A Who's Who of the top European packaging machine builders gathered at automation supplier ELAU AG this past March to hear motion control visionaries describe what to expect in control systems for the next generation—the so-called Generation 4 packaging machinery.
So what should we expect? In a word, software. Most of the presenters described the impact of increasing software content, and what engineering departments will need to do to manage software quality in design projects.
In fact the biggest change for Gen4 will be in the software itself, said Klaus Bender, professor at the Technical University of Munich. He predicted that by 2010, 60% of machine cost will be software, with mechanical and electronic content accounting for roughly 20% each. Contrast this with today's Gen3 machines—which count roughly 40% of cost in software, 20% in electronics, and fully 40% still in mechanicals—and the change becomes evident (see DN 2.3.2003, p. 53).
Packaging machinery OEMs will have to adapt to this new software-based model of product development. Bender advised them to beware of increasing software complexity.
Gen1 systems, from the 1950s, were purely mechanically driven systems with shafts and gears transmitting power to various parts of the machine from a single motor. Gen2 introduced mechanical/servo hybrids, while » the current Gen3 machines are said to be completely "servo centric."
Gen4 comes into the picture as largely software-driven servo systems. Thomas Cord, research and development manager for ELAU, identified key Gen4 trends such as simplified operation and diagnostics, processing and packaging line integration, vertical integration with MES systems, and expanded regulatory compliance requirements. He said the technologies enabling Gen3—such as integrating motion and logic—provide a scalable foundation for next generation software.
What will be needed is a comprehensive roadmap for project management, said software quality consultancy ITQ President Rainer Stetter. He noted traditionally control system considerations are an afterthought to mechanical design. His model describes a methodical sequence of design reviews, testing, and documentation at distinct intervals through the project cycle.