Automation
TECH FLASH

Miniature, automated chocolate factory assembles bars for guests

September 25, 2012
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Hershey's Chocolate World HMI
Each step in the process is visible and virtually seamless—a testament to the innovative design behind this first-of-its-kind chocolate industry attraction. Source: Rockwell Automation.

Each year, 3 million people visit HERSHEY’S Chocolate World attraction, and many can choose to become custom candy makers when they visit Hershey, PA. From the young to the young-at-heart, people line up daily at HERSHEY’S Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction at The Hershey Company’s corporate visitor attraction.

Designed to immerse guests in the chocolate-crafting process, the interactive experience allows guests to design and manufacture their very own sweet sensation. Guests can dictate their own recipe for a souvenir candy bar, starting with the type of chocolate (seasonal choices of white, milk or dark). Then, they can choose three toppings from six ever-changing options, such as vanilla chips, chocolate cookie bits, almond pieces, graham cracker bits and pretzel bits. The final product comes wrapped up in distinctive packaging visitors can design after watching their concoction come together on the production line.

“If something goes wrong in a typical manufacturing plant, only a few employees see it,” says Herman Rhoads, senior staff engineer, The Hershey Company. HERSHEY’S Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction, on the other hand, gives everyone an inside look at our operations and really intensifies the need for smooth, streamlined production.”

When the production line was developed, the initial concern was ensuring every guest received the bar he or she customized to satisfy the individual’s love of chocolate. The production system also needed the ability to process orders from the retail system, which includes kiosks where guests place their orders.

Hershey's Chocolate World custom bars
The interactive experience allows guests to design and manufacture their very own sweet sensation. Source: Rockwell Automation.

Rhoads needed a vendor that could deliver both the technology and engineering support for such a complex project. He turned to Rockwell Automation to provide the controllers, servo drives, networking technology, software and support needed for the attraction’s production system.

By using the Rockwell Automation’s Integrated Architecture system, Hershey brings together all aspects of its production line. The attraction uses a variety of Allen-Bradley CompactLogix and ControlLogix controllers to provide the right level of performance, along with tight integration between the programming software, controller and I/O.

To help production information flow seamlessly, Hershey employs a single network for everything from starting and stopping equipment to providing connectivity with IT level systems. By using EtherNet/IP, Hershey effectively manages real-time control and information flow at the machine level and throughout the entire enterprise.

The SQL server acts as the hub of the entire process, interfacing with both the production and retail sides. Guests create their custom candy bars at kiosks, which modify the retail system’s standard order to create a custom production order. Then, FactoryTalk Transaction Manager software extracts the guest name and barcode from the SQL server, so the production line can create the custom candy bar.

Hershey's Chocolate World Production line
By using the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture systems, Hershey brings together all aspects of its production line. Source: Rockwell Automation.

“Marrying the IT-managed, retail system to the production system was a first for us, and a rarity for most manufacturing environments,” says Rhoads. “The key to facilitating this real-time flow of information between the two environments is the ability of Rockwell Automation products to interact with the SQL server. FactoryTalk Transaction Manager gives us the ideal platform to integrate shop-floor control systems with the retail side that generates production orders and syncs up with the IT enterprise.”

Rhoads and the team work closely with Hershey’s IT department to make sure orders correctly correlate with the guest, and that the retail and production systems operate cohesively. Hershey uses EtherNet/IP as the link between the two worlds, following the IT department’s lead to implement a secure system that protects the integrity of the retail data. Using procedures and firewalls, Hershey’s IT team controls who has access to the process, which helps ensure operators don’t unintentionally alter a production order. For example, users can’t go from the process network to the retail system.

On the attraction’s manufacturing line, the candy bar production process begins with the bar de-stacker, which picks plain bars of chocolate out of a magazine and puts them onto the manufacturing line. At the heart of this pick-and-place application is a Kinetix Integrated Motion system, which features a ControlLogix controller, Kinetix 6000 multiaxis servo drives and Allen-Bradley MP-Series servo motors. The integrated motion system provides a single solution for multiple disciplines, without additional robot and safety controllers, software and special custom-function blocks that are typically needed when incorporating a robot into an application.

As each candy bar moves down the line, its creator watches it on a display screen. The extra ingredients are added before the bar goes through the enrober, which blankets it with more chocolate. The conveyor then whisks it into a cooling tunnel to set the chocolate and finally to a cartoner that completes the process.

If a problem occurs at any part of the process, operators can’t simply stop the line, since this could cause products to fall off the conveyor or be destroyed. Rather, they need to bring the product to a safe condition in a way that preserves it and the guest’s data, so he or she receives the right bar.

To do this, Hershey uses a reverse smart belt, designed by Rockwell Automation. The smart belt acts like a rubber band, pushing products to a clear area and away from the malfunctioning application or machine. The smart belt takes evenly spaced products and accumulates them at random until all products are cleared from the problem area.

Deploying a bar tracking system also helps make sure guests can locate and receive their bars. To do this, Hershey deployed fault-tracking algorithms as well as I/O encoders that collect serial data from encoding sensors, including linear, rotary and optical distance measuring devices.

“We completed the project on time and within budget, while hitting the performance goals initially set for this project,” says Rhoads. “I’m proud to say the attraction has gone smoothly, with very little intervention and maintenance.”

For more information, J. Perry Bevivino, Rockwell Automation, 717-747-8201, email.

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