Oliver Packaging & Equipment Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was founded in 1890 as a woodworking
equipment manufacturing company specialising in furniture production. During the Depression, the company’s expertise in blade technology prompted them to help create an entirely new industry – and, perhaps, contribute to the coining of the phrase “best thing since sliced bread” – with the introduction of the first retail bread slicing machine in 1932.
Bread Slicing Machine
More than eight decades of innovation later, Oliver offers a diverse line of high quality bread, bagel and bun slicers to retail bakeries, delis, supermarkets, restaurants, and similar establishments, primarily in the U.S. and Canada. Oliver’s Varislicer® 2005 bread slicing machine had been in the company’s product line since about 1990. Relying upon a proprietary printed circuit board (PCB) for control and a scrolling 2 x 20 character display for user communication, the product, although a common seller in some markets, had some limitations, according to Oliver project engineer Vance Matz. For example, with so little display space and capability for output, stores would often have to put up paper signs that would explain how to use the machines to cut loaves to preferred thicknesses, especially at the self-service bakeries and delis popular in Canada. And, although the machine could theoretically provide on-screen troubleshooting information to repair technicians, the details that were offered could be terse and “kind of cryptic,” leading technicians to opt for diagnostic testing when performing maintenance. So, when in early 2015, Oliver’s PCB supplier discontinued the model of board they were using, the innovative company quickly used the situation as an opportunity to rethink the design of the Varislicer 2005.
HMI and PLC design
Oliver had previously designed equipment using Mitsubishi Electric parts in both their bakery division as well as their sister meal packaging division. Familiar with Mitsubishi Electric quality and value, they soon spec’d a Mitsubishi Electric human machine interface screen (HMI) and a PLC in their newly redesigned Varislicer 2005. “The new machine is a total game changer for us – it offers a completely different level of usability than the old one,” said Matz. Right off the bat, he explained, the Mitsubishi Electric PLC and HMI offer huge flexibility. With a big, easy-to-read screen and large, pressable buttons, machine operation is now almost self-explanatory, even for first time self-serve customers or new bakery employees.