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The mass customization balancing act

To build manufacturing equipment that can be readily adapted to specific user requirements and evolving consumer preferences, the most important component is modularity. A commitment to modularity and cutting-edge automation solutions from B&R allowed machine builder R.WEISS to develop an especially flexible packaging solution.

Packaging specialist R.WEISS creates custom packaging lines from standardized modules – which it networks via POWERLINK and programs using cutting-edge B&R mapp Technology. (Source: R.WEISS)

With the popularity of custom granola mixes and personalized containers for beverages, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, the individualization trend is going strong in the packaging industry. Traditional production lines designed for mass production and tuned for maximum output are ill-suited for the small batches and one-off production this requires. Their long changeovers and rigid designs are too hard-steering to perform the balancing act between efficiency and agility known as mass customization.

For Europe's specialty machine builders, this challenge is nothing new. Rising cost pressure from East Asia and increasingly specific user expectations have forced them to develop methods of building custom-tailored solutions with series-production efficiency.

The key ingredients have proven to be modularization and digitization. To achieve the necessary levels of efficiency in development and production, machine modules must be highly standardized and feature consistent electrical and mechanical interfaces. Adapting each module's functionality to a specific task must be handled primarily via software alone. This allows the specialty machine builder to focus development resources on adding value with new functions and modules.

Modular from the start: the UNIROB system

R.WEISS has perfectly demonstrated just how beneficial a commitment to modularity can be. In developing its UNIROB system, the company knew from the beginning that standardized machine components would be the key to offering custom packaging solutions that would be easy to adapt to the unique technical requirements and spatial constraints of customers in a wide variety of industries, as well as the constantly evolving demands of global markets.

Since R.WEISS released the first UNIROB machine for individually packaged goods in 2001, the portfolio has grown steadily to offer configurable standardized modules for every step of the packaging process – from erection and top loading to case packing, sealing, labeling and palletizing.

Each of the modules uses the same machine housing. Large transparent protective doors provide an unobstructed view and easy access to the packaging process. Supply units and control hardware are tucked away in the roof of the housing. Each modules can be operated as a standalone machine – yet the enormous benefits of the modular design really come into play when they are configured and assembled into a complete packaging line.

The heart of R.WEISS top loading and picker lines is a module with standard robots with 4, 6, or 7 degrees of freedom and high-performance delta pickers. Peripheral components and the conveyor system for product and packaging are positioned below them.

Users enjoy added flexibility in production process design thanks to an innovative intelligent conveyor system. Individually-controlled shuttles allow freely programmable movement of product and packaging and enable R.WEISS machines to change over even quicker between formats, products or seasonal requirements.

Delta robots and an intelligent shuttle system ensure maximum flexibility in packaging line operation. (Source: R.WEISS)
Intelligent Shuttle System ISS
Control of the delta robots is handled by the B&R controller. Users can easily adapt the robots' movements via the HMI when changing formats or products. (Source: R.WEISS)

Limitless possibilities, efficiently integrated

A great advantage for the user can be huge challenge for machine builders like R.WEISS, whose portfolio of configurable components and modules results in a dizzying array of possible combinations to be managed.

As components form modules and modules form lines, the complexity could easily get out of hand without a fully-integrated, scalable automation solution providing optimal support for the modular design. For years, the machine builder has trusted this task to B&R.

B&R first appeared on the radar for R.WEISS thanks to the compact design and superior performance of its automation solutions. The availability of combination devices like B&R's Panel PCs, which serve double duty as both controller and HMI panel, was another important factor. B&R's modular solutions – like ACOPOSmotor, which fully integrates inverter and motor into a single unit – allow the control and drive technology to mirror the design of the machine modules. As a result, the modules can be set up individually for testing prior to final commissioning. All of the packaging specialist's components and machine modules are networked via the high-performance POWERLINK communication bus, making it easy to expand, with plenty of bandwidth for expansive lines and large numbers of bus nodes. B&R's comprehensive portfolio and scalable control system – from simple X20 compact CPUs to high-end industrial PCs – give R.WEISS the freedom to choose just the right hardware platform for any situation.

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B&R's integrated automation platform generates information about equipment status and the production process, which R.WEISS provides in the form of statistical reports. (Source: R.WEISS)
  • Siegfried Schust Sales Manager, R.WEISS Verpackungstechnik GmbH & CoKG
    "We were impressed by B&R's comprehensive portfolio and the performance of their components. The level of support they provided our development teams and their willingness to build us custom modules are also substantial arguments in their favor."
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