Mapper Weigher and Sub-Sampling Robot (SSR) – Bespoke ProjectPaul Gravatt
Delivering greater accuracy and repeatability with robotics
Automation software and laboratory automation can transform high volume and labour intensive processes into quicker, more accurate processes, like this solution for Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC). See how our custom machines that utilised technology, including machine vision, delivered a range of business benefits such as greater repeatability and reduced operator error.
LIC uses a high throughput, labour intensive and repetitive 50-year-old manual process to collect and test individual cow milk samples. This process involves identifying the incoming samples by scanning barcodes (or for some herd type, by tray and position) and then proceeding one sample at a time through a range of manual tasks. These include picking up a flask, shaking the sample to mix it, taking the cap off and scanning the flask before finally putting the flask onto a scale and waiting for it to stabilise and take a reading.
This arduous process takes hours to complete, requires a high level of operator involvement and can result in inaccurate data due to the risk of operator error.”
The solution is machine automation: two custom machines that can be paired together but also work independently in case of a breakdown. The first machine is the Mapper Weigher. It creates a digital map of the tray samples with their weights. It involves trays of flasks entering a lifting system, which raises a row of flasks for barcode reading and weighing.
The second machine is called the Sub-Sampling Robot (SSR). The SSR sub-samples a similar volume of milk from a flask to a vial while tracking barcodes to match data. It handles a huge range of tasks simultaneously to achieve this, alongside automatically detecting errors.
These tasks include:
- Identifying the incoming flask tray.
- Shaking the tray to produce similar samples.
- De-capping of flasks.
- Verifying the flask volume against the weight information.
- Sub-sampling from flasks into syringes.
- Accepting vial trays and reading barcodes.
- Checking vial volumes to ensure they’re empty.
- Dispensing sub-samples into vials.
- Capping vials.
- Rinsing syringes to reduce carry-over between samples.
What it does
These custom machines:
- Work together to provide a full end-to-end sample testing process yet can also work independently in case of breakdown.
- Use technology including machine vision to determine volumes, read barcodes and clean syringes and needles.
- Use Beckhoff automation hardware which allows for real-time control of motors, input and outputs.
- Automate a long, labour-intensive process that’s at risk of operator error.
How it helps
The Mapper Weigher and SSR helps LIC:
- Achieve greater accuracy and repeatability in their milk sampling.
- Reduce operator error by automating a labour intensive process which in turn reduces health and safety risks, such as RSI.
- Reduce dependency on seasonal labour for a more stable business model.
- Have visibility of machine and operator KPIs to improve performance and for reporting purposes.
What the client says
“The machines had to achieve accuracy of weight measurement and subsampling volumes, consistent sample mixing, full traceability of samples, and no sample contamination. Because of these unique challenges, we weren’t able to use off-the-shelf automation and set about designing our own bespoke solution… For farmers this automation will result in even more accurate results to guide critical decision making on-farm.”
Brent Wollaston, LIC national herd testing manager “