What automation/motion technologies are making an impact in packaging?
In the packaging machinery market, it's clear that motion solutions are continuing to move away from mechanical solutions and hard automation, to soft automation utilizing more and more servos. With the pricing of drives coming down, more compact drives and a need for system flexibility, use of servos is accelerating and users are much more able to blend this technology into packaging machines. This trend is largely being driven by demands of end users for flexibility. Packaging flexibility is required because of the need to shift and adjust to consumer tastes, a different size package, a different look, different colors and other changes that affect the packaging of a final product.
How is this technology driving packaging performance?
From a performance standpoint, we're continuing to see an emphasis on getting more packaging throughput with more precision. There's a point where, with mechanical systems, you just can't do much more. But we're still seeing throughput needs and for that you need more powerful controllers and drives to keep all of the motion on the machine coordinated. The goals, along with system flexibility, are more accuracy, higher throughput and, at the same time, less scrap. Progressive solutions today offer high speed, deterministic network connectivity that integrates I/O, servos and controllers into very tightly controlled high-speed systems.
What are opportunities and challenges for packaging machinery OEMs?
Major challenges include engineers finding the time to keep up with new technology and users wanting much more highly integrated lines of machines. Floor space is also an issue for many users as they need to maximize their plant utilization rather than adding floor space. Think of a packer/case cartoner as an all-in-one machine rather than two separate machines. New integrated designs lessen the pressure on connecting to other machines, but require better overall machine motion and sequencing control.
There's a strong movement to get away from islands of automation and more emphasis on connecting systems to increase operational efficiency. That's a challenge because a lot of the OEM machine builders have been focused on creating better machines, but now they've got to think of what to do in the control system to communicate from controllers vertically up to the MES system.
How is software advancing the state-of-the-art in packaging controls?
The increase in the quality and quantity of software solutions is adding significant value to packaging machines. We promote the open technology as much as possible because of connectivity requirements and the reduced training requirements that standards offer. IEC 61131-3 is making an impact on machines because you've got a powerful programming package that's standards-based and brings sequencing and motion into one integrated package. As more control suppliers use IEC 61131-3, there will be a significant reduction in training and support. The machine tool industry moved to a standard programming environment 40 years ago and it helped increase the penetration of NC/CNC machines into more and more machine shops and increase their productivity. The packaging industry is now beginning to see the value of such a standardized approach.