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Nestlé forces controls suppliers to communicate openly

18 April, 2011

The food giant Nestlé is forcing four leading automation suppliers to adopt open standards for a pilot packaging line that it has assembled in Switzerland. The line consists of four interconnected machines, each using control equipment from a different supplier – Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric and B&R Automation – who are Nestlé’s preferred suppliers for packaging controls.

In the first phase of the project, Nestlé persuaded the suppliers to co-ordinate the packaging line operations by linking their control systems using PackML, the open packaging machine language developed by the packaging working group of Omac (originally, the Organisation for Machine Automation and Control).

Using PackML’s PackTags and state model, the individual control systems exchange information needed to integrate the activities of the four machines to act as a co-ordinated packaging line. This includes data on starts and stops, errors and speed. Nestlé believes that using PackML guarantees a common engineering approach that is independent of the machine-builder and controls supplier.

In a second phase of the project, due to be implemented later this year, Nestlé plans to add safety functions to pilot line, using the openSafety protocol developed by B&R and designed to run on any version of industrial Ethernet. At present, B&R is the only supplier of the four to support openSafety, but Bryan Griffen, global head of automation and process control in Nestlé’s corporate engineering operation (shown above), is confident that the other suppliers will provide implementations of openSafety for the project. This does not mean that they will support openSafety in commercial products.

Each of the four controls suppliers usually promotes its own safety protocol, based on its preferred proprietary communication network. Nestlé argues that standardising on the openSafety system will guarantee that all of the control systems will be able to exchange safety-related information.

The food giant, which operates around 500 factories worldwide, believes that these efforts will allow it to write a single detailed specification for machines that can be integrated easily into packaging lines and the rest of the Nestlé environment, without needing specific control hardware.

“Using the PackML PackTags and the state model in conjunction with a standard communication protocol, the Nestlé central packaging automation engineering team will provide a clear specification for packaging machine equipment,” Griffen explains. “This specification will also provide a common setup for horizontal machine-to-machine communication.”

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