ABB, improving energy efficiency everywhere

Handled With Care

The latest innovation at Roland Murten AG is pretzels packed individually by robot – ABB’s FlexPicker IRB 340. It’s fast and the number of broken items has been reduced from between 10 and 12 percent to about 4 percent.

What is small, brown, freckled like Pippi Longstocking, and very crispy? A Roland pretzel from Murten, of course. For years they have been popular with kids on long journeys, and the favored method of eating them used to be to dig around in the box for the whole ones and leave the broken ones until last.

Nowadays Roland Pretzels are sold in specially moulded plastic containers and six ABB robots have been making sure they are placed in these transparent containers with great care.

The FlexPicker, thanks to specially developed mechanics, lifts individual pretzels by their two loops and stacks them in the container until it is full. All this takes place at high speed – 134 kilograms of pretzels have to be packed every hour.

The plant never shuts down. Pretzels are made 24 hours a day in three shifts, and there’s a familiar tempting smell as soon as you enter the factory. The production process takes just 50 minutes, from the mixing of the ingredients – flour, malt and yeast – to the moment the pretzels are packed.

In the first stage of the process, the raw ingredients are piped across the factory, weighed, mixed and kneaded into dough. The dough is then fed in two kilogram lumps into one of the 12 machines that give the pretzels their traditional shape: The machine divides the dough into little balls, each about the size of a walnut, and then pulls and stretches them into long thin strings. With a final flourish the machine twists the string into the right shape and lays it on the conveyor belt.

It sounds complex, but is in fact surprisingly simple. Although the pretzels used to be made by hand by women piece-workers, they’ve been made by this same machine for the past 40 years. It is, sadly, not an ABB machine.

“It comes from the United States, and even today it’s a minor mechanical miracle,” says a proud production manager at Roland Murten AG. “It can twist 40 pretzels a minute.” Although repaired on several occasions, it refuses to give up the ghost.

That would be a disaster for the firm, because Roland Murten prides itself on being the only producer in Europe still twisting pretzels. All their competitors stamp them out of the dough.

The pretzels, which have now been evenly distributed onto the conveyor belt are dipped in a bath of sodium hydroxide and sprinkled either with coarse grains of salt or sesame seeds. Then it’s time for the oven, where they are baked for ten minutes at 350 degrees C.

This is where the six ABB robots, set up diagonally opposite each other, go to work. Each has a camera focused on the conveyor belt, which transmits the coordinates of each individual pretzel to a computer.

The computer programs the arm to lift each pretzel by its loops and lay it in a container. There are two challenges for this technology - first, the extraordinary precision of the picking, and, second, the calculation of the shortest distance.

The calculation is made by the PickMaster software program. The arm does not, as you might imagine, take the pretzels off the conveyor belt in the order in which they arrive, but instead, always takes the one nearest to it.

It always needs to know how many pretzels have already been placed in each container. Once the container is full, it is tipped and wrapped in plastic foil.

The company is delighted with this technology and the complex know-how behind it. The old packing system used air to suck the pretzels to the packaging, which was an extremely noisy business.

“The workers really appreciate how quiet these ABB robots are” says a representative of Roland Murten. There’s a further major advantage of the FlexPicker IRB 340: thanks to the precision of the technology, many fewer pretzels are broken than previously, which is important for the productivity and profitability of the whole enterprise (see “Fewer broken pretzels”).

Because there are fewer breakages, fewer people are needed to check the packaged pretzels and replace the broken ones by hand.

“Before we had to take two people off the other machines to do the quality control. Now everybody can carry on working at their normal station.”

This was also the case for the ABB Robot that was delivered and installed for packing one of Roland Murten’s other specialties – a puff pastry product, known as a Swiss Flûte or Murten-Stengeli.

This too was a small technical miracle. The robot can pick 100 of these extremely delicate puff pastry confections in one go and lay them on the conveyor belt.

The Flûtes fall into containers and are then weighed. If they are too light, individual Flûtes follow automatically. It’s a machine that Roland Murten is extremely happy with.

Thanks to ABB you will hardly find any broken Flûtes or pretzels any more – provided you handle them with care, of course. You’d have to drop a box of them on the floor in order for the kids to be able to pick out the whole ones, and leave the broken ones for last.

Organic power plant gets efficiency boost from ABB System 800xA

An ABB System 800xA installation in Europe’s largest organically- fuelled electricity generator will help improve energy efficiency at the 38.5 megawatt (MW) plant.

The power generating unit is owned by Energy Power Resources Limited in Thetford, U.K. The contract calls for ABB to provide an overview of the entire plant operation by transferring hard-wired data from existing panels into an 800xA control system, and installing a central control desk along with new operator work places.

ABB will integrate separate displays into a single large display, while its power generation information system enables a company-wide reporting system for processes and production that can be easily expanded to serve all EPR's power plants in future.

The upgrade is part of what ABB calls its ‘Evolution’ lifecycle support strategy, which allows owners and operators on tight budgets to upgrade existing equipment over time. It is designed to allow continuous operation while upgrades are achieved through a series of small, cost-effective steps, to meet the needs of changing business environments.

EPR is at the forefront of the renewable energy market in the UK, with a relatively diverse portfolio of plants fuelled by organic materials, or biomass. But this initiative still owes much to the chicken.

Each chicken produces 1.13 kilograms of litter in its life, a mixture of manure and bedding materials like wood shavings. The litter can be used as fuel for an alternative source of energy, as here, or it can be applied directly to land as a fertilizer for crops like corn or soybeans.

The litter's nutrient-rich elements can also be separated out to create more concentrated fertilizer pellets, which allow a slower release of nutrients into the soil and curb pollution from pathogens in the unrefined litter.

The installation for EPR is one of many ABB projects in the field of alternative energy, and the second Evolution-style project for EPR involving a biomass-fuelled power station.

Interconnecting control systems based on ABB's Extended Automation System 800xA, let the plant operators measure and optimize energy usage while documenting every aspect of production.

The System 800xA process portal extends the reach of traditional Distributed Control Systems to provide total plant management, including production management, safety, discrete and advanced control, information management, smart instrumentation, smart drives and motor control centers.

The good life doesn't take a lot of energy

With the Busch-Jaeger Living Space concept, ABB has launched a new generation of sophisticated building control systems that stylize individual room environments and cut energy consumption – lighting, heating and air conditioning – by as much as 60 percent.

German-based Busch-Jaeger, a wholly owned subsidiary of ABB, recently launched to great industry acclaim its new Living Space concept for intelligent, energy-efficient building control.

Awarded the prestigious Red Dot prize for the “Best of the Best” international product designs in 2008, the two sophisticated devices that make up the concept – Busch-priON and Busch ComfortTouch – have set a new benchmark for user-friendly building control systems.

Living Space seamlessly (and uniquely) integrates lighting, climate control, Internet-based communications, home entertainment and security systems into a single system controlled by elegant wall panels that use intuitive color coding and symbols for ease of use.

A key feature is the ability to control the light, temperature and consumer electronics in each room either individually or collectively, to create stylized living spaces at the touch of a button.

This ability to optimize the light and temperature of each room can reduce total energy consumption by as much as 60 percent. Users can see precisely how much energy they are using at the moment. The control panel depicts consumption in clear diagrams.

Busch ComfortTouch is the first building control system to display and control IP- and LAN- or WLAN-based applications – Internet sites, e-mails, video clips, music – thereby integrating communications and entertainment with advanced building control in a single integrated unit.

Living Space is available for homes, hotels, office buildings and conference centers.

ABB motors and drives save hospital $400,000 a year

A new fan system powered and controlled by energy-efficient ABB motors and drives has reduced the annual energy bill of a Swedish hospital by $400,000 and reduced fan maintenance requirements by 90 percent.

Ryhov Hospital in the city of Jönköping in central Sweden serves a population of 140,000 and employs 3,500 people. The hospital is one of the largest in the country outside the capital, Stockholm.

By replacing an aging and inefficient fan system with 30 new fans powered and controlled by ABB high-efficiency EFF1 motors and ACH550 standard drives, the hospital reduced the energy consumption of each fan by almost 30 percent, from 65.2 kilowatts (kW) to 46.4 kW.

“The reduced energy consumption of one fan equates to a saving of $13,100 a year at today’s prices,” says Bengt Jönsson, chief engineer for the real estate management unit of the regional health administration. “This is a massive saving. Multiplied by 30 fans it works out at a total annual reduction in energy costs of about $400,000.”

Maintenance requirements have also been dramatically reduced.

“The new fan system requires about one-tenth the maintenance of the old one,” says Jönsson. “Not only do we benefit from significant energy savings and reduced environmental impact, we have the added bonus of much lower maintenance costs and a payback time of only two years.”

ABB EFF1 motors are rated in the highest efficiency category for motors sold in Europe.

They yield high energy savings, are exceptionally reliable, waste less energy as heat, and can operate at a much lower temperature at full load than low-efficiency models.

The award-winning ACH550 standard drive is the first dedicated AC drive for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) applications and the only drive on the market to meet the new European standard for electromagnetic compatibility and limited harmonics.

More than 300,000 ACH550 HVAC drives have been sold worldwide. The drive is part of the ABB standard drives family, more than one million of which have been manufactured to date.

ABB ( is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 120,000 people.

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