The business of counting chicks is not child’s play. The average price for day-old chicks is $20 per 100. So what’s the big deal if you miscount by one chick — a mere one percent loss?
Consider the math for a poultry company that typically produces 400,000 chicks a day, four days a week, 52 weeks a year — at just one hatchery. Now imagine they have 38 hatcheries. That one percent loss has just turned into more than $6 million.
Every time a bird is miscounted, it sets off a cycle of loss for each stakeholder, including the poultry producer, the farmer, the feed provider and on down the chain.
Replace counting cards
As older counting cards were becoming obsolete and had a history of problems, Warrior Systems, a company which manufactures, sells and services automated hatcheries for chickens and turkeys in the United States and Canada, saw an opportunity to replace the counting cards with more advanced technology — a programmable logic controller (PLC).
Together with Schneider Electric, Warrior began the retrofit conversion process. Schneider Electric brought in a group of machine automation, programming and integration experts from its OEM Technology and Solutions (TaSC) based in Raleigh, N.C and with no documentation from the prior automation vendor, and some code in a foreign language, Schneider Electric engineers set out to convert the chick counting machines to its Modicon® M340™ PLC platform.
70,000 chicks per hour
After the retrofit, the machine was consistently counting 70,000 chicks per hour, and even faster than that in short bursts, all while remaining within the industry standard for accuracy of +/- three chicks per thousand.
Using the M340 PLC and eight individual sensors, Warrior was able to overcome the growth dilemma by perpetually mapping the birds’ masses and entering the information into a mathematical formula to account for variations in size. Operators never have to stop the machine to make adjustments because the M340 software runs in the background and perpetually updates the value.
In addition to retrofitting the two-lane chick counters, a three-lane chick counter was incorporated. The goal with the three-lane machine was to achieve a minimum of 80,000 chicks per hour consistently. Not only did the machine meet this goal, it can count up to 90,000 chicks per hour in peaks, while still remaining accurate.
There’s only one other company in the world that can count this fast,” Warrior Systems owner Storer said. “The M340 has allowed us to build one of the fastest machines in the world.”
Both the retrofitted two-lane chick counters, and the new three-lane counters use commercial off-the-shelf equipment from Schneider Electric, including a Magelis® XBTGT human machine interface (HMI) that replaces old push buttons. The HMI gives users access to real-time on-board diagnostics, including how many amps each motor is pulling, the performance of each sensor, and fault data — all things that can assist with maintenance and troubleshooting, and eliminate downtime. The HMI also maintains a data history for 50 flocks, with the ability to record and ultimately transmit the information to another database for report generation.