iPad control:  the next wave in equipment advancements

From news sites to emails to literature, the iPad seems to have infiltrated the way we interact with our personal technology – it was only a matter of time before this innovation hit our working spaces as well. The coffee industry will now be among the first to benefit from this innovation, as Modern Process Equipment (MPE) have released what may be the first iPad controlled industrial coffee grinder. This configuration allows the grinder’s operator to be mobile and remote, that is they can walk around and away from the grinder and throughout the factory with full touchscreen access to the granulizer for monitoring and control.  The idea for the iPad controls, explains MPE’s Director of Sales Scott Will, came from a client in the chemical industry. The person was operating a large plant that was four stories high, and ran from a central control room. The operators kept their distance from the grinder, Will explains, not only because of the size of the plant, but from an unfortunately by-product of their operations: a terrible smell.
With operators doing their best to avoid the plant, the granulizers were controlled whenever possible from the main operating room, and they only approached the granulizers when absolutely necessary. To limit their time spent next to the machines, they would use their iPads to access technical drawings and electrical schematics. This way, they could quickly troubleshoot any issues and get out of there as soon as possible. While fortunately the coffee industry doesn’t suffer from the same malaise of smells, Will notes that remote control access through an iPad offers many advantages in large scale coffee operations.
Remote access is currently available on any of their automatic grinders with a PLC control package, those are generally grinders that handle 1000+ kilograms of coffee an hour. These grinders are all located in large-scale plants, at companies such as Nestle, Kraft and Starbucks, that use central control rooms. For operators who are running hundreds of pieces of equipment, the iPad controls can save a lot of time and the effort of running between equipment. “With some plants that have 10 of these machines all lined up in a row, you can select which machine to control through a single central source,” says Will. “The trend is always to make things better and easier for the operator and for mechanics, and that’s what these portable controls do.”  In trouble shooting issues like grind control, operators can be right next to the machine as they adjust their grind, and can immediately see the difference. “In terms of reality of use, operators can change anything on the machine and can be right at it to check the difference, not just looking at it from a control room,” Will says.  In addition to allowing central control, the MPE application also provides access to all MPE operating manuals, supplier component manuals and drawings. In troubleshooting, this can save valuable time in returning to work stations to check manuals, and can save on paper in avoiding the need for hard copies. Where manuals aren’t available for either MPE equipment and parts, or their sub-suppliers, the application offers web access so the information can be found online. The company is also offering training videos available through the iPad, where new operators can learn from the videos actions like how to change a machine bearing while they are right next to the machine. Will notes that as far as he knows this is the first such iPad controlled grinder, however the trend of using this technology to control machines is something that he’s noticed in the larger market.
“It’s all about making lives easier in terms of automation,” he says. “These days the iPad does everything you can get from the traditional touch screens and more. Plus, these are small devices and inexpensive, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this.”

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