Las Vegas, NV--Automation and technology suppliers are here at Pack Expo this year to showcase their new product innovations. They're also looking to convert what some say has been a sharp uptick in RFQs (request for quotations) over the past year into more design wins.
"Design engineers are busy redesigning their next-generation machines, and we're seeing a tremendous amount of quoting activity right now," says Graham Harris, President, Beckhoff Automation. "But although we're finding new customers all the time, there is still some nervousness out there."
Where they are buying, he says that engineers are very focused on price and performance, and that is particularly true in the price-sensitive packaging industry. So it's no surprise that is precisely the message at Beckhoff's booth, which features a number of displays designed to show engineers how the company's EtherCAT (Ethernet for Control Automation Technology) products, including PCs, I/O terminals, and servo drives, can deliver speed, flexibility, and new capabilities at a low cost.
Marketing Communications Manager Shane Novacek, for example, described how the use of quad-core processor technology enables new capabilities for the design engineer to exploit, such as scientific measurement and condition monitoring: "The processor has enough resources to allow the integration of high-precision, PC-based measurements and condition monitoring into the automation solution. By using standard I/O," he says, "design engineers can avoid the need for specialized (and costly) local controllers and measurement technology interfaces for current/voltage, energy, temperature, and other parameters."
Jim Watkins, Sales Director at Festo for the San Francisco Bay Area, said that the recent downturn has turned into an opportunity for his company, which makes pneumatic and electrical automation technologies, to get in front of more engineers. "A lot of engineers are involved in redesign efforts today, and it's a chance for us to talk to them about our solutions."
Festo's electrical solutions have grown significantly over the past five years, as evidenced by the number of new products in this area showcased at its booth, including a servo-driven, multi-axis pick-and-place robot. Here at the show, Festo's electro-mechanical servo technology can be seen in action on a customer's product. Wexxar engineers have applied the technology on the WF30 case forming machine, where it helps to maintain a consistent speed and is energy efficient.
Bosch Rexroth's Electric Drives and Controls Technology Group is featuring in its booth several customer applications that use the new IndraDrive Mi integrated motor and drive and the IndraMotion MLC motion logic platform. "One of the benefits of our integrated motor and drive solution is you only have a single cable leaving the cabinet," says Dan Throne, giving the lone cable a quick jiggle for emphasis. "The thing that plagues motors and drives is the noise from the encoder feedback cables," he notes. "Not a problem here."
Ray Buchko, Jr., VP of Operations for CP Packaging, whose machine was featured in the Bosch booth, says that he's saved costs by integrating everything into one master platform, including the servo drives, control platform, and pneumatics. "Yet I have the flexibility of three different protocols-Sercos, ProfiBus, and Ethernet."
All in all, exhibitors seemed pleased with the amount of traffic and quality of leads at the show. As the whether, all those quotes will turn into sales overnight, no one can really say. But there may be one silver lining to this economic downturn:
"When you're going 110 miles an hour, nobody has time to think about anything," says Beckhoff's Harris. "Now engineers actually have the time to think and make improvements to their designs."