New concepts in packaging machinery design and development, using base machine modules that can be configured to support “batch size of one” production goals, are incorporating a combination of integrated hardware and software solutions. The result is new concept for machines that have a greater ability to changeover on-the-fly by deploying a common base machine platform designed to be more readily adaptable to constant size and format changes.
“Adaptive means the process adapts to individual products, rather than product attributes having to conform to the process,” John Kowal, business development director for B&R told Design News. “This is a powerful capability for a machine builder to bring to manufacturers operating in a marketplace increasingly dominated by ‘digital native’ consumers expecting to buy exactly what they want, immediately, online.
“Flexibility for mass customization up to batch size one production is the brass ring, making changeover an obsolete term,” Kowal said.
Other benefits of this approach include an ability to develop proven electromechanical machine cores and subsystems that offer a high degree of modularity and virtual elimination of wear parts. The idea is that, once an installed base of new machines is developed, it makes more sense for the end user to come back to the machine builder for new modules rather than to buy a new machine from a competitor. Other differentiators in the marketplace can include smaller machine footprints, easier setup, availability of built-in simulation capability to optimize performance, and use of communications standards to coordinate between machines and with management/cloud systems.
Extension of Flexible Automation Solutions
The concept of adaptive machines is, at its core, an extension of traditional flexible automation. But the key is that more highly developed subsystems can be designed to more easily adapt to radical and unforeseen requirements in the future, such as replacing a carton erector module with a pouch forming module.
“Long stator linear motor technology isn't new. In fact, the third generation of track technology is a refinement of the electromechanical aspects of track design,” Kowal said. “What is new is the power of the software that defines adaptive machinery. You can see isolated aspects of the adaptive machine's flexibility in sophisticated conventional machinery, the biggest difference being that conventional machines, whether linear or rotary, remain essentially sequential in nature.”
One application example in packaging is the bottle plates on a rotary servo labeler providing a degree of independent control, and the modular aggregates that provide flexibility in label stock, adhesive type and format. But it is the same with moving work-in-progress from station to station, where robots perform tasks such as assembly and, using conventional technology, the longest task times define machine throughput. The trend toward automated format changes, though, is defined by a strictly sequential process.
|An example of adaptive design is a new intelligent transport system from B&R. Electromagnetic ACOPOStrak diverters can divide and merge product flows at full production speed, but its design flexibility also allows it to morph into all types of open and closed layouts by arranging different combinations of track segments. (Image source: B&R)|
Integrated Hardware/Software Solutions
The combination of integrated software and control hardware to bring performance and flexibility to a new level provides the most exciting technology developments in this area.
“By controlling all aspects of the track and surrounding devices -- robot arms, actuators, vision, coders, etc. -- in a single software program running on a single processor in a single controller, all aspects of processing can be very tightly synchronized,” Kowal stated. “Independent, bi-directional control of the shuttles contributes to the unprecedented flexibility for mass customization, as does the modularity of workstations that can be added, removed or repositioned around, inside, above and below the track.”
Other peripheral software technologies are now also available that integrate into an adaptive design. This includes solutions such as light curtain muting to allow different 'batch size one' products to pass through. Anti-slosh algorithms can be used to allow high speed shuttle movement without spilling liquids or powders, and to assure fast settling times for tasks such as check weighing and capping. Plus, servo algorithms can compensate for mechanical anomalies and are self-learning to adapt as anomalies change. Advances in motion software can make it possible for moving devices to track moving shuttles through changes in direction and multiple dimensions.
“Software's potential has been realized, enabled by Moore's Law, really unlocking the potential of track technology,” Kowal said. “Air force planners envisioned a single aircraft being able to engage multiple targets simultaneously decades before the technology caught up with the concept. Here, the concept is producing multiple products simultaneously on a single machine.”