Olymel, a major Canadian pork and poultry producer, slaughters and processes roughly 122,000 hogs and 1.4 million birds weekly at its 26 facilities in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. It then distributes its products in grocery meat departments and self-serve coolers, hotels, restaurants and institutions throughout Canada, the US, Australia, Japan and 60 other countries.
A meat processing plant is a punishing environment requiring frequent washdowns and sanitation with disinfectant chemicals and high-pressure water streams. Temperatures extremes can run from sub-freezing cold storage to high heat that causes moist air to fog up computer screens and make them unreadable. “The problem was that our computers were not responding to our demands; they were basically homemade and often broken,” says Michel Lord, Olymel’s sector director for equipment and technology.
“We depend on recording data using these computers, data that we need to help ensure the safety of our process. So when the computer cannot do its job, we have to stop the line, and that is costly to our operation.” Lord looked at replacing the old computers with industrially-hardened machines and decided to try noax Technologies after a partner discovered the supplier at a regional Chicago trade fair. The noax Steel Series PCs use food-grade, polished stainless-steel enclosures meeting IP65 (NEMA 4) standards.
Lord put the computers to the test in his environment. First he connected the computer to the network and hosed it down. There was “no seepage between the window,” said Lord. “This is typically a big problem with computers. When the area gets hot, you can’t see the screen, and the mist fogs up the display. The noax computer does not have that problem,” he concluded.
Cold temperatures can knock a computer out of action. “I meant to leave the noax computer in the freezer for an hour,” says Lord, “but after forgetting about it for over a day, I hooked up the computer and it worked!” Finally, he dropped the computer into a pool for ten seconds. The immersion failed to impede the computer’s operation. “After all of the torture testing, I told my boss I wanted these computers.”
The computers are stationed along the inspection line to receive data on the carcass before it is processed. They enable plant employees to feed data to the company’s mainframe system using the touch screen as product moves along the process. At the packaging stations, box contents and weight are entered into the computer and are matched with the information.
The computers previously had been used for data collection only. During meat processing, the computers help traffic cartons to their final destination. When the boxed-up pork is ready to leave, the conveyor leads it up to a motion scale. The weight is captured, and the industrial computer directs a printer to apply a label to the box.
Olymel uses 230 industrial computers throughout its plants. Having acquired its first units in 2001, many are still being used today. “Since we started using noax computers,” says Lord, “we have seen our computer downtime drop by 80%”.
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Jonathan Staub, 704-992-1606 x202, firstname.lastname@example.org