Fancom and Nobleo teamed up to develop a next-generation controller unit for climate and feeding automation systems used in pig, poultry and mushroom farming.
About Fancom – Intelligent automation systems for farming
Fancom, based in the south-east of the Netherlands, specialises in intelligent automation systems for pig, poultry and mushroom farming. It is active in approximately 40 countries on five different continents. More than 50% of its turnover is generated outside Europe. Fancom is a subsidiary of CTB Inc., a leading global designer, manufacturer and marketer of systems and solutions for agricultural applications like grain preservation, poultry processing and egg production.
“We’re mainly specialised in climate and feeding automation systems,” says Carel Weijand, Fancom Director of Operations. “We’ve been supplying controller units for such systems for a long time. That’s the core of our business. A few years ago, we realised that we needed a new platform for our controllers. The one we were using was functionally sound, but there was a steadily growing demand for connectivity to enable features like remote management, tracking and tracing, cloud data storage and linking to other systems in use at the same locations.”
Work started on the project in 2020. Nobleo had successfully carried out a relatively small project with Fancom for hardware drivers before that, and were also recommended by a PCB supplier which both companies work together with. “We acknowledged that we didn’t have all the expertise necessary to design the software and hardware architecture for the new controller platform,” says Carel. “We needed a partner who was up-to-date on the latest developments in that field. That was Nobleo.”
A core team of three people was assembled: a system architect from Nobleo, plus Fancom‘s lead software engineer and a software architect. Of course, much of 2020 was characterised by a lockdown in the Netherlands. “We took a hybrid approach,” says Carel. “The team worked a lot remotely, but also managed to get together physically once a week.”
Underestimating the complexity
“There is so much involved in developing a new platform,” he continues. “I think we underestimated the complexity in the beginning, as did Nobleo. But, to their credit, they had the patience and flexibility to react accordingly and realise what was needed to successfully complete the project.”
The majority of the control engineering – making sure that the hardware worked together with the software – was carried out by Nobleo, who also played a major role in establishing the system architecture. “Nobleo knows a lot about MATLAB’s Simulink, which allows you to simulate an entire process on your own PC,” says Carel. “It was a big help.”
Field testing on the Fancom controller units which incorporate the new platform is running since the end of 2022. “We will look at extending the functionality,” he adds. “We want to see what happens on the controlling side, with the software drivers, and whether the hardware performs as it should in the field. Nobleo is also involved in these activities.”
The expected release date is March 2023. “We intend to announce it at a large trade fair in Bangkok,” Carel says. “After that, we’ll release the product in a very agile way, in approximately 25 locations throughout the world. We’ll then gather feedback to see what we have to further develop in order to make it a game changing product.”
Addressing animal welfare, productivity and energy costs
“We genuinely believe that this new platform can help us deliver on our focus areas, which are the health and well-being of the animals as well as productivity,” he continues. “And obviously the higher energy prices are also something that give our product additional value. To give an example of how we are addressing this, our new algorithm combines optimal ventilation in animal enclosures with energy efficient operation. With solutions like that we can really make a difference.”
Overall, Carel is very satisfied with the cooperation between Fancom and Nobleo. “They are knowledgeable and open to feedback and in that way proved themselves to be a worthy partner.” The relationship continues to flourish. “We currently have four Nobleo people working with us,” he adds. “And they think along with us. We are looking for a new software engineer, and they use their network to help us out. I appreciate that.”