In 1843, a grist mill began grinding grain alongside Monocacy Creek, near present-day Birdsboro, PA. In 1871, the Brown family started manufacturing livestock feed at the mill, eventually growing their enterprise to encompass seven divisions and four manufacturing facilities and shipping animal feed, agricultural seed and other products to New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania. By 2011, the need for expansion prompted F. M. Brown’s Sons to construct a new feed mill.
“After looking at several options, [we saw] an online video detailing the bagging robot named Andy,” recalls mill manager Phil Brown. "From that moment, we knew that Premier Tech had the technology we were looking for. Premier Tech had the complete package … We wanted a bagging line that could be controlled by a single operator and produce excellent bags that stacked nicely onto pallets.”
In addition, the equipment needed to handle various in-house and custom formulations of the three kinds of feed produced by the mill: pellets/crumbles, coarse-textured and meal. Bagging meal-type feed traditionally has been a dusty process, so the mill also needed the new equipment to reduce fugitive dust.
In order to achieve the fine weight accuracy and bagging speed required by the mill, a net-weigh scale and feed belt were the appropriate choice. The equipment selected included a model E55B belt feeder driven by a two-speed motor, a model E55NXT net-weigh scale, a PTH single-spout open-mouth bagger, an ‘Andy’ Fanuc bag transfer robot, and a model AR-215 robotic palletizer.
The belt feeder transfers material from the hopper to the net-weigh scale, with vibration supplied to the weigh hopper to keep material from separating. This feature also prevents potentially sticky, molasses-containing feed from clumping. Additional control of sticky material is provided by the belt feeder’s bottom belt scraper, which is actuated during the automatic cleaning cycle to ensure that no residual stickiness contaminates a subsequent run.
“We have not encountered any issues with molasses buildup,” reports Brown.
Manual cleaning is also an option, one made easy by the design of the feed belt. “Our operator … says the feed belt area is very nice because of the rubber scrapers on the front and back of the belt,” Brown continues. “The access lids are very easy to open and the operator can reach all areas of feed residue with ease. The bagger spout is very easy to clean as well. The large door on the side of the spout is accessible with a ladder. Our operator has plenty of room to reach his arm inside and scrape away any residue.”
During the line’s bulk-and-dribble feeding, material accumulates on the scale. As the material nears its specified weight, the scale directs the feeder to change from bulk flow to dribble and the
feeder’s catch gate starts closing to reduce flow to a dribble. Complete closing of the gate is actuated by pneumatic cylinders as soon as the target weight is reached.
Bagging without material loss
While material accumulates on the scale, the PTH single-spout open-mouth bagger places an empty bag on the filling spout. Material is gravity-fed from the scale, through the spout, and into the bag. Then, the ‘Andy’ Fanuc robot removes the filled bag without losing control of the bag’s gussets — an inherent risk when performed by human employees and some other automatic baggers — and transfers the bag to the closing system to be sewn shut. Once closed, the bag is conveyed through a bag flattener and onward to the robotic palletizing cell.
“The current output BPM is a significant improvement over our old equipment,” reports Brown. Not only has the new equipment improved output by approximately 50%, but it “has significantly reduced the amount of dust our employees are exposed to,” he adds. “The design [of the bagger] keeps the open bag snug to the spout when material is discharged from the scale into the bag.”