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Armagard Supply Custom Designed Computer Enclosures To Northern Foods

Northern foods computer enclosure unit at work

About Northern Foods

Founded as a family-run dairy business in 1937, Northern Foods has established itself as one of the biggest food manufacturers in Britain. Headquartered in Leeds, Yorkshire, the company employs more than 10,000 staff and is famous for practically inventing the supermarket ready meal.

The Challenge

Northern Foods sought to upgrade its company-wide SAP production computer system, requiring computer protection across its food production facilities located throughout the UK.

The company awarded Armagard a prestigious contract for the supply of custom computer enclosures that protect against environmental hazards.

The primary goal of the project was to upgrade and automate shop floor data collection and introduce a new batch identification labelling system.

The challenge was not only providing a solution that was practical, but could defend against wet, humid, dusty and potentially cold factory conditions.

The Solution

Working in conjunction with Northern Foods' SAP Support team, Armagard developed a range of customised, IP66-rated stainless steel enclosures, each housing a compact 'book-shelf' processor and flat screen, which enabled the deployment of computer terminals at key locations across multiple production lines.

Northern foods

The key benefit of using IP-rated enclosures is that they allow commercial standard, off-the-shelf computer equipment to be used within a shop floor environment.

Several solutions were put in place, ranging from wall-mounted terminals to full workstations, comprising a free standing computer unit with built-in cable connections - for bar code scanning, the printing of barcode labels and laser printers for batch identification labels.

The new computer network utilises thin-client technology for more compact and flexible installations, while each terminal has been equipped to suit specific functional requirements. Computer peripherals consist of membrane keyboards with sealed mouse controls and USB connections for hand-held scanning devices.

Meanwhile, separate enclosures are in use for barcode label printers and standard laser printers. Access to the printers is available via shutters that lockdown during cleaning processes.

The Results

Although Northern Foods had used industrial computer enclosures previously, these were located in more benign warehouse environments.

However, the new computer systems were being installed across plants where typical conditions range from flour dust to high risk, airborne contaminants in food processing areas, which are routinely washed down by chemical cleansing agents.

A combination of dust, airborne contaminants, the use of potentially corrosive cleaning agents, plus wet and humid conditions, made for a particularly hostile environment for computers. Installing the computer systems also posed a food safety risk.

Northern foods Printer enclosure

Armagard's solutions not only satisfied stringent food safety requirements, but improved the overall production process for

SAP support engineer for Northern Foods, Nigel Harrison, said: “The computer system allows greater visibility of the shop floor processes, allowing site managers to optimise quality and production throughput.”

Mr Harrison explained that Northern Foods' existing enclosures were not compatible with the computer system they wanted to install. He said: “Northern Foods needed a completely new design in order to fully exploit the benefits of using thin client processors on the shop floor.”

“Armagard responded to our initial requirement by providing a working prototype for each style of enclosure. We used these to get feedback from the users. Armagard then made some refinements and as a result we achieved a very successful implementation, getting it right first time on the shop floor,” Mr Harrison commented.

“The time taken from our initial enquiry, to the delivery of the first production standard units was around three months, which was a pretty good turnaround by any standards,” Mr Harrison added.