Sustainability is a hot topic in the packaging industry right now with much of the discussion rightly revolving around materials and package design. Yet, machine builders can also help by improving the productivity and efficiency of packaging machines. “What's good for productivity and efficiency is good for sustainability,” says Dan Throne, Bosch Rexroth's manager for packaging technology. He cites the packaging industry's on-going push toward “more electric” machines — and away from line shaft-based mechanical equipment — as a classic example. According to Throne, electric machines can offer faster speeds, less energy usage, precise control and less downtime. These improvements all have obvious productivity advantages. “They also improve sustainability because they allow you to make a given amount of product in less time, with less scrap and lower energy utilization,” Throne says. Machine improvements can also have a hidden impact on sustainability. Servo-based machines, for example, have the flexibility to adjust to new sustainable materials. Or consider machine safety. “No one thinks of machine safety as a sustainability issue, but it is,” Throne says. He says modern integrated safety approaches, which allow a variety of safe speed and safe torque options, can often help eliminate the scrap that comes when packaging lines come to a full stop when traditional safety measures are used. Here's a look at three automation developments whose productivity advantages also have an indirect sustainability play.
The move from centralized line shafts to decentralized servo drives is something that has been going on in the packaging industry for a few years now. But the focus on productivity and sustainability will likely accelerate this trend. According to Bosch Rexroth's Dan Throne, servo-based machines typically have a 5 to 10 percent overall equipment efficiency advantage compared to mechanical machines. That overall efficiency includes factors such as energy use, scrap and downtime — all of which figure into a packaging line's contribution toward sustainability. What's more, Throne adds, the precision control offered by servo-based machines can better cope with new sustainable materials and thin-gauge packages. “Servos are more adaptable than mechanical machines,” says Throne. For these reasons, Bosch Rexroth has started to see interest in its IndraDrive MI, a servo motor with a compact integrated drive with built-in motion control smarts. Up to 20 of these units can be connected using a single cable and power supply, providing an easy route to the decentralized control.
The main point of machine safety systems is keeping people from getting hurt. But that's not the only point. Integrated safety systems that can prevent accidents while minimizing disruptions to production will increasingly see use as machine buyers seek the most productive equipment solutions, says Helmut Kirnstötter, vice president at B&R Industrial Automation. The latest such integrated safety approach from B&R works with its ACOPOS drive system. The system adds a safety CPU called SafeLOGIC to a machine's Ethernet POWERLINK network. The CPU collects safety-related data and distributes it to the drive. The system provides a variety of standard safety functions, including ones that allow safe motion rather than full stops.
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