HBC-Radiomatic remote delivers control and safety for in-field packaging machine

editorial image

One of the great benefits of using a remote control device for heavy machinery is that it ensures operators can be located well away from potential danger zones.

This was the primary reason why design engineers at G’s Growers chose an HBC-radiomatic remote to control operations when their field packaging rig needs to be folded for transportation between locations.

“We have previously had a radio control panel that was connected by cable, but this meant that the operator had to be in close proximity to the rig during operation to fold and load it.

Damian Trutkowski,

G’s Growers is a co-operative of independent producers. With twenty-plus members growing salad products in the UK and Spain.

As part of the co-operative, growers enjoy economies of scale which enable them to ensure an efficient year-round supply of products.

One of these economics the shared use of large-scale machines designed specifically for packaging iceberg lettuce and celery as they are cut in the field.

These giant rigs are, effectively, in-field production lines with a vertical in-feed conveyor system that moves across the fields, fed by field workers who hand-pick the produce, placing it on to the conveyor which feeds into an automated packing line.

When set up, the rigs measure 8.3m long, 2.7m wide and 4m high.

They consist of a drive unit, a platform and a header.

To align in with harvesting seasons, the rigs are used by growers in the UK between May and October and are then transferred to Spain where they are used from November to April.

During the harvesting seasons, they also need to be transported between fields.

The HBC-radiomatic remote control unit is used to drive, fold and unfold the rig and connect or disconnect the header so that the harvester can be moved between fields or loaded onto a low loader for transportation.

Explaining the need for a remote control unit for these operations, design engineer Damian Trutkowski says: “We have previously had a radio control panel that was connected by cable, but this meant that the operator had to be in close proximity to the rig during operation to fold and load it.

“As these rigs weigh between 30 and 40 tonnes, there was an issue with operator safety. With a remote unit, the operator can be as far as 50m away which is a far safer option.”

The co-operative’s first field packaging rig, designed specifically for handling iceberg lettuce, was purchased from specialist manufacturer BrimaPack in Holland. With a second, for celery, being designed and built by G’s Growers’ own engineering team.

BrimaPack’s machines are fitted with HBC-radiomatic controls as standard.

Experience of this unit over the year’s operation influenced the specification of a similar model for the machine designed by G’s Growers engineering team.

Damian Trutkowski says: “I researched controls from various manufacturers and it was the quality of the HBC unit that really stood out. When I picked it up, I could tell that this was a product made by experts.

“I also talked to colleagues who had been using the control panel with the BrimaPack machine to assess their experience of it and it had been completely trouble-free.”

The unit specified by G’s Growers is a Spectrum A which features two joysticks and can be configured with various push buttons, toggle or rotary switches.

In a robust housing, it carries IP65 rating for ingress of dust and water - an important consideration for equipment that is used in harsh environments.

The control panel can also be tailored to specific needs, a feature that also contributed to Damian Trutkowski’s choice.

He says: “As well as quality of build, I was impressed by the fact that with we could fully customise the control panel whereas other manufacturers only offered standard products.

“Working with Mark Hollyhead at HBC, I was able to discuss our specific safety requirements and have a control panel that was designed totally to our specification.

“It was an easy process and Mark was always available to discuss the various options.”

With safety being the key factor, ease of use and accuracy of operation were also major considerations.

In an industry that is dependent on seasonal workers, the control panel has to be used by a number of different people who are not necessarily fully trained operators, so controls that are simple to explain and easy-to-use are essential.

Maximilian Newbery is G’s Growers celery team leader responsible for maintaining the rig and he explains the importance of accuracy says: “When we are loading and unloading it is paramount that the controls are extremely accurate as the low-loader trailer is only 0.04m longer than the folded rig.

“We need to ensure that this operation is carried out safely with the utmost accuracy and control, which the HBC-radiomatic remote unit enables us to do.”