gripper tines automatically for each  SKU as it was  being palletised. The problems that we faced in the past were a limited number of inputs and outputs, expensive fieldbus modules and failed solutions due to vibrations on the gripper”.

Dawid also explains that due to the size and the elevated height of the robot, it was challenging to install additional wiring from the robot arm to the end-effector. “The robot’s range of movement restricts additional wiring and cabling. Cabling would also restrict the future need to expand IO on the robot end-effector”.

Ricegrowers Engineering partnered with SMC to develop a customised solution for CopRice. As a recent addition to its portfolio, SMC’s wireless fieldbus system – the EX600-W – was specifically specified and customised for this application. According to Angus Christian, Area Sales Manager for SMC ANZ and responsible for Leeton, this decentralised solution ticked all the boxes.

“Based on the customer’s requirements, the EX600-W was the perfect solution for this project. We had only recently launched it in Australia, and we were all pleased with the outcome during the initial trial phase”.

A smart and flexible solution from SMC: The EX600-W

Dawid says that the EX600 was easy to install, affordable and that the technical and sales support were outstanding.

“The expandable option on the slave manifold allows us to easily add more valves or IO units in the future as needed,” he continues.

“In time to come, we plan to add more IO units and valves to the EX600-W to replace all the existing fieldbus IO’s”.

More about the EX600-W

The EX600-W is Ethernet/IP™ and PROFINET compatible, can withstand electric noise and is suitable for harsh, industrial environments.

Highly reliable and flexible, the EX600-W makes use of frequency hopping techniques to prevent interference from other wireless equipment. Data also encryption stops unauthorised access.

As a wireless unit, the number of cables and connectors is also cut to minimise installation, modifications and maintenance time. The risk of disconnection and circuit breakage is also significantly reduced to both performance and productivity.