Saturday, December 2, 2023

Human-bot hybrid ‘revolutionises’ milking 

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Called the ErgoPOD, it provides robotic-assisted milking while retaining a human presence in the shed.
Waikato Milking Systems project specialist Tom Morris says the company hopes to start commercial production of the ErgoPOD in 18 months.
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Waikato Milking Systems have created a new partially automated milking system that significantly changes how cups are managed and presented in the milking shed.

Called the ErgoPOD, it provides robotic-assisted milking while retaining a human presence in the shed.

Waikato Milking Systems project specialist Tom Morris described the ErgoPOD as sitting in the “grey zone” between a fully robotic system and the more traditional hands-on system commonly used in sheds on farms.

“Our main goal is to provide the best bail-to-human interface that we can.”

Unveiled at Fieldays, the invention was recognised at the Fieldays’ Innovation Awards with the Prototype Award.

Fieldays Innovation Award judges said the ErgoPOD “revolutionises” the way cups are presented and managed in the milking shed.

Waikato Milking Systems executive chair Jamie Mikkelson said when accepting the award that the company has worked on the product for four years.

“We had this crazy idea that if we were going to be the most admired company globally for milking efficiency, if a single operator could milk a thousand cows in an hour, that would be a game-changer.”

All of the equipment needed for milking is located in a pod that sits on the floor of the bail.

When a cow enters the bail for milking, four cups automatically emerge from the pod attached to a holster at which point the farmer removes the cups and attaches them to the teats on the udder.

Pulsation starts as soon as the farmer grabs the cup. When miking is complete, the cups are automatically removed. The holster closes, and the cups are irradiated with UV light in preparation for the next cow, and are automatically washed at the end of milking.

“It gives us a lot more freedom around the different types of udders, the different teat spacings because you are not tied to the [milking] claw,” Morris said.

It is also synced into the farm’s RFID system, so if the cow is not to be milked for health reasons, the cups will not emerge.

It removes the need for automatic cup removers and a bail-mounted jetter and has a different control interface.

While it was originally designed for large herd farms, Morris said they also wanted to keep it relevant to New Zealand and have created it with ergonomic benefits in mind with the added value benefit of collecting shed data.

The system is being tested on a trial farm with the cows having been re-trained to get used to the new system. It is currently set up for a rotary system only.

Morris said they were handicapped by having to install the system in the middle of the milking season. To ease the herd into the system, they created 54 mocked-up plastic ErgoPODs  that were used as training aids.

Morris said cow flow in the shed was moderately to severely affected for about two weeks while the cows adjusted, before returning to normal.

He said the project has attracted notice from overseas dairy producers, including Saudi Arabia and Ireland. “We’ve had very good interest.”

Morris said Waikato Milking Systems plans further trial work on farms with ErgoPOD and hope to start commercial production in 18 months.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the farmer removed the cups from the cow once milking had finished. This is incorrect, the ErgoPOD system is designed to automatically remove the cups from the cow.

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