Global OEM Team
Global Technical Resource Manager
OEM Business Solutions
Using advanced automation technologies today will surely help accommodate tomorrow’s packaging designs.
As the cost of raw materials, energy, workers compensation, and product liability continue to impact bottom lines, more packaging companies are looking for new ways to practice sustainable production and strengthen business performance. For instance, Sal Spada, research director of discrete systems at ARC Advisory Group, sees sustainability goals at the forefront for every packaged goods manufacturer. He recognizes it as a competitive advantage, creating an entirely new generation of packaging machinery that will surpass all prior metrics.
For some packaging companies, sustainability initiatives come in the form of redesigning the packaging itself, to reduce weight and material use, for instance. For others, it means working with machine builders to design a “green” packaging machine — one that uses less energy and produces less waste, pollution, and scrap, and requires less maintenance.
However, another strategy delivers even more long-term payback that is creating an entirely sustainable packaging line. Instead of settling for packaging lines designed for a single purpose, some manufacturers look to machine builders for multipurpose packaging equipment that can be reconfigured for a variety of operations, either today or down the road.
This design flexibility is particularly important in the packaging industry, where fast-turnaround, creative packaging, and promotional programs can give sales a big boost. At the same time, machine builders that design flexible machines help packaging companies become more sustainable by reducing the amount of hardware and scrap that is thrown away during machine retrofits and upgrades.
Machine builders can repeatedly reconfigure and re-commission machinery for new end-user operations by practicing “cradle-to-cradle” design. It presents machine builders with a huge opportunity to establish themselves as innovators while being embraced as a sustainability partner with their end users.
Designing packaging machinery for cradle-to-cradle sustainability
Machine builders must employ a few critical best practices; streamlined design, modular design, and mechatronic design to facilitate the reconfiguring and re-commissioning of a machine at what would otherwise be the end of a normal life cycle. Instead of spending thousands of dollars retooling a machine for production changes or scrapping it altogether, these practices help machine builders design a more flexible, modular machine that potentially last years longer than a machine built using traditional design methods.
The diagrams provide a clear example of streamlined design. This is a “before” picture of a complex machine dedicated to a specific production operation. It illustrates countless drives, belts, pulleys and other components embedded throughout the machine. Such an overbuilt, rigid machine required many mechanical and labor-intensive adjustments in order to accommodate a single changeover, let alone a complete reconfiguration. It also incurred high maintenance costs to maintain and replace components.
Streamlined Design. First, machine builders can design machinery that is more flexible by rethinking complicated machine designs that use multiple controllers and a complex system of motors, drives, and wiring. This design requires so many intricate parts and endless coding that the machine ultimately becomes too difficult to reconfigure when it is time to introduce a new package. Instead, machine builders should use an integrated automation platform that ties all control functions into a single, multitasking programmable automation controller (PAC). This infrastructure streamlines machine programming and operations for sequential, motion, safety, and drive control, and provides a scalable system, which allows for much easier upgrades.
Modular Design. Machine builders also use design techniques, such as modular programming standards, as another best practice. In any machine design project, designers must develop application and configuration code for each individual machine operation so it can perform the specified function. At the heart of modular programming is the ability to easily develop reusable code modules to help accelerate program development. With predefined modules that meet requirements for various packaging configurations, machine builders help their packaging customers easily change production functions on a machine without having to rewrite code.
This image clearly shows a significant reduction in part count. Machine builders enjoy less programming and faster time to market because of the integrated automation configuration. In return, the end user enjoys more sustainability and less waste with fewer parts to maintain and replace throughout the machine life cycle.
Mechatronic Design. Mechatronics design teams, those that comprise mechanical, electrical and control design engineers simultaneously collaborating on design, represent another best practice for building more flexible and therefore more sustainable machinery. Mechatronic design software, such as Motion Analyzer software from Rockwell Automation, runs an analysis to test the machine’s envelope and identify whether the machine can handle varying bottle heights or widths, for example. Machine builders also can run a machine-reliability analysis to identify potential improvements early in the design stage that might avoid jams and stops that cause scrap, waste raw materials, and create unnecessary wear and tear on the machine. This can extend the lifetime of the machine before the first model has even been built. The software also can help machine builders test a prototype for reliability without having to build a physical model, which would likely lead to waste as well.
These design practices also contribute to other, more common sustainability goals, such as energy efficiency. For example, when machine builders implement mechatronic design strategies, they improve energy efficiency for their users.
Machine builders can use mechatronic design software to build equipment that requires the smallest possible amount of energy to run. By modeling the machine before it is built, design engineers can identify parts of the line that consume the most power and alter the design accordingly for better energy efficiency. In some cases, they help reduce power by over 50%.
How standards can help
Industry standards play an important role in helping machine builders contribute to sustainability goals by helping create machines that are more flexible for future operations. Machine builders use ISA-88 (S88) and modular programming industry standards as a basic framework for development because they create an environment where programmers can reuse definitions, structures, and lines of code to improve flexibility.
The ISA-88 standard follows the state model, a manufacturing standard that uses a defined set of terms and definitions to describe the process being controlled. The state model does not tell machine builders what programming code to choose. It defines the overall programming vocabulary so that all machine builders speak the same language and use the code appropriately. This structured, reusable model applies proven software objects from machine to machine, thus accelerating program development and providing design consistency when multiple designers are involved.
By providing a common, efficient framework that addresses every phase of the automation life cycle, standards like this one offer more people access to the underlying systems, unlike nonstandard, proprietary machines. It also allows automation to evolve in an orderly fashion as new devices and software become available. So, when it comes time to reconfigure a machine for new production cycles, it will be easier to build on the code infrastructure already in place, rather than scrapping the previous design and starting from scratch.
The best and easiest way for machine builders to start building flexible and sustainable machines is to combine their knowledge with input from customers and the control system supplier.
Start by asking customers about future production goals and requirements to determine what they need. Since manufacturers need to continuously innovate their packaging to be competitive, machine builders can assume that the highest level of flexibility is best because the potential range of products that will need to run on the machine now, but also in the future, will vary significantly. Additionally, operational changes or economic factors might require that the user relocate the machine to another part of the world. Finally, manufacturers need to be well positioned to meet or exceed current and future regulatory requirements. OEMs and their customers should discuss all of these factors prior to machine development.
Next, approach your automation supplier. Bringing the vendor in from the beginning of a project allows machine builders and users to take advantage of their broad manufacturing and industry experience to obtain higher cost efficiencies, faster time to market, regulatory compliance, and streamlined integration. Taking a comprehensive approach that involves all three parties is the best way to make sure that all factors are considered, and the result will be a win-win situation for both machine builder and user.
As packaging companies continue to implement sustainability initiatives across their businesses, machine builders have many opportunities to become a partner in the effort. Beyond helping to design machines that create a more sustainable environment by operating cleaner, safer and more energy efficiently, machine builders can also help build machines that are sustainable themselves. Through a fully integrated automation platform, modular programming, and mechatronic design, OEMs can build flexible machines that can be reconfigured for a sustainable, cradle-to-cradle life cycle.
More considerations for designing sustainable packaging machines
Several distinct trends are emerging as both packagers and packaging machine builders increase their sustainable production activities:
Design for Safety. Safety solutions continue to evolve as manufacturers insist on increased worker safety and equipment protection. Understanding the function of the manufacturing process is intrinsically important when applying safety solutions. With safety functions being integrated into automation controllers, drives and motion solutions, and across networks such as EtherNet/IP™, integrating safety can help increase productivity, minimize downtime, and thereby provide substantial savings from lost production.
Focus on Energy. Machine builders are increasingly focusing on energy efficiency, including reusable energy. This can include solutions such as variable-frequency drives (VFD) and servo controls. In addition, electronic actuators often can replace pneumatic and hydraulic systems, so manufacturers do not have to be concerned with energy-wasting compressed air systems or spilled hydraulic fluid.
Productivity. Manufacturers must keep their equipment running at all times. To help reduce downtime, they are using technologies such as vibration monitoring, integrating safety, and implementing track-and-trace software to generate metrics on machine performance, which can increase overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
Motion Efficiency. More machine builders are examining mechatronics to optimize machine performance and reduce energy usage. For example, Rockwell Automation Motion Analyzer software features mechatronic design tools, which can help OEMs build smaller machines by correctly sizing the servo and drives applications.
Remote Monitoring Remote monitoring lets users troubleshoot equipment remotely, and reduce gasoline consumption and travel time of maintenance personnel who normally would drive to the equipment’s location.
EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA.
Filed Under: Factory automation, Automation components, Packaging, Mechatronics