By Arne Valentin, Technology Manager – Machine Automation, SEW-EURODRIVE
Exploring the ways automation platforms — available with modular, preselected sets — promote throughput and efficiency in the packaging industry.
Packaging operations are anything but simple. Every day, millions of food items, commodities, and other products must be packaged, sealed, transported, unloaded, mixed, stored, recycled, and sorted, to name a few. To maintain high levels of throughput, packaging machines must be highly adaptable — able to handle fast changeovers, frequent product changes, and a variety of materials.
Easier said than done, however. Automating a machine’s processes, functions and movements depends on various product characteristics, such as size, weight, and volume. For food and pharmaceutical products, the list of criteria is even longer, with machines requiring special functions like synchronized movements, temperature controllers, and monitoring. How can original equipment manufacturers (OEM) meet such a wide variety of requirements in a simple, cost-effective way while still offering machines with high levels of throughput, efficiency, and safety?
Unfortunately, many automation and drive solutions currently on the market involve individual components and systems that must be integrated with each other — a time-consuming and labor-intensive integration process. As a result of these challenges, it’s becoming increasingly important for OEMs to engineer machines efficiently on a common platform.
Meeting these challenges head-on is StarterSET, a modular product and software bundle that offers the functionality of specific packaging machines, including vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) machines, palletizers, case packers, and more. In addition to including all the basic hardware and software modules for implementation — all of which fit together in a seamless, intelligent way — each StarterSET is extendable, enabling OEMs to build special-purpose machinery, meet customer-specific requirements, and remain adaptable in an increasingly competitive market.
OVERCOMING OEM CHALLENGES
Relieving the strain on OEMs, each StarterSET package includes preselected drive and control components from the MOVI-C modular automation system, such as servomotors, planetary servo gear units, servo inverters, and higher-level controllers. Each set also contains software modules that are prewritten and focus on parametrization. Also, a state and mode manager, called MOVIKIT Automation Framework, complies with the Packaging Machine Language (PackML) standard. I/O modules and HMI for easy machine operation round off the StarterSETs.
For example, the “Form Fill and Seal Vertical” StarterSET is available for a typical vertical FFS machine. OEMs receive a package of basic drive and automation components, along with the necessary accessories like cables, plugs, and terminals. All hardware contents are perfectly coordinated with each other, therefore saving time and reducing the likelihood of errors during the selection and engineering process.
Users can also extend StarterSET packages to meet unique or specific requirements, reducing their configuration time, project duration, and overall costs. For example, OEMs can easily add additional motion axes, condition monitoring systems, integrated safety technology, energy modules or increased controller processing power. No matter the iteration, each kit maintains high product quality and provides fail-safe performance — both of which are necessary for a successful packaging operation.
At the heart of each StarterSET is the MOVIKIT® software bundle consisting of preprogrammed modules that are embedded in the MOVI-C controller and offer various simple to complex drive and motion control functions. In a vertical FFS machine, for example, the software modules enable users to precisely adjust and monitor machine processes related to speed, temperature, and film tension. In fact, these capabilities can reduce the time it takes to develop and create a machine sequence program dramatically.
- Here’s a quick overview of how StarterSET software modules make various FFS machine functions possible via simple parameterization:
- Unrolling the film: The software precisely controls the way the packaging material is unwound from the rolls and fed into the packaging process. Users control material tension directly via the torque or dancer position.
- Dosing: The software synchronizes volumetric filling in real time — using an auger, for example. Users simply parameterize the filling variant, along with cycle-synchronous actuator control.
- Moving the sealing bars: The StarterSET synchronizes the sealing bar and tongs and also moves the sealing bar in relation to the printmark. Once the sealing time has elapsed and the tongs have opened, the bar returns to the starting point.
- Moving the tongs: The software precisely controls the opening and closing of the sealing tongs and maintains the proper machine pressure when sealing the bags.
Controlling print marks: Via the StarterSET software, the film drive automatically detects print marks and monitors the sealing bar’s synchronized movement. This capability ensures images are properly positioned on bags, demonstrating the precise interplay between servo drives.
In addition to these vertical FFS machine functions, software modules can easily be configured for individual applications, thanks to StarterSET’s use of open-source code. This combination of modularity and flexibility saves users a considerable amount of time. And, developers don’t have to waste time programming basic functions.
StarterSET also supports reliable motion control functions for recurring movements and motion profiles, such as synchronizing the flying saw and sealing station with the continuous supply of film. In the past, these functions could be implemented in the drive, motion controller, PLC, or higher-level controller. Due to the various software licenses involved, users had to know in advance where the intelligence in their machine ultimately resided.
Fortunately, StarterSET — which offers a comprehensive software bundle tailored to the machine — moves away from this classic yet cumbersome machine automation pyramid.
AUTOMATION FROM THE START TO THE END OF THE LINE
Beyond vertical FFS machines, other machine-specific StarterSETs are available, some for the beginning of the packaging line and others for various end-of-line processes. Here’s a rundown of these other options:
Case packers — side and top loaders. These machines must process a wide variety of product formats quickly and with as little effort as possible, requiring an automation platform with flexible program execution. Via simple parameterization in StarterSET, users can implement pulling, gluing, forming, filling, and sealing tasks. The kit also includes functions like electronic cam control to synchronize axis movements, as well as position-dependent valve control. Even robotic kinematics within the case packer can be included in the StarterSET.
Palletizers form pallet layers and build complete pallets. They fall under four types: articulated arm robots, SCARA-style palletizers, traditional layer palletizers, and gantry palletizers. Machine functions and movements depend on the pack size, weight, and work envelope. MOVIKIT software bundles within StarterSET provide a versatile solution for these applications. For example, software modules ensure precise control of robot axes, handle containers in a delicate manner, and even optimize stack quality.
Filling machines are used to fill products like yogurt, pudding, and drinks into cups, cans, buckets, and glass containers. The containers fed into the machine are often separated, sterilized, filled, closed, sealed, inspected, and transported. Each work step must be precisely synchronized to ensure high throughput. The StarterSET makes it easy to implement these machine functions — even when strict hygiene requirements apply.
Depending on the machine setup, design, and cleaning requirements, StarterSET kits for these applications come in different configurations. If the servo gearmotors must make contact with food, for example, the kit offers stainless-steel hardware, such as servomotors and planetary gear units. These components can handle high cleaning pressures, hot steam, and corrosive cleaning agents for clean-in-place (CIP) and sterilization-in-place (SIP) processes.
Specifically designed for machines like this is the MOVIKIT AntiSlosh software module, which adjusts the travel profile to reduce the sloshing behavior of liquids. This capability minimizes the amount of time a liquid needs to settle once it is moved without reducing machine throughput in a way that negatively impacts production volumes. Without it, transporting liquids in open cups, glasses, and other containers can soil the container or lead to seal-related problems, resulting in extra scrap and reducing production. By minimizing oscillations during liquid transport, the AntiSlosh module improves the cleanliness and hygiene of packaging processes.
Horizontal FFS machines wrap individual products in a continuous flow of flexible material, requiring fast, flexible format changes. StarterSET gives manufacturers precise control over different products and bag sizes within one machine. It also maintains consistent temperature control, improving the quality of seals.
AUTOMATION FROM A SINGLE SOURCE
With StarterSET and MOVI-C, OEMs receive a comprehensive automation and drive platform from a single source, with all hardware and software components preselected for the respective machine type. Each kit can be deployed immediately — or flexibly adapted and expanded to meet additional requirements. For example, a single-axis function can later become a coordinated multi-axis movement. If these expansion capabilities weren’t already included in the software bundle, users would need to extend the license, driving up costs and engineering time. The result: infinite automation possibilities for OEMs.
Filed Under: Packaging