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Software is now making the difference in multihead weighing technology

20 April 2017

When specifying a multihead weigher it is important to look beyond their physical features, says Ian Atkinson. 

While the principle behind multihead weighing technology – combining smaller individual weights to achieve the closest to the target weight – remains unchanged, over the years weigher manufacturers have developed numerous design and technical enhancements to improve the performance and capabilities of their machines.  One of the most important factors in most of these improvements is the software used to control them. 

Software can vary considerably between models so, although multihead weighers’ physical appearance can be quite similar, it is what goes on behind the design that is more critical today.

Enhancements in software have been a key factor in the ability of multihead weighers to optimise the transfer of product, helping maximise efficiencies and productivity and avoid unnecessary stoppages or the system becoming compromised.

The most advanced software is able to monitor not only product already on the weigher, but also what is being fed into it. This allows the software to adjust movements to regulate product flow, ensuring that a consistent amount of product is fed into all hoppers.

Head optimisation is used to ensure that product does not stay in a hopper for too long, an important requirement for chilled and frozen items.

 On some occasions the multihead may recognise that it is not appropriate to select the most accurate weight combination because of other factors – it could be that too much product has found its way into a single hopper and this might need to be cleared to enable the weigher to resume operating at maximum efficiency.

The best software is able to monitor the entire feeding and weighing process to make decisions that are not just best for the immediate situation but also take into account maintaining the highest overall efficiency.

Greater variety and higher speeds
Today’s multihead weighers can handle a much wider variety of products and at higher speeds than early models.  These advances have partly been achieved through design and technical adjustments, such as the use of special contact surface materials, and the introduction of more responsive hoppers and improved loadcells.  However, for the enhancements to be truly effective depends on the adoption of the appropriate software.

For example, the development of more responsive hoppers and improved loadcells required an upgrade to the software to control these operations. In the early days of multihead weighing, a reduction of giveaway to 0.1g was achievable; now this can be as low as 0.01g. Aside from additional cost savings and efficiencies, one of the most important benefits of the improvements in Standard Deviation is that it can further improve pack consistency – an important part of brand image, especially for multi-ingredient products and multipacks.

Another significant development of multihead software is how it has moved on from merely controlling the weighing process. Today it also addresses the issues data capture, monitoring and reporting. This is an important benefit as processing and packing lines have become increasingly integrated, with equipment linked together to provide a faster and more efficient operation.  

The challenge to achieve successful integration is that the process of linking machines together can very often lead to a drop in efficiency levels. The best multihead software plays a crucial role in maximising the performance of the weigher and the performance of the entire line. This also demonstrates how software supports Industry 4.0 concept – or the ‘smart factory’ – where the manufacturing process becomes fully digitised in order to increase productivity.   

As part of this, the availability of remote monitoring software provides a virtual engineering service where weighers can be continually checked by the equipment supplier.

Ease of set-up and operation are other factors, so the best examples of advanced software still provide a simple to understand and operate user-interface.

The introduction of multihead weighing was a step-change in food processing and packaging and it continues to have a major influence on production lines today.  However, it is now software that is driving the continuing development of the technology and it remains critical to the performance of any new model.  

Ian Atkinson is multihead weigher business manager at Ishida Europe.

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