Machine building: Flexibility is silver bullet for packaging machine design

Predictive maintenance, online parts ordering, energy monitoring are information metrics moving to the operator level or machine level. Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for packaging machinery focus on low cost and high flexibility. See photos, links for additional advice.


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As machine builders look to their packaging customers for keys to future designs, the need to switch products without investing in new equipment and better machine diagnostics are becoming important design trends. Most packaging machinery OEMs, it seems, are focused on two key issues: low cost and high flexibility. Much depends on what the budget will allow, and how creative OEMs can be.


Geoff Clippinger, industry manager for the Food and Beverage Center of Competence for Siemens Energy & Automation Inc., says, “Packaging requirements are changing everyday, because companies are constantly releasing new products. They don’t always need equipment that can handle a rapid change-over, but they do need flexible machines that can accommodate new products.”


Ben Green, packaging industry consultant for the Motion Control Solutions group at Siemens, contends that OEMs today are striving to develop a “silver bullet:” a machine that lets users “switch from one product to another and not have to make a new capital investment every time packaging formats change.”


To achieve such capability, machine designers are addressing a number of considerations, including machine life cycle. Mike Wagner, Rockwell Automation’s global business manager for packaging OEM solutions, says, “Today, we have vertical form, fill, and seal machines that put potato chips in a bag of any size. Linear motors are used to drive the equipment; and the machine can be changed on-the-fly to run another bag size. You don’t need another machine or even an upgrade every time you launch another product.”


Wagner says that by designing this kind of flexibility into machines, OEMs are achieving an internal cost savings. “If they can build a machine that’s more flexible, they don’t have to redesign it so frequently—and that is related to sustainability” and lower cost, he says.


OEMs also are looking at designing equipment with new ways to maintain it and to keep it running at full efficiency, says Wagner. Beyond taking the obvious steps to control losses such as air leaks, he says, “they are making sure that when a bearing goes bad, it can be easily identified and replaced. They are building vibration analysis tools on board to measure component performance.”


Many systems already have these features and capabilities, adds


Predictive maintenance is moving to the machine level.

Predictive maintenance, online parts ordering, energy monitoring systems—these information metrics used to reside only at the plant level. But they are moving to the operator level or machine level.

Doug Burns, practice lead for sustainable production, Rockwell Automation. Packaging machines already include controllers that can, for example, help optimize temperature loops and set points to minimize the energy needed for shrink wrapping. It is one of a number of things in existing controller platforms that many machine builders and end users can — but typically have not yet — tapped into to drive efficiency.


Bring the package and the machine together


The big trend, adds Wagner, is to bring the package and the machine together. “Predictive maintenance, online parts ordering, energy monitoring systems—these information metrics used to reside only at the plant level. But they are moving to the operator level or machine level. As a result, we are likely to see some revolutionary things happening.”


Some of these things could include better machine diagnostics, which provide improved information about what is happening and what might go wrong, and other ways to maintain productivity.


For example, “a lot of electronic equipment contains memory cards now,” explains Siemens’ Clippinger. “If a part fails, you just pull the memory card out of the bad part, put it into the new part, put it back in place, and the machine is up and running again in 5 minutes. That reduces downtime and maintains productivity.”


SEW Eurodrive, a supplier of motion control products to packaging OEMs

The fact is, downtime costs money. And some contend that anything that reduces downtime costs is the real silver bullet for packaging machine makers and their customers, especially given the current world economy.


“I’m not yet seeing these economic times drive [an increased interest in] efficiency,” says Rich Mintz, product manager for SEW Eurodrive, a supplier of motion control products to packaging OEMs. “Price is still the driver. OEMs are still faced with getting the cost of their machines down as low as possible.”


Mintz suggests machine buyers do a cost audit before specifying the next purchase. “Packagers should sit down with the OEM, review each component, and re-evaluate the most costly ones,” he says.


More trends , advice: For more on packaging automation trends, visit . There you’ll find the results from the 2009 Automation in Packaging research study, conducted by Control Engineering and Packaging Digest .


More packaging, automation articles

For more on automation in packaging, read:
- Investment decisions are not automatic in tough market ;
- Automation drives efficiency, lowers cost .


For additional advice, see:



Redesign mechatronics, cut 30% of machine automation costs




RFID, machine sensors, I/O network help error proofing



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