Automation changes the game

Automation is developing rapidly and, thanks to increasing digitalization, it offers more and more opportunities to achieve sustainability goals, increase process efficiency, minimize downtimes, trace products, and optimize quality. Retrofits and software updates make existing systems fit for the future and ensure security.

Automation is the invisible force that propels our daily lives – without it, our vehicles would stall, our washing machines would cease to work, and even a simple scroll on a cell phone would be impossible. From household chores to complex high-tech processes, automation is seamlessly integrated into our world, often unnoticed.

Automation breathes life into machinery. Behind every automated action is a sophisticated interplay of mechanics, electrical engineering, and software. Consider the seemingly simple act of using a car key fob to open the trunk; it opens as if by magic, yet this convenience is choreographed by software issuing commands, a motor powering the process, and a cable to pass on the electricity that sets the door in motion. This interaction is repeated for every other automated function, adding up to several kilometers of cable in an average car alone.

automation automation A Bühler inspector carries out a functional check on a control cabinet, in this case a five-roll refiner retrofit for chocolate.

In a Bühler plant, automation operates based on the same principle. It’s an integral component of every solution. Each machine requires an automation system including control cabinet and software. To network and control all the machines together, an overarching plant control system is also required. Bühler has already installed line or plant control systems over 5,000 times worldwide. As the possibilities for increasing efficiency, quality assurance, energy savings, water savings, waste avoidance, and product traceability are constantly increasing thanks to new automation solutions, it’s good to know that these can also be installed on existing systems as retrofits. “Many of our customers are enthusiastic about this option, as it ensures that their investments are future-proof and it also pays off economically,” says Othmar Oeler, Head of Automation Platform Development at Bühler.

By installing better drives, customers can achieve energy savings of 20 to 30 percent. Another important aspect is the user-friendliness of the new automation solutions. “Today’s systems are designed to be more intuitive and greatly reduce the amount of training required for new employees,” says Oeler. “In times where finding qualified specialists is hard, this is becoming an important criterion.” Customers’ requirements are very diverse. This is why Bühler covers the entire spectrum of automation solutions, from simple automation systems to innovative, integrated automation solutions for the entire plant. This customizable approach enables customers to select a solution customized to their specific requirements.

Digitalization as a driver

While just a few years ago there was speculation about how quickly the Internet of Things would catch on, Industry 4.0 is now an integral part of everyday production. In every solution that Bühler has sold recently, machines can be networked via a cloud system, enabling services that offer many advantages. For example, by making use of connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics, it is possible to increase productivity and sustainability, and to reduce operating costs.

Bühler uses machine learning to further develop its automation solutions. Algorithms, for example, can be used to predict where and when breakdowns will occur. This allows customers to plan preventive maintenance work without unplanned interruptions to production.

We strive to enrich the field of automation with state-of- the-art solutions using technologies that will soon set the standard in the industry.

Othmar Oeler, Head of Automation Platform Development at Bühler

Another major advantage is the possibility of remote support. Bühler has 500 highly qualified engineers worldwide who provide remote support to customers around the clock. Each of them receives 15 days of training every year to ensure they are always up to date on the latest developments. Customers can benefit from remote maintenance solutions using the latest smart glass technology and augmented reality software.

Bühler systems have a service life of 30-50 years. In the past, the automation system was retrofitted after 15 years at the latest. Today, with new technological advances, it makes sense to constantly update the automation system to benefit from new functionalities and safety updates. Bühler has therefore put together various service packages in which different modules can be selected according to the customer’s requirements.

With Remote Care, customers choose how much support they require via remote maintenance, while with System Care, automation experts analyze and diagnose the system annually to achieve the best possible performance and to ensure system security. With System Upgrade, the system is always upgraded to the latest version. Services such as Replay are seamlessly integrated into the automation systems and are also an important part of the overall package. The Bühler Insights platform enables access via a tablet or smartphone, so that the system can also be monitored while on the move.

With a Service Agreement in place under which Bühler provides maintenance, we can concentrate fully on oat production and value creation, knowing that we have Bühler’s constant support for any needs that arise.

Mikel Pomes, Plant Manager at Harivenasa

All these services can be provided under a Service Agreement, which gives customers the option of having all automation maintenance and safety updates handled by Bühler. Service Agreements also enable them to benefit from the full range of digital services offered by the Bühler Insights platform.

More and more customers are taking advantage of these opportunities, for example Harivenasa, a Bühler customer based in Spain that produces and markets oat products. “With a Service Agreement in place under which Bühler provides maintenance, we can concentrate fully on oat production and value creation, knowing that we have Bühler’s constant support for any needs that arise,” says Mikel Pomes, Plant Manager at Harivenasa. “Thanks to our collaboration, we have been able to achieve important milestones. One example is downtime, which we reduced by 2 percent thanks to digitalization and continuous improvements. And thanks to fully automated production reports tailored to our needs, we have also saved nine hours a week in administration work.”

A focus on cybersecurity

The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, driven by new threats and regulatory developments. Regulations for the secure operation of critical security infrastructures are increasing worldwide. Upcoming legislation such as the European Union’s Network and Information Security Directive 2 (NIS2) and the Cyber Resilience Act are just two examples. The responsibilities of providers and suppliers are increasing and require robust cybersecurity measures, incident response capabilities, and transparency in risk management practices.

Security is not just a technology issue, but a holistic endeavor that requires a multi-layered approach.

Patrick Zimmermann, Expert Information Security Specialist at Bühler

Compared to many other providers in the field of security, Bühler has the advantage that the company itself is active in production. “As a technology company, we know how important it is to protect our systems, data, and, above all, the trust of our customers. Every day, we face cybersecurity risks ranging from cyberattacks to simple human error. However, our commitment to security gives us the ability to overcome these challenges with resilience and confidence,” explains Patrick Zimmermann, Expert Information Security Specialist at Bühler. “Cybersecurity is not just a technology issue, but a holistic endeavor that requires a strategic multi-layered approach. That’s why we are committed to investing in implementing robust and advanced security measures throughout our entire organization, which include everything from cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technical controls to very comprehensive user awareness training programs.”

Bühler also draws on its wealth of experience when developing products. The development and operating processes of solutions such as the Mercury MES plant automation system and the Bühler Insights central platform for connected solutions meets high security standards and are certified to the ISO 27001:2013 standard for cybersecurity.

Through high-level language-based programming, the use of AI, and easily scalable process visualizations, Bühler is actively driving trends in automation to enrich customers’ processes with state-of-the-art solutions.

Daniel Baier, Senior Team Manager R&D Automation Grinding & Dispersing at Bühler

Bühler has the expertise to support customers in analyzing and implementing cybersecurity improvements. “We can also act as a sparring partner and hold informal discussions on cybersecurity issues or compliance with NIS2 requirements,” Zimmermann says. “We are in active contact with our customers and are happy to advise them.”

The benefits of automation and retrofits become tangible with specific customer examples. Molino Quaglia in Italy is one of many companies that has upgraded its automation system from WinCos to Mercury MES plant automation system. Now Molino Quaglia benefits from a fully automated, digitalized mill that produces up to 400 tonnes of flour per day and runs autonomously at weekends. At the same time, energy consumption and food waste have been reduced.

Bühler carried out one of its largest retrofits at chocolate manufacturer Lotte in Japan. Many machines were retrofitted, including roller mills, conching machines, and mixers. More efficient drives, modern touch-panel controls and state-of-the-art, fully-fledged safety devices were installed, including safety barriers and sensors that eliminate any hazardous situations and effectively protect machine operators.

Bühler works closely with its customers to develop solutions that move the industry forward. The Swiss animal feed manufacturer UFA co-developed Bühler’s PelletingPro service and uses it to achieve consistently uniform quality in the final product, saving 20 percent of energy in the pelleting process at its plant in Herzogenbuchsee in Switzerland. UFA is now installing the PelletingPro Service as a retrofit on all its systems.

Bühler is working on the latest developments to make the automation of machines and systems even simpler, smarter, and more networked. “Through high-level language-based programming at PLC level, the use of AI, and easily scalable browser-based process visualizations, Bühler is actively driving current trends in automation to enrich customers’ processes with state-of-the-art solutions,” explains Daniel Baier, Senior Team Manager R&D Automation Grinding & Dispersing at Bühler.

Gent Jakupi Gent Jakupi Gent Jakupi, Automation Technician at Bühler attaches electrical equipment to a mounting plate.

Artificial intelligence will play an ever-greater role by enabling machines to learn and make decisions independently. This means that, over time, machines will become better at optimizing and adapting tasks, ultimately leading to more efficient production. Bühler also wants to ensure that all machines and devices can communicate with each other without any issues. “To achieve this, we rely on a communication standard called OPC-UA, which enables the smooth exchange of information between different devices,” says Baier.

Ensuring that every process can be monitored and controlled through user-friendly, web-based applications is also vital. These applications can be easily accessed via the internet browser on computers or mobile devices and can be flexibly adapted to the size and specific requirements of a company as necessary. “We strive to enrich the field of automation with state-of-the-art solutions using technologies that will soon set the standard in the industry,” explains Oeler. But close exchange with customers is essential. “Please get in touch with us. We are very interested in shaping the future of industry together with you.”

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