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Introduction to BatchMATE™ & Its Applications

From the beverages and snacks we consume to the treats we feed our pets, most consumer products are made in large quantities in a manufacturing facility. These industrial facilities can generate thousands of pounds of product per hour to meet consumer demands. In many cases, nutritional components like vitamins and minerals are added to these products. These components are usually weighed manually since they may comprise only a small fraction of the total weight of the ingredients. When any ingredient is scaled by hand, it is fundamentally important to have a system in place that guides an operator through the weighing process and records all pertinent information cleanly and efficiently. Weighing, recording and displaying the information for critical hand-add ingredients is where BatchMATE™ a new product from NorthWind Technical Services, truly shines.

The BatchMATE™ screen above is actively weighing 10lbs. of the first ingredient in a mixture. An operator will fill a container until weigh is within tolerance before able to accept and move to the next ingredient.

BatchMATE™ is a batching system developed by NorthWind to aid in the scaling of micro ingredients. Many bulk ingredients are weighed with industrial equipment using pneumatic conveying and mechanical handling machinery. While large equipment can handle large quantities of product efficiently, management of “micro” batches can be difficult. Micro mixtures are commonly composed of individual ingredients that weigh less than 15 lbs. BatchMATE™ offers many features specifically designed for accurately working with small mixtures. These include: multi-scale capability, printed labels, barcode integration, user security, Ethernet capabilities, standard reports, and components aimed for different environmental ratings.

This illustration above depicts two mixtures, 10.005 lb and 50.01 lb. When the larger mixture cannot  be scaled in a 12 lb capacity scale, BatchMATE can allow the user to configure a separate scale of 60lb to accommodate the larger mixture.

Multi-scale capability is important when encountering different ingredients that have strict requirements that differ for each other, factors include scale accuracy, resolution, and size. To illustrate: a target vitamin mixture may require a minimum of 0.5% scale error,  the mixture contains a total weight of 10 lbs. and its individual smallest ingredient size is 1 lb. In this specific scenario, a scale platform with a max capacity of 12lbs and 0.005lb resolution will achieve the target. If the same system is also used to weigh a second larger vitamin mixture with a total weight of 50 lbs. and the smallest ingredient size is 15lbs, then a larger scale is required. In this new case, a separate scale with 60 lbs. capacity and 0.01 lbs. resolution would meet both tolerance and size requirements.  BatchMATE™ can be configured with multiple scales of different capacities and resolutions to maintain specific ingredient tolerances. This allows for versatile configurations and opens up the system’s use to different sets of ingredients.

The collage shows the list of necessary ingredients (Top), step 4 in the sequence indicating the operator which ingredient to scale (Middle), and the alarm message warning the operator the wieght is over the specific tolerance (Bottom).

Operator guidance plays a crucial role in the accuracy of every batch. The system lists all of the ingredients necessary for the mixture, it allows the operator to gather all of the necessary ingredients prior to operation. The step-by-step instructions will guide the operator throughout the weighing process, messages on the screen will prompt the operator to clean the scale area, scan any ingredients and lots numbers, place the container on the scale, and how much material to place on the scale.

The label above shows one of the standard labels that can be printed through BatchMATE. Labels that display ingredient summary can be placed on each finished batch for lot tracking.

Printed labels are necessary when it involves quality assurance and ingredient tracking of a product. BatchMATE™ comes integrated with a standard version of BatchLOGIX™, which allows a quality assurance representative to reference a printed label and use it as an entry point to research details on a specific batch. BatchMATE™ is configured to print labels at the end of every batch. The label can be used to search the batch’s date and time, batch ID, ingredient setpoints and amounts, lot information, and final total weight. When applicable, labels can be configured to interface with existing blending systems for full plant-wide lot tracking.  Printers can be configured to different label sizes and can accommodate different paper qualities for a variety of applications. For instance, in food grade facilities, it is preferred to have a direct thermal transferred label that contains no tints with an all temperature adhesive

The bar codes above display bar codes for an ingredient used in batching and an operators ID tag. These bar codes can be used to integrate efficiency and ease while maintaining lot tracking.

Barcode integration provides ease of access, data collection and security. The BatchMATE™ station allows the user to store ingredient information, including system name, part number, density, manufacturer, and custom description. Once the ingredients have been entered, the user can print a label associated with that ingredient. When the recipe calls for a specific ingredient, the system can request a designated barcode to be scanned before it proceeds to the scaling step. This barcode can either be for the ingredient itself or for particular personnel trained to handle the ingredient. BatchMATE™ can generate barcodes in many formats including some of the most popular such as EAN-13, Ean-8, UPC-A, UPC-E, CODE 128, and Code 39.

The BatchMATE™ screen above shows the menu used to create new users. The Administrator would enter the login name, credentials, and a password. A tag can also be printed from this screen, allowing the user to access security protected features through a scanner.

User security is integrated with BatchMATE™ as users possessing different access roles. New users can be added by an administrator to identify each operator. Each user’s information includes a username and password, employee first and last name, and an ID number. The employee ID code becomes crucial if a barcode scanner is used for security login or material handling. Each

user can be assigned different permissions, tools, and privileges tailored to the individual operator’s functions. Permissions that can be granted include recipe and ingredient management, schedule maintenance, report generation, and batching access.

Ethernet communications is a growing networking tool that has become the industry standard in many plants. Ethernet networks allow for greater distances, faster data links, and detailed equipment diagnostics. BatchMATE™ is available with Ethernet equipped devices such as scanners, scales, interfaces, and printers. Ethernet scanners offer flexibility in location and movement. These scanners are equipped with a charging base that communicates to BatchMATE™ through Ethernet IP protocol. The scanner sends readings to the base through long range radio signal with a typical range of 100m at 910MHz. With a standard label printer, the distance of where the printer can be mounted is limited to the distance of the USB cable. However, Ethernet printers prove useful especially if a printer needs to be mounted in a remote location further away from the BatchMATE™ station. As discussed earlier, BatchMATE™ can be configured to support multiple scales. When these scales are configured though an Ethernet network, they can also be placed further away from each other on standalone platforms closer to the ingredients to be scaled. This is the most efficient configuration when the space and size of the ingredient totes is limiting. In addition, the scanner base, scales, and printers can be mounted further from the BatchMATE™ station since Ethernet’s communication has a distance limit of approximately 100m using a CAT6 cable.

Standard reports provide a history report for each ingredient. BatchLOGIX™ identifies all ingredients to an estimated inventory with lot numbers. As each ingredient is scaled in BatchMATE™, the amount of ingredient remaining gets subtracted from the estimated inventory.  This provides the means to track down what each mixture/batch is composed of and which lot it came from. All of the ingredient history is stored in a database within BatchMATE™ which allows for easy generation of reports for a series of batches (referred to a campaign) or for each batch individually. To easily find a specific batch summary, the database can be filtered based on criteria including final product name, ingredient name within a recipe, date/time, and an individual batch or campaign ID.

BatchMATE™ is a new product that greatly expands the possibilities for many micro-batching applications. Integration with plant wide operations as a part of a larger batching system is now possible. It also contains, features involving operator interaction that are more straight forward, and security integration is supported with barcode scanners (RFID reader capabilities will be added soon). Reports enhance monitoring capabilities and record crucial data necessary for quality control and process efficiency. Tailored for many industrial environments and equipped with the latest technology, BatchMATE™ will revolutionize the way micro ingredients are handled.