Storage containers used to transport cheese to and from Belgomilk’s new high-bay storage move on an oval track. Opting for this unique design instead of a roller conveyor served to avoid dust. One great challenge in this connection was localizing the containers. Using the OLM100 linear measurement sensor from SICK based on bar codes allows localizing all of the containers precisely, even in curves.
Ripening is among the most important stages of cheese making. The procedure, which may take a month or several years, determines the taste and appearance of the cheese. However, the ripening period entails much more than merely allowing the cheese to rest: the temperature, the degree of moisture, and air circulation have to be monitored very carefully, with all varieties of cheese undergoing processing twice a week. In industrial cheese making, as practiced at Belgomilk in the Belgian town of Moorslede, innovative solutions are required to this end. In recent years, the company has grown considerably, primarily due to opening up new markets. This development necessitates innovative solutions. For instance, Belgomilk has invested in a new high-bay storage for the cheese ripening process.
Shuttle containers instead of roller conveyors
Belgomilk asked Ceratec for assistance in building the new ripening chambers. Pipes with air holes run through the storage areas, ensuring even distribution of the air. The cheese containers are transported continuously to and from using the storage and retrieval machines. In this storage facility, the cheese is taken twice a week to the automatic processing lines, removed from the shuttle containers, turned, treated, and subsequently transported back again for ripening. “We noticed that the metal racks together with the roller conveyors could easily generate steel dust. Therefore, we required a container and fork system in order to lift and set down the racks with the cheese properly. We conceived of a design that involved using several shuttle containers at the same time, without them impeding each other,” explains Mario Dessein, Manager Technology and Development at Belgomilk
Precise position determination
What Mario Dessein had in mind was a system of rails on which the shuttle containers would move and in doing so, travel on an oval track by the ripening chambers, the automatic processing lines, and the packaging and shipping stations. It was imperative to solve the problem of localizing the containers. “We wanted to know the exact position of the individual containers at any time,” explains Mario Dessein. The curves posed a great challenge, as most of the common methods were not practicable in the curves.
OLM100 linear measurement sensor in use
Belgomilk and Ceratec solved the problem using the OLM100 linear measurement sensor from SICK. In this system, a strip containing bar codes is attached over the entire length of the line. An image-processing system, mounted to each shuttle container, reads the bar codes, enabling it to determine the absolute position of the container. Since the camera visualizes several bar codes, the system is extremely reliable, even if a code is damaged. Moreover, if production volume grows even further, it is possible to place additional shuttle containers on the rails. Doing so allows increasing the throughput of the transport system without necessitating any special adjustments.