Smart sensors make better business for Queensland bottling business

Mt Elliot Springs plant manager, Warren Tink, and Industrial Electricians North Queensland director, John Birt, spoke to Manufacturers’ Monthly about how VEGA pressure sensors have provided smart solutions to improve the manufacturing processes.


Life has become a lot easier for Mt Elliot Springs plant manager Warren Tink since installing VEGABAR 38 sensors at his water bottling facility in Majors Creek, North Queensland.

The company, which supplies naturally occurring high alkaline water to the Townsville market, recently installed smart technology onsite to control air pressure for their blow moulding machines.

Tink said the sensors have reduced the number of bottles wasted during the manufacturing process and have also allowed him to have absolute control over the company’s automated system.

“The reason we changed to the VEGA sensors was to give us better control. What we didn’t realise was just how good that control would be,” he said.

“The system that we had in there before was really, really primitive. I would say the technology went all the way back from the ‘50s.”

The plant previously used analogue pressure switches to control the compressors, which became a problem while manufacturing bottles of different sizes.

“The problem with this is that one mould might be a 600mL bottle, and another one might be a 1.5 litre bottle, and you need a different pressure range to blow the bottles,” Tink said.

In order to do that, Tink was trying to manually set that on an analogue pressure switch, and having a lot of issues, because the changes are very, very small, and the error window is very small.

Tink said the VEGABAR 38 sensors took the guess work out of how much air was applied to the mould when the compressors are switched on and off.

“The pressure is critical,” he said. “If it’s too low, the bottle won’t form. If it’s too high, it’ll blow the bottle up.”

During the manufacturing process, a preform must reach a critical melt temperature ranging between 85°C and 130°C before it can form a bottle.

Preforms are loaded into bins, then automatically fed into conveyors. Heat is applied to the whole length of the preform, which is then moved automatically into a mould.

A rod that comes up through the inside of the preform stretches it to the length of the bottle. At the same time, air blown from underneath forces it into the mould to form a bottle at about a hundredth of a second.

A VEGABAR 38 sensor determines exactly what pressure the air will be when it is put into the blow moulding machines.

“It’s given us control of the bottle blowing process, because we manufacture PET bottles at a rate of about four every 1.2 seconds,” Tink said.

“When we’re manufacturing – particularly if there’s a change in pressure that we’re not controlling – we can lose a hundred bottles in the space of time that it takes for an operator to make an adjustment. It’s a very, very small range.”

Instead of asking an electrical engineer to reset the switch, air pressure set points can be adjusted remotely using the VEGA app on a mobile phone.

Industrial Electricians North Queensland provides maintenance solutions to manufacturing and industrial businesses. Their directors, John Birt and Luke Wright, said staying at the forefront of devices coming into the industry enables his company to provide better services for clients such as Mt Elliot Springs.

“It makes it a lot easier for us to provide a smart solution to our clients when they try to change the pressure left right and centre,” he said.

“Even with the same size mould, they get one set come through that’s a bit harder, and they need a tiny bit more pressure to blow them.

“If one comes through with a weaker wall and that 10 psi is making the bottles collapse, then he can down the pressure and it makes life very easy.”

Tink said Mt Elliot Springs will implement more smart technology to improve their manufacturing processes.

“As we change the technology we use to bottle water, we will have operators running from iPads, and we’ve been operating a plant from an iPad,” he said. “That is the direction we’re heading in.”