It begins with an idea Brian Devereaux of Orem, Utah, grew up around the dairy industry working for his father at TDLogix Inc. His father, Todd Devereaux, is a dairy equipment dealer and still is an innovator in programmable logic controls.
In his senior year at Utah Valley University, Brian was required to develop an automated project that had real-world application (the focus of his coursework had centered on automation for manufacturing). For his senior project, Todd asked Brian to consider building a robotic teat spray system – they just were not sure it could actually be done.
While automatic teat dippers were not new to rotary parlors in the dairy industry, they wanted to approach them from “a different way” to overcome limitations of current models. One previously developed teat dipper operated with a robotic arm used in manufacturing processes. It was very accurate but expensive, and was not rated for the harsh environment of the dairy farm that includes chemical wash downs and corrosive manure. While robotic arms are commonly used in manufacturing, it hadn’t adapted as well to dairy applications.
Another teat dipper used pneumatic action through an air ram, timed to go underneath the cow and deliver a general spray. While inexpensive, it was also less accurate and used excessive product. Brian says, “Air actuators are basically on and spraying or off, and it can get the whole back side of the cow. It’s also noisy and not as smooth.” Brian wanted to find a middle ground between the two systems.
For research, Todd and Brian went to an automation expo, and a distributor there showed them different products that could help, and other displays sparked some ideas. Brian says, “That’s where we became fully committed to developing the product.”
There was a lot of trial and error. Brian says, “The dipper I built for school had no vision ability and would not have worked on a real dairy. It was only through my dad’s expertise and our hard work together that this came together.”
The vision system especially posed challenges for them. A laser guided system, such as what is found on robotic arms, is highly accurate and can find each teat on the cow and program the dipper to deliver targeted spray. The disadvantage is collecting that information takes time – essentially one udder dipped per 10 seconds. That time lapse works for smaller rotaries that travel slower; however, increasing travel time as required by the laser guided system for larger rotaries leaves cows standing on the rotary at the end of the rotation for too long. The air-actuated system delivers spray for the “average” udder for a cow in the “average” stall position, which is less accurate and uses excess product.
They finally settled on a vision system compromise. Brian says, “We’re using a vision system that takes measurements of the cow to give commands to the linear motor as to where it needs to go to spray accurately. Generally, you want to use a horseshoe-type spray pattern around the teats, and as we do our horseshoe spray, cows might be further forward or further back, or off-center to one side of the stall. So we take those measurements and its position in order to get the spray pattern in the right position – whether the cow is really wide or really small – and just spray for the time needed in order to efficiently dip the cow without creating a lot of waste.” The linear motor is accurate within 1 mm.
Rather than using either pneumatics or a robotic arm, they used linear motors, which give the same motion as air actuators or cylinders but uses an electric motor with magnets to propel the device forward and back, and gives feedback as to the location of the device.
Brian says, “It’s a middle point between the two devices – you get the intelligence of the robotic arm, as far as positioning, but because it’s a two-axis device, you get the simplicity that comes with some of the pneumatic dippers. And the price point is more towards the low end of the spectrum rather than the high end of the spectrum.”
Brian and Todd had been working with a company installing programmable logic controls for various dairies when they began working with Madero Dairy Systems, a rotary manufacturing company in Torreón, Mexico (with U.S. headquarters in Houston, Texas). Their discussions revealed that both TDLogix Inc. and Madero Dairy Systems were working on a robotic teat dipping system for rotaries. Because their working relationship was already established and healthy, they shared basic development concepts, and Madero recognized the value of their system. Madero immediately scrapped their designs and began working with them to develop a prototype of their system. An agreement was struck: TDLogix Inc. applied for the patent (patent pending) and Madero has exclusive rights to market the product, tagged Max I.
Using TDLogix’s technology, Madero manufactured the stainless steel housing and some of the moving mechanisms – pivot points and sliding points. Brian says, “They improved upon some of the mechanical aspects that we had designed. They have a great engineering team that has worked alongside us to make sure we were making it as smooth and functional as possible.”
The first prototype was installed on a Utah dairy in April 2016. After a few months, that prototype was pulled out for modifications and then reinstalled. Brian says, “Our relationship with the dairy has allowed us to put in the prototype, take it out and make design tweaks to it, then reinstall it, and they’ve been great for feedback as to ways it could be modified to achieve better functionality.”
The new teat dipper was launched at World Dairy Expo 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. The dipper can be integrated into a programmable logic control system or can operate as a stand-alone unit. If integrated into a system, the teat dipper’s vision system can identify an empty stall and send feedback to the system, which adjusts the crowd gate to move cows onto the rotary, eliminating gaps in loading.
The teat dipper, Brian says, was developed for rotary systems only; however, he adds, “That’s not to say in the future it couldn’t be developed for a herringbone or parallel parlor application, but we started with the rotary system, as that’s the way new dairies are going.” He anticipates that a customer with a twin double-40 parallel, for instance, isn’t going to build a rotary just to install a robotic teat dipper, “but at some point, he’ll likely want to spend the money to have a similar system adapted for his barn.”
Brian sees automation as the future of dairying. Given today’s labor challenges, more dairies are turning to automation as a more efficient and less costly way to do business. Brian says the robotic teat dipper, for instance, has a one year return on investment through labor and energy savings. He says, “Automation was one of the areas that has constantly grown, even through the recession.”
- Progressive Dairyman
- Email Lynn Jaynes
PHOTO 1: Brian Devereaux (pictured) and his father, Todd, developed a robotic teat dipper (now marketed through Madero Dairy Systems), and beta tested it through a southern Utah dairy's rotary parlor.
PHOTO 2: Brian Devereaux demonstrates the user-friendly control box integrating programmable logic controls for various dairy systems, including the robotic teat dipper. Photos by Lynn Jaynes.