Rotary Robots

November 12, 2010 07:33 AM

DeLaval unveils its robotic attaching rotary parlor

By Wilfried Wesselink

For large herds, the dream of robotic attachers on rotary parlors is one step closer.

DeLaval has introduced its prototype robotic rotary, a 24-stall herringbone configuration that can milk up to 800 cows 2X or 540 cows 3X. That capacity comes with a Cadillac version of the Automatic Milking Rotary (AMR). AMR Hamra 04 s10 wesselinkcom   Copy

“Dairy farmers have been asking for an automatic milking rotary for a long time. We developed the AMR with three key customer benefits in mind: Profitability, farm management and flexibility,” says Andrew Turner, DeLaval Vice President of Capital Goods.

In the high volume version, four robots will work on four cows at the same time. A fifth robot is used to disinfect teats after milking is completed.

But since the AMS is still in development and must be tested commercially next year, the unit is not for sale nor have prices been determined.

In its current stage of development, DeLaval has two versions of the AMR—each with 24 stalls. The basic version has one robot for cleaning and prepping teats, one robot to attach the milker units and one robot for post-milking teat spraying. The higher capacity version has two robots for prepping teats, two for attaching units and one unit to post-milking spraying.

With the basic version, one robot prepares all four teats and one robot attaches teat cups to all four teats. With the high capacity version, each robot prepares two teats and attaches cups to two teats. The rotary then moves forward, and the next robot preps and attaches the remaining teats.

The basic version has a capacity of 50 cows per hour. This forces a bigger herd to milk in groups, rather than allowing the cows to come to the parlor voluntarily. 

Milking in groups would allow the high capacity parlor to milk up to 800 cows 2X. Allowing cows to come voluntarily to the high capacity AMS drops cows milked per day 2X to 700.

The cows walk onto the carrousel as onto a traditional rotary. Each cow is identified through electronic ID, but if the cow is coming voluntarily (rather than in groups), she can only enter the stall after a certain time after the previous milking. 

When the cow enters the stall, the parlor stops at the first robot position when individual teats are washed and dried. Then the platform moves forward to the next robot where the individual teat cups are attached. As milking is completed, the teat cups are automatically removed and the teats are sprayed with teat dip as the cows leave the parlor. 

The AMR monitors milk yield, somatic cell count and milk color (blood) for each quarter of each cow. However, unlike the stationary voluntary milk systems where cows enter individual stalls, the current AMR versions do not separate milk with inferior quality. So the dairy producer has to be very keen on the health of cows and has to milk questionable or treated cows separately.

The first prototype robotic rotary parlor was built at DeLaval’s Hamra Test Farm in Sweden in 2008. A second prototype was then installed at the FutureDairy Research and Test Farm in New South Wales, Austrailia. 

The main problem when developing the system was to clean teats and attach units on a moving cow on a moving platform with a moving robot.

The solution to this problem is a sensor that registers the exact position of the cow. The sensor guides the robot arm to the teat, helped by the coordinates of the teat that are stored in the memory of the system. Then the exact position of the teat is identified by a camera and a laser. The system is suitable for all sizes of cows, DeLaval says.

At the beginning of the project, DeLaval engineers toyed with the idea of working with an external parallel rotary and attaching the teat cups through the back legs of the cows. But this approach did not work very well.

As an alternative, an internal herringbone configuration was developed. The herringbone makes it possible to approach the cow from the side, like robots in conventional, single-box systems. The downside is that the AMRs won’t be able to be retrofitted onto existing rotary parlors.

The AMRs will next be tested on commercial dairies in 2011. The new system is a collaboration between DeLaval and the Australian FutureDairy project. The latter includes Dairy Australia, Industry, Investment New South Wales, University of Sydney, Dairy NSW, the Dairy Research Foundation. 

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