Pushing packaging to new levels
Machinery for the packaging industry faces four fundamental demands: it must deliver outstanding performance and premium quality while also ensuring high availability and maximum flexibility. As if this weren't challenge enough, the advent of new requirements for individualization and serialization is transforming the industry and prompting a paradigm shift in the automation technology involved. Maurizio Tarozzi, Global Technology Manager for Packaging at B&R, explains how B&R became a leading automation supplier in the packaging industry and why B&R's integrated automation is ready to take on future challenges.
As a leading supplier of automation for the packaging industry, B&R is clearly doing something right. What's the secret?
In today's consumer packaged goods industry, a product's packaging plays a crucial role in its success – and the success of a packaging machine depends on how quickly and easily it can adapt to new trends. B&R has become a leading automation supplier for its partners in the packaging industry by following a concept of integrated automation that best answers the challenges faced by the global market. B&R provides solutions with the performance and scalability to cover all the needs of the industry and grow as these needs evolve. B&R solutions push packaging machines to new levels of performance, flexibility and availability. This is the natural outcome of B&R's commitment to perfection in automation being applied with an in-depth understanding of the market – which it has earned through close cooperation with end users around the globe. From primary and secondary packaging through to end-of-line solutions, B&R consistently leads the way with innovations that shape the market. Only automated packaging machines that synergize all the benefits of state-of-the-art motion control, robotics, safety, image processing and IT connectivity can achieve a sustained edge on the competition.
What's the one thing an OEM needs in order to get the most out of their equipment?
For today's packaging machinery a modular mechatronic design is indispensable. Consequently, the best performance can only be achieved through perfect synchronization of centralized and decentralized automation components – all seamlessly orchestrated by comprehensive automation software. POWERLINK and B&R Automation Studio 4 were developed exactly for this purpose; they are the backbone of our success in the most advanced packaging machines. But this alone is not enough. There is no "one thing". Every core automation component – the control system, servo drives, I/O and HMI units – makes an essential contribution to the overall performance. The B&R product portfolio offers a wide range of integrated and highly scalable solutions that perfectly fit every requirement of the most advanced packaging systems and push machine performance to its physical limits.
What technologies does B&R offer that push machine performance to its physical limits?
With B&R's reACTION technology, programs are executed directly on distributed I/O modules – eliminating internal data transmission to achieve response times as low as 1 µs. This reduces the load on both the network and controller and optimizes performance to match demands. The result is an immense increase in performance without added costs. Then there's NetTime, which provides real-time clock synchronization over POWERLINK with an accuracy in the nanosecond range, allowing you to synchronize multiple encoder positions and distributed I/Os. Together, reACTION and NetTime represent a new paradigm in control performance. Another essential aspect is motion control. B&R's intelligent ACOPOS servo drives work with very short scan times and communication cycles of 400 µs – or only 50 µs in the control loop. This allows very fast, event-driven cam transitions that satisfy the requirements of the most advanced packaging machines. Electronic cam profile deviations are automatically calculated every 400 µs – independently of the number of real and virtual axes used in the application and unaffected by the network or the control system.
What does this mean in terms of real-world packaging applications?
Primary packaging is the most challenging. On these machines the packaging material meets the product at the highest possible speed, so the level of precision directly influences both product quality and raw material consumption. In filling machines, for instance, both gravimetric and volumetric filling processes can use reACTION technology to operate valves and sensors with an unrivaled precision of 1 µs. Other high-speed machine functions like glue shooting, code stamping and bad product rejection can combine B&R's reACTION and NetTime technology to synchronize motion control with distributed I/O. Digital output patterns can be controlled with a resolution of 125 ns, and fast input edges such as registration marks or product detection are recorded with a timestamp of 1 µs.
NetTime technology can also be used to replace expensive intelligent sensors like the ones found on rotary labelling machines to detect bottle orientation. Analog input modules with a sample time of 50 µs can scan the bottles and provide the data for precise bottle alignment at up to 80,000 bottles an hour. Product and package changeovers, registration mark correction, cut-and-seal functions, belt-tracking and product handling are just few packaging tasks that require on-the-fly motion profile changes.
The B&R Cam Profile Automat allows machine operators to change motion profiles dynamically without requiring any new calculations on the controller. B&R's Safe Motion Control can drastically increase the uptime of any packaging machine. You can remove a product jam or make mechanical adjustments while keeping the whole machine under control. A safer machine results not only in improved operator security but also in higher productivity.
Why have POWERLINK, openSAFETY and the open source approach been so successful for B&R?
Aside from delivering remarkable performance, these standards are an extremely sound investment. This is due to their openness, as well as technical characteristics such as hot plugging, easy diagnostics, free choice of network topology, cross-traffic and integration of CANopen mechanisms, which give users considerable added value. The system represents the only real-time Ethernet standard on the market in the true sense of the term – an open source, purely software solution that relies on standard hardware components and fully standard-compliant Ethernet frames. Utilized and supported by a rapidly growing community of leading packaging OEMs, technology providers and global end users, these technologies are guaranteed an ongoing process of standardization and broadening acceptance – keeping them future-proof long down the road.
Packaging machine builders are clearly favoring a modular mechatronic design strategy. How does B&R's integrated automotion contribute to this approach?
The best way to accomplish mechatronic design with true modularity is to have modular hardware working in perfect harmony with modular software. From a hardware point of view, you've got B&R's motor-integrated and machine-mounted ACOPOS drives, which bring the power out of the cabinet directly to where it's needed. Distributed HMI and I/O modules can be connected directly to machine modules, giving you the added speed and flexibility of decentralized intelligence. And with a record 10 control systems and 728 axes synchronized over POWERLNK at 400 µs, B&R has proven its knack for coordinating multiple controllers and safety systems – an essential aspect of a modular solution.
What benefits does Automation Studio 4 offer for packaging OEMs?
Automation Studio 4 provides all the team development functions you need to develop modular software that is completely independent of the real hardware. Moreover, it offers a complete suite for simulating the tasks performed by every automation component, including simulation of the motor load. This means that machine builders can know how the machine's performance matches up to the customer's requirements before ever beginning mechanical construction. With B&R's Generic Motion Control approach, the motion control solution is developed in complete independence of the actuators. That means that, in the next step, the machine builder is free to select whatever combination of synchronous motors, induction motors, stepper motors, DC motors and hydraulics is needed to meet the machine requirements without having to go back and modify software that has already been developed.
Why is robotics integration so important for packaging machine builders, and what solution does B&R offer in line with this trend?
Being able to integrate all types of robot kinematics into a machine is key to achieving maximum flexibility in production. SCARA and delta robots embedded in machines for sorting and placing need to be perfectly synchronized with the machine's I/O and motion control in order to significantly improve performance. Outside the machine, you've got palletizers with anthropomorphic or 4-axis kinematics. In this case the robot is a complete machine, and the key to boosting flexibility and performance is getting it fully integrated with your secondary packaging machine.
B&R has solutions for both types of requirements. By integrating a comprehensive set of transformations for all the different types of kinematics in Automation Studio, B&R has made it easy to synchronize robotic and motion control with IEC 61131 compliance using PLCopen Part 4. This once again highlights B&R's commitment to open standards and the flexibility that comes with them.
Among automation suppliers, B&R has taken a unique approach to vision system integration. Why?
Over the next few years, we're going to be seeing more and more cameras performing various tasks on every packaging machine. In order to guarantee total quality, maximize OEE and satisfy market requirements such as track-and-trace, serialization and food safety, you need an automation solution with eyes.
Teaming up with Cognex allows us to offer our customers added benefits, with vision systems fully integrated and synchronized in a unified machine architecture.
What will be the next big technology challenge for packaging end users and OEMs?
Individualization and serialization trends are setting a clear path toward the conversion of printing and packaging technology. Only by enabling in-line digital printing can a machine builder push individualization to batch-size-one production. We've already seen some experimentation here from Nutella and Coca-Cola on their labels. These were not batch size one, but were big steps toward individualization.
In the future, when you go online to place an order, you'll design your own custom packaging along with it. At Drinktec 2013 we saw the first machine builders using in-line digital printing technology as a substitute for conventional bottle labels. This is the kind of innovative combination of printing and packaging that will take over the field of packaging technology in years to come. As a market leader in both printing and packaging, B&R is perfectly situated to provide the integrated solutions to accompany the convergence of these two industries.