AC&TS Customer Solution

CASE STUDY: How do you keep your technology as fresh as the produce you’re tracking? Automated Control & Technical Services Bin Tracking.

“The system that AC&TS implemented was everything we had hoped it would be. And working with them was just fantastic – they always made us feel like we were their most important client, even though we knew we weren’t the most lucrative. Not only is their corporate structure extremely supportive, but their employees are off the charts great.” L.S., IT Manager.



The Challenge:

Reducing the number of missed bins and creating a more accurate method of tracking fresh produce from farm to end customer.

The Solution:

Continuously upgrading scanners and technologies in order to meet the changing needs of the client.

Technical Highlights:
  • Industry: Fresh produce production and distribution
  • Application: Bin tracking
  • Products Used:
    • Allen Bradley Rockwell Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) hardware and software
    • Visual Basic Interface with TCP Wedge
    • SICK Optical Scanners
    • Touchscreen Computers

Background:

The client is one of the world’s leading vertically integrated producers, marketers and distributors of high-quality fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, as well as a leading producer and distributor of prepared fruits and vegetables, juices, beverages and snacks throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. They have been known for their product innovation, quality, freshness and reliability since 1892. The client sources their produce within their own integrated system of company-controlled farms. Their fresh-cut products are prepared to meet and exceed international food safety standards and meet the needs of their business customers as well as the consumer, and arrive ready-to-serve.

As one can imagine, the process of picking their produce in the field then delivering them to the end user is continuously evolving. It is of utmost importance that each and every bin be tracked in order to ensure quality control. After all, if a food-borne illness is discovered and the client cannot pinpoint where the bin came from, it could put the company at serious risk. The FDA actually requires the client to to track which farm and which field each product comes from, so a sticker is placed on each bin to indicate its exact origin. For years, the client relied on employees to mark the bins by hand, but this tedious job had been replaced with the onset of computers. At some point a third party provided the client with barcode scanners at their Kingsburg, CA location, but by 2010 they had hired another provider to upgrade the system and it turned out to be a continuous uphill battle: not only were the scanners not working properly on a day-to-day basis, but they would also be down for weeks at a time. This caused a plethora of problems including missed bins and inaccurate bin information, which delayed the production process and caused major quality control issues. Since the client had worked with Automated Control and Technical Services (AC&TS) on a few projects in the past and was happy with their work, they called them in to try and solve their issues. .

Process:

The AC&TS team came in and demonstrated their expertise and work ethic immediately. The client states that the two team members assigned to the business went above and beyond for them, even giving out their personal cell phone numbers they could call any time, day or night. The client also recalls the AC&TS team tirelessly working in 110-degree temperatures, and never once making them feel like any of their questions or concerns weren’t valid. They even went so far as to show up in the middle of the night to properly line up the scanners since you can see exactly where the scan lines are painted on the bins in complete darkness. But it wasn’t only AC&TS’ work ethic that provided them with a system that the client considered seamless, flawless, and exactly what they wanted it and needed it to be; it was also their technological expertise and creativity. AC&TS readjusted the barcode scanners by modifying the Allen Bradley Rockwell Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) hardware and software equipment that was already in place, which kept costs down. And they employed a Visual Basic Interface with TCP Wedge, which automatically created a spreadsheet with all the bin information, proving to be a much more efficient process. The client was so impressed with AC&TS’ work and with the relationship that was formed, they hired them for service calls on a regular, on-going basis.

A few years later, the client closed their Kingsburg, CA plant and consolidated its operations at their Modesto location. Due to the new location’s much stronger internet service, there was no longer a need for a link in order to populate the bin information. AC&TS got right to work on modifying the process once again, which included creating dual barcode scanners in order to give them a bigger window to read and record the bins, further streamlining efficiencies and increasing quality control.

Each year, AC&TS finds way to evolve the system in order to keep up with the client’s changing needs. In fact, the most recent modifications include replacing the barcode scanners with SICK optical scanners (OCRs), which are high-speed cameras that can read, inspect, locate and identify features in the acquired image data. Once the scanners capture a wide field-of-vision picture, the information is directly sent to a PC at the local plant as well as to the accounting software for better redundancy. To make this happen, the AC&TS team employed a touchscreen computer with a Visual Basic interface and TCP wedge, which creates and maintains a connection to the remote computer.

Results:

Over the years, AC&TS has proven time and time again that their depth of understanding, experience and capabilities save the client time and money while greatly improving accuracy and reducing quality control risk. Even though the client has an Integrator as part of their team, they trust AC&TS with their systems and team members instead of their own in-house staff.

Request:

Request a Consultation