I was browsing through some old pictures of systems trying to get some inspiration for today’s post and ran across some pictures of the cotton classing system we helped put into the USDA facility in Memphis. This was a cooperative project between my company ACS, NAS, and Zellweger-Uster. It brought back memories of some of the jobs we had done that were not in your typical industrial facility.
Often companies or organizations without a great deal of automation history reach a point where they feel they need to automate some of their processes to save money or increase production. The people who are part of the processes being automated are usually highly skilled at their tasks but don’t have experience with automation techniques and concepts. Devices like HMIs, emergency stops and light curtains may be new to the facility and there is often no maintenance staff skilled in the troubleshooting and care of these systems. There is also the incongruity of noisy industrial equipment being placed into a lab or cleanroom type environment.
In this case the product being handled and inspected is cotton samples from growers throughout the Southeast. Prior to this system small pieces of the cotton samples were placed under cameras by hand to determine color and the quantity of foriegn matter and seeds in the sample. This system allowed the material handling to be done without human intervention. As with many other projects there were a lot of iterations of the system and it grew more complex as lessons were learned. A third level of conveyors was added to allow retesting of the samples upon inconclusive results. Due to the loose tufts of cotton that inevitably ended up floating around the facility there was talk of entirely enclosing the cotton sample pallets though I believe the system was decommissioned before this was ever done.
Due to this same incongruity of having semi-industrial equipment effectively installed on a tile floor in the equivalent of an office building the system eventually was removed and operators went back to loading test samples by hand. There are some things that just can’t be automated effectively, was this one of them? Only time will tell…
As a side note, people usually remember where they were during significant events, this is where I was during the infamous 9/11 attack almost ten years ago.