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Schneider Electric provides interface solution

11 March 2010

When Nicholl Food Packaging realised the need to replace the Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) on the production lines at its Cannock production plant, a key consideration was the requirement for open connectivity.

Open connectivity was necessary to ensure the replacements could be easily integrated with the existing PLCs. The company found the solution in Schneider Electric’s Magelis HMI range.

One of the UK’s largest food packaging companies, Nicholl Food Packaging is a specialist manufacturer of aluminium foil containers and catering disposables for all sectors of the food industry. Its 10-acre Cannock site houses the most up-to-date production facility in Europe and its production is handled by a large number of electronically controlled presses. The old HMIs and existing PLCs were installed a number of years ago and because the new HMIs would need to provide the vital control and monitoring capability they had to be completely compatible with these existing PLCs.

It was the need to replace these unreliable HMIs which led engineering manager Joe Taylor to Schneider Electric. He explains: “We were experiencing ongoing problems with failure of our existing HMIs, some apparently caused by machine vibration. We spent a long time trying to rectify the problem but were eventually left with no alternative but to look for replacements. A key consideration was the need to integrate the new product with the existing systems and the open connectivity of Schneider Electric’s Magelis HMI range met this need.”

A further advantage of the Magelis HMIs was the flexible programming which provided a seamless transition between the old HMIs and the new ones as Joe Taylor explains: “Our previous HMIs had physical function buttons whereas the Schneider Electric products have touch screens. However, we were able to configure the screen to match exactly the layout that our operatives were familiar with, which meant that we did not have the time or inconvenience of re-training to the new models. That made it a very smooth transition for us.”

Production at Nicholl Food Packaging is organised on a three-shift basis with operations running continuously from 10.00pm on Sundays to 10.00pm on Fridays. Using the HMI’s web-gate feature, Joe Taylor is able to log onto the production system from any computer remotely in the UK or indeed the world, to monitor operations and check on any faults reported by the system.

The Schneider Electric range of Magelis HMIs offers a choice of touchscreen options in panel sizes from 3.8in to 15in. The accompanying Vijeo Designer configuration software enables fast simple processing of operator dialogue projects developed around six configurable windows and offers comprehensive application management tools.

Compact and robust, the Magelis HMIs are providing reliable service at Nicholl Food Packaging and have significantly reduced downtime. To date, some 18 Magelis XBT GT4330 HMIs have been installed, including one that has been built into a machine made at the Cannock site for the company’s site in France. Joe Taylor plans to roll out the replacement programme to all 46 of the pressing lines in Cannock and says: “The Schneider Electric Magelis HMIs have excellent graphics and we have the scope to do a lot more with them. When we have completed the replacement programme we will have more opportunities to add new functions to our systems.”

Dave Collier from Schneider Electric added: “HMIs are fast becoming an essential part of plant management and are now commonplace in most large production lines but new compact terminals are making them ideal for smaller applications too. However, some managers, despite being keen to utilise the benefits of this technology, are unaware of how simple it is to incorporate the system into the plant’s existing automation. Nicholl Food Packaging on the other hand was quick to realise how easily they can be installed and configured to meet their individual needs.”

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