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Modular Automation Discover the Advantages of Decentralised Control in Bulk Material Handling

Author / Editor: Marc Pfaumann / Dr. Jörg Kempf

The world of bulk material handling seems easy at first glance: moving, filling, delivering. The art of dealing with a variety of different materials, however, lies in the details, such as the docking and undocking of containers at weighing stations. In the process, cross-contaminations and the release of dusts can occur. Azo Clean Dock prevents this problem. Its latest generation can do even more: it “thinks” for itself.

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The Clean Dock system, controlled by Festo’s modular electrical terminal CPX
The Clean Dock system, controlled by Festo’s modular electrical terminal CPX
(Source: Festo/AZO)

The container glides into places virtually soundlessly, approaching its destination with even motion: the Clean Dock. Stainless steel elegance. Clean, sovereign and safe. Then it comes to a stop. The pneumatic gripping system of the active section extends from above, grips the container closure of the passive section and lifts it. Two to three air blasts indicate that the dosing element and target container are seamlessly joined. The flexible compensator of the passive section makes it possible to tare the scale positioned under the container precisely — independently of which product quantity it already holds. Then the filling of the bulk material begins. Once this process has come to an end, the active and passive sections detach from each other elegantly and cleanly and the container moves to the next filling station. What no one sees from the outside: Almost the entire filling process has been controlled by Clean Dock itself in a decentralised manner.

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“Our systems transport and dose all conceivable types of bulk materials,” says Frank Pahl, Head of Development of Azo in Osterburken/Germany, “This ranges from powdered milk and baby food ingredients, pharmaceuticals and detergents, to various plastics and pigments, for example, for the manufacturing of wet paints and varnishes. We could report on the variety of implemented applications from our four areas of business Food, Vital, Chem and Poly for days.”

With more than 1,000 employees worldwide, Azo has been making its technological mark in the field of bulk material handling for 70 years. One of the ­currently pioneering innovations is the ­latest generation of Clean Dock. With this system, the company is taking an important step towards fast commissioning, error reduction and increased safety in the filling of bulk materials to­gether with its long-term partner and automation expert Festo. In this context, Clean Dock itself has been conferred intelligence, decentralised control and autonomy in processes. Whilst the process control system takes care of the big picture in terms of control engineering, the modular electrical terminal CPX from Festo assumes the detailed processes of the docking and undocking procedures with its integrated controller CEC and valve terminal MPA.

Because Safety Has Highest Priority

“Bulk material handling is an art in itself that requires a lot of experience,” says Frank Pahl. “A handful of flour contains more particles than gravel on an entire lorry. In the handling of plastics, the infamous angel hair can arise; higher grinding degrees and finer powders with smaller particles in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals present us with new challenges daily. Bulk materials and bulk material technology are in motion. Our systems must handle these tasks without a problem — and they do. We are proud of that.”

Two of the greatest challenges of the bulk materials industry remain the prevention of cross-contamination and the unwanted release of dust. On the one hand, the objective is product purity and, on the other, employee protection. Pharmaceutical and food industries, in particular, but also the chemical industry in the past few years have increasingly put their focus on these topics. During the handling of bulk materials, dusts from allergenic foods, for example, can lead to health impairments in operating personnel. In addition, explosion prevention and protection play a large role. The high number of different containers for the transport and handling of raw materials, as well as intermediate and finished products, make things no easier for the designers of bulk material systems. Amongst other things, this includes FIBCs, drums, sacks and portable containers. As in other areas of industry, the factor of flexibility gains importance in bulk material handling.

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