In Italy, Automation Recovers Cheese and Helps Humans

Aug. 21, 2012
Everyone in the world heard in May about the earthquakes that occurred in the central and northern parts of Italy, where many industries have their headquarters.

One of the most important products of this area is the well-known Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Many warehouses, where the cheese is usually stored for the aging process, were damaged and lots of valuable wheels of cheese remained inside them.

Men belonging to the rescue teams tried to recover the cheese in these almost collapsed warehouses, but the operations were very dangerous, especially because new earthquake waves could occur. To help, the VisLab Laboratory of the University of Parma applied its 15 years of experience in the application of artificial vision to vehicles of many types.

In only three weeks, VisLab researchers had created an original solution to help with cheese recovery. They worked together with TopCon (an international company whose headquarters in Concordia, near Modena, was heavily damaged by the earthquake), Elettric80 (a shuttle producer for automatic handling) and FaberCom (which produces remote controllers and actuators for huge vehicles).

The new shuttle system, which works without any operator and can be remotely controlled from outside, is able to recover and remove pallets filled with non-damaged products. Seven cameras located on the shuttle send images to an external operator, who guides the shuttle toward the right pallets using a remote controller.

The shuttle, which has been tested in Mirandola near Modena, currently finds the products and gets them out of the warehouse. Soon the system will be provided with more advanced automation, which will create a map of the damaged warehouse in order to complete the removal tasks without any supervision.

Automated unattended vehicles protect human recovery technicians from unsafe conditions. Human safety is also a main topic for National Instruments (, which is looking at electronics for the automotive sector as a main market for the next five years and more. A major subsegment in this market is testing, and during the eighth edition of the NI Automotive Forum that took place in Turin in June, National Instruments showed its research and development plans. Some projects shown were already-realized application, while others were in the advanced development stage.

One of the NI Automotive Forum themes was design complexity management, which requires a strong integration between components and systems. Other topics focused on risk management, regulatory compliance, functional safety standards, validation and certification, safety critical systems and real-time tests.

Noah Reding, product manager for the automotive sector of NI and keynote speaker, told Automazione Oggi that a main role will be played in future by Drivven, the American company recently acquired by NI which increased NI’s solutions in vehicle electronics. Reding also indicated some products, such as the Rapid Control Prototyping tools, were a fundamental solution to test the control systems using real I/O and on-board networks.

Ilaria De Poli, [email protected], is an editor at “Fiera Milano Editore,” a magazine covering automation and manufacturing in Italy.

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