Inform and robotize
Robert-Jan Bannink is Operations Director at Exter. The company produces process flavors from plant-based proteins, meaning vegan flavoring agents. It’s effective. Exter’s business expands twice the size every five-year period, states Bannink. In combination with the many innovations the company makes comes the need to control the process; complex products and product packages, with more focus on the output. Automation seems to be the solution.
We divide automation into two components. The first one being computerization. How can we manage all the data in our systems? Well, we bring all our data to the controlsystems by means of SAP, such that the controlsystems monitor the process and send out signals in case something is off. Adding to that, we are currently designing a new factory. Considering the shortage in the labor market, and the non-ergonomic core of our process, we are busy mechanizing – meaning robotizing. To the extent that certain actions will not have to be performed by men anymore. It allows us to improve the working conditions as well as the process efficiency. In short: how much more efficient can it be?
An example? We pack almost everything in boxes of 25 kilos; we bring the product into a powder form, which then is packed in a sealed bag in boxes. We ship to the entire world. The packaging is carried out by one of our production cooks. The intention is to simplify the entire process with the help of a packaging machine.
Another example? The product we make at a certain part of the process, takes on a paste-like shape on a platter. This paste is put in the oven. When the paste is dry, it takes on the consistency of a cookie. Someone needs to turn the bowl upside down, give it a knock, to then place it in the mill so the fabrication of powder can take place. A robot can simplify this whole process. If they are the same repetitive actions, and often that is the case, then you can automate.
Step by step, we are automating. Currently, we find ourselves in the process of computerizing the project. It should be up and running by the end of this year.
Lastly, I’d like to say that we have a long-term relationship with our external automation specialists. They know our processes better than we do. It tremendously helps in bringing automation to a higher level.
This column was originally published in EVMI