Since electronic servo motion control emerged as an automation solution 25 years ago, packaging machinery has been a primary target for innovation. These high-speed, line-oriented machines were often originally designed with a main lineshaft to synchronize complex mechanical motion. Packaging machines were a perfect fit for multi-axis coordinated motion, electronic gearing and camming, large axis count controllers and the fundamental strengths of servo technology.
The pace of innovation hasn't slowed, and with high-speed networking and integration of logic and HMI control, changes in controls have become an even more complex and multifaceted evolutionary process. Suppliers are now looking to use processing power and software advances to implement kinematics for robotics and find ways to simplify and speedup the software development process. This report surveys the latest trends and how packaging controls are evolving to power the newest generation of machines.
PackXpert Generates Robotics Code for Packaging
A consistent theme in the evolution of packaging controls is the implementation of new tools for creating application software more easily and quickly, along with the integration of robotic handling capabilities into a wide range of OEM packaging machines.
An example is PackXpert, a recently introduced software technology from Adept Robotics. This software is designed to take the company's expertise in robotics for packaging and make it available to customers in a simple, easy-to-use product that is useable right out of the box.
"We decided to take our expertise in vision-guided, conveyor-tracking robots and create motion application programs that provide a solid level of software, and make it available to users as soon as they install the product," says Travis Armstrong, a systems' engineer for Adept.
Armstrong says robotic motions are similar for a wide range of product handling applications. The PackXpert application software walks the user through configuring the application and setting up process-specific items such as whether there are one or four conveyor belts, or the application requires vision. The idea is to allow the user to configure the system using point-and-click software. Then PackXpert builds all the underlying programs required for the application.
"All the user needs to do is configure the system, teach the locations and what the part looks like, and we create the underlying programs that do most of the work," says Armstrong. "One of our main goals is shortening development time. Instead of finding time to write programs for error recovery, handling multiple products and changing over from Product A to the next-generation product, we wanted to minimize the amount of time it takes to develop an application."
"Being Green," Sustainability Puts Focus on Efficiency
This year's PackExpo, held in Chicago in November, confirmed for some that the strong focuses on "being green" and sustainability issues are increasingly becoming important for packaging machinery builders. For more and more OEMs, there is a goal to reduce packaging material usage by producing more accurate machines that reduce the waste of packaging films and other materials. But according to Rick Rey, a packaging industry business development manager for Bosch Rexroth , this focus is rippling into controls, as well.