Small food company saves with digital automation
For nearly 20 years, Sydney company Bowles Veal Glaze, part of TRE Food Productions, has been producing quality cooking stocks that are the foundation of quality sauces and dishes used in many restaurants in Australia.
Over time, the business expanded its range of stocks and sauces to include a chicken jus, a lamb jus and a red wine jus, as well as keeping its traditional favourite veal glaze product.
Old, noisy equipment a burden
Having been in operation for so long, Bowles was running its food production operations on 18-year-old machinery. Besides the fact the system was close to breaking after its long run, other problems were beginning to present themselves. A large part of the existing system ran on compressed air, and noise and running cost factors were beginning to become a sore point.
“Bowles’ production facilities are situated in a residential area, and the noise of running the compressor every five minutes to open the valves was getting too much,” said Binh Pham, Director. “We obviously did things to try and bring that down — we brought in a big air holding tank — but at the end of the day, there was just too much ongoing noise from the compressor.
“The problem was that much of the equipment, including the air compressor, was outside. It meant the neighbours had to put up with it running all night, and we knew how loud an air compressor could be.”
The precision of the machinery was also proving to be an issue. Running on air, rather than electricity, it was not easy to accurately control how much pressure was going through the valves each time. And although the system had served them well, it was nearing the end of its life.
“Back in the day when we first got the system, it was probably amazing. But it started to have issues because of the amount of workload we had put it through, and with the age it was, it was starting to fail in little aspects of the cooking,” said Pham. “We also thought we should look into bringing down the cost of running the air.”
Digitalisation offers an affordable path forward
Bowles approached Bürkert, a company that has been in the industry since 1946, specialising in the measurement and control of liquid and gas systems.
Bürkert analysed the equipment, including the means and costs for automating — easing the road for Bowles to digitalise. In order to meet Pham’s goals, Bürkert offered an all-electric solution that met all of the necessary safety aspects of the application, including hygienic and HACCP requirements. The system offered full automation and monitoring using a colour touch HMI, replacing the buttons and switches of the old system.
Binh Pham, Director Bowles, Nelson Chymiak, National Engineering Manager for Bürkert
One of the problems facing small-to-medium enterprises in the food industry is that the cost of automation can be seen to be more of a stumbling block than it is for the larger food manufacturing companies. However, Bürkert was able to provide a solution that was a worthwhile investment for Bowles, saving the company money over the near term.
“When the package came back, we realised that it was very feasible to go completely electric and eliminate the noisy compressor. The resulting savings in running costs was going to pay off the cost of buying and installing the equipment three-fold over a five-year period,” said Pham.
The Bürkert solution included its Type 3003 motorised actuators, Type 3361 electric 2-way ball valves, a Type 8137 radar level sensor, and two RTD temperature sensors. The ball valves control and regulate the main steam supply to the system while the motorised actuators provide on/off control to each of the cooking vessel’s heating coils. The RTD temperature sensors monitor the overall product temperature, while the radar sensor is used to maintain the optimum water level in the vessel during the cooking process.
Riding out the pandemic
But then there were other setbacks. Pham had just purchased the new equipment when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“COVID-19 whacked us a big one, you know,” said Pham. “We produce products for restaurants, catering and airlines, and many of those looked like closing their doors.”
Pham sat on the equipment, riding out the transition period, before returning with Bürkert to complete the automation.
“When we saw we would be OK and that we were still going to survive we decided to go ahead with the installation,” he said.
Easy installation lowers costs further
During the process, Bowles hired its own electrical contractor, and with Bürkert’s expertise and guidance, the machinery was able to be set up efficiently.
“Nelson Chymiak, National Engineering Manager for Bürkert, came out and met our electricians on site. He ran them through everything and if they had any questions Nelson would come out or be able to fix it on the phone,” he added.
Another problem Bowles faced with its old system was the cost of parts replacement and lack of technical expertise on such an old system.
“This new system is easy for replacing parts — if something does breaks down, you don’t need a degree to go and fix it yourself,” said Pham. “The cost-saving in that alone is brilliant because you can order the part, they’ll have it to you that day if not the next morning, and then you can just replace it yourself.”
The new system has also given Bowles scalability it didn’t have before.
“Let’s say in the future we want to add more kettles. With the new system we will be able to add screens onto that one system, and you can just add instead of rebuilding,” he said.
With this new system, Pham sees a bright feature for Bowles despite its main customers being halted by COVID-19.
“I see the future going forward with ease. We know what we can build up now, and we don’t need to ever re-invest more money into setting up different systems for different applications,” he said. “We can just use the open digital system we have and control it from there.”
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