Putting some swing in your drinking experience
The good old swing-top bottle is back in style. Machines fit to handle all the tough-to-automate tasks involved in producing and sealing swing-top stoppers are developed and built by AMS Getränketechnik. Upgrading their entire automation solution to B&R technology helped AMS develop a new line filler in record time. With superior performance, convenience and ease-of-use, this further strengthens their position as the global market leader.
Beer enthusiasts have known and loved them for decades. Yet they are also used for liquors and fruit juices, for organic products such as oil and vinegar and for liquid cosmetic and hygiene products. Swing-top stoppers are a practical and versatile bottling solution. They're perfect when the contents are under pressure – due to carbonation, for example. The swing-top can be opened and closed an unlimited number of times without requiring any tools. The downside is that they are more costly than conventional bottle closures, and the process of installing the swing-top mechanism on the bottle and sealing it is much more difficult to automate than a crown cap or screw-top.
For many, especially in the German-speaking countries, cracking open a swing-top bottle is a nostalgic experience. It is associated with working outdoors and on construction sites and evokes not only a sense of sturdiness and quality, but also some very fond memories. The swing-top achieved cult status amongst the German youth of the 80's and 90's through an unemployed biker named "Werner", the most successful German comic character of all time. Swing-top bottles can therefore be interesting from several marketing angles as well. Since nearly disappearing from the market in the 70's, swing-top bottles have experienced a comeback since the 80's – especially as a technique for marketing specialty beers.
Increasing pressure for automation
Generally, swing-top stoppers are assembled by hand. Assembling the closure mechanism and mounting it on the bottle is strenuous, monotonous and thankless task. On the German market, where swing-top bottles are returnable, only about five percent of bottles reenter circulation each year. Elsewhere in the world, one-way bottles dominate the market, and production in the tens of millions of bottles creates a great deal of pressure for automated solutions.
Even the process of closing and sealing the filled bottles was previously completed manually. Though this is a manageable amount of work for a small-scale operation, it becomes an insurmountable task when mass produced bottles need to be closed at a rate of several thousand per hour. And this sort of throughput is not uncommon.
A patent dating back to the 60's covered a machine that performed these tasks. However, with the decline of the swing-top in the 70's, the German manufacturer – enjoying the monopoly this patent had awarded him – halted all further development of the technology.
Helmut Gazo, a trained metal worker and mechanical engineering foreman, recognized that this outdated technology no longer met the needs of a growing brewing industry, and that there was a clearly a market gap waiting to be filled. In 1994 he closed this gap by founding AMS Getränketechnik, a company specialized in beverage filling machinery using swing-top closures. At the international Brau Beviale trade fair in 1995, AMS presented a prototype that struck a nerve throughout the industry. Today, AMS Getränketechnik is the global leader in its field.
More than 75 machines from the Austrian producer are in operation around the world. Gazo attributes the Lower Austrian company's success to its dedication to expertise and its customer focus. "We concentrated on one specific area and haven't strayed from that," he explains, "and while we do work to standardize our technology where appropriate, our machines evolve out of a close cooperation with our customers. Our machines are also the fastest ones on the market."
The AMS swing stopper sealing machine receives bottles from the filling station, aligns them, closes them and checks them on the fly at a rate of ten bottles per second. In 2005, on the tenth anniversary of the first sealing machine, a mounting machine was added to the line. According to the original plans for the mounting machine it would still involve certain manual tasks, yet in the course of development a sorter unit was added, which uses cameras and robotics to align the pre-assembled stoppers as they are fed to the mounting station.
Supplier switch for expanded portfolio
"Until recently, many of our users preferred control systems from a specific supplier," says Gazso, "and we have struggled for a very long time with this supplier's inflexibility and lack of expandability." Specifically, there was a chronic tendency to lose signals at high speeds. AMS engineers were also unsatisfied with the limited selection and the inability to customize the design of operator panels. On top of that was the limited availability of replacement components after a number of years of service.
Many AMS systems operate not as stand-alone applications, but rather as part of a larger production line together with filling systems from well-known manufacturers. Since these manufacturers automate their lines with B&R technology, AMS electronics programmer Stephan Holzer raised the idea that switching to B&R might be the answer.
In late 2010, a Taiwanese brewery placed an order for an AMS swing stopper sealing machine and a line filler that was to be purchased from a sub-supplier. However, the sub-supplier was unable to fulfill the order. With no similar systems available on the market that could meet the performance specifications, AMS developed its own line filler. The result is a system that ensures top filling quality even for smaller operations such as microbreweries. Yet the potential applications for this modular short-tube filler are in no way limited to beer. It can accommodate any liquid in bottles made of glass or PET with a diameter between 50 and 120 mm and a height of 180 to 470 mm and achieves outstanding repeat precision for fill height.
Catalyst for innovation
"In spite of our tight deadlines, we took advantage of this project to switch suppliers, since we could start on a blank slate without the burden of existing software," says Gazso. "B&R supported us by actively cooperating on the concept and providing development tools for evaluation."
Having Automation Studio as a universal tool for every programming task involved in automating the new system made life a lot easier, not only for the AMS engineers, but also for the subcontracted software development company, GEMINOS Anlagenbau. "Whether it's process control, HMI, motion control or safety technology – I only have to buy and install a single tool," says Holzer, clearly pleased. "More importantly, I only have to learn to use one tool, which is a huge advantage when implementing a customer's first project under extreme time pressure."
The level of integration and performance achieved by the automation solution was made possible by new developments that became available at just the right time. As a result, the developers had exactly the products they needed to accomplish what they had in mind.
For all future machine series, AMS will be using the Power Panel 500 in full stainless steel housing as a compact operator control panel. Most of these will run a combination of B&R's Automation Runtime operating system and Windows®. This allows it to handle all control tasks while also improving the HMI experience with integrated PDF help pages and videos. A Windows®-compatible 3rd party program was used to set up a simple and secure remote maintenance system. AMS also takes advantage of the integrated transponder chip reader to provide user-specific authorization.
Decentralized will full power
POWERLINK connects the Power Panel 500 controller to the rest of the automation system. This consists of X20 System components in a central control cabinet and in auxiliary control cabinets, as well as X67 components mounted directly on the frame of the machine. Existing valve terminals are connected and integrated using XV modules.
The numerous motion axes are driven by ACOPOS servos. These control synchronous motors from the 8LSA series with B&R gearboxes, some of them also with ACOPOSinverter P74 book-format VFDs, also connected via POWERLINK. "The ease of use, the powerful features and the dynamics of the motion control far exceeded our expectations," Holzer remembers. "The motion control programming environment makes it very difficult for an operator to make mistakes, and the POWERLINK network ensures rigid axis synchronization practically on its own."
The state-of-the-art solutions don't end with the standard equipment. Sophisticated safety features such as safety windows made of tempered glass with configurable no-hands safety locks are connected to a SafeLOGIC controller via X67 modules using the openSAFETY protocol. POWERLINK allows this safety control system to communicate with the ACOPOS components. Safe Motion Control features keep operators safe when working on the machine without requiring extensive cabling and diagnostics.
Buying local pays off
"We have been especially impressed by the direct support B&R provides, both in the form of expert consultation and with regard to component availability," praises Gazso. "Since B&R is also an Austrian company, there's no language barrier and there's never far to travel." What is more, with all configuration data stored on the central controller, customer's own technicians are able to replace control, HMI and drive components autonomously. This is possible because the individual devices require no custom configurations or special programming tools.
In November of 2011, the "Sansibar" line filler – the first AMS product automated by B&R technology – was unveiled at the Brau Beviale exhibition. In May of 2012 it began operating on-site in Taiwan. AMS has since equipped a swing stopper sealing machine and three mounting machines with B&R solutions.
"We still give our customers the option of ordering our machines with control, HMI and drive technology from other suppliers," adds Gazso, "but when the issue comes up, we're sure to point out the key features, performance and convenience they would be missing out on if they do."