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Brand Owners Look To Robotic Packaging Automation (Part II)

Mon, 05/02/2011 - 11:28am

If you missed Part I of this series, click here to read about the adhanced productivity and flexibility that robotic innovation can deliver.

Brand owners looking to get ahead know that every little improvement can affect the bottom line. As they face increasingly global competition, an ever-growing diversity of products and shorter product runs, they are increasingly looking to the dexterity of robotic solutions as a way to be more nimble and responsive to shifting market demand.

Robotic technology can help minimize material and energy waste for better sustainability scores and greater returns on existing assets. Advancements in software and information management capabilities can extend the benefits even further. A ttendees at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011 (September 26-28; Las Vegas Convention Center) will find a wide range of robotics innovations to choose from when selecting the right solution for their particular operational challenges. The examples below are just a snapshot of what brand owners will find.

Get with the Program: Software and Information Management Innovations

With the dizzying array of technical innovations and enhanced features rapidly coming on to the market, production managers require the tools to control, monitor and manage these systems and track the data they produce. Whether it’s managing product flow speeds, using modeling and simulation software to specify optimal line configuration, or tracking production data to identify inefficiencies, robotics providers are coupling their machines with smart software better enable packagers to achieve their production targets.

MOTOMAN’s MLX100 Robot Gateway platform is designed with this seamless ease-of-use in mind. The platform enables users to program MOTOMAN robots directly from RSLogix™ software.

Tim DeRosett, director of marketing at MOTOMAN, Inc. (West Carrolton, OH; Booth #3438) says that software solutions that provide more and better data – and are better able to exchange data between system components – are critical to companies’ packaging operations.

“Interoperability is becoming more and more critical to companies as they try to access production information in real time,” he says.

DeRosett also notes that MOTOMAN products provide access to robot production data and feature compatibility with open software platforms.  This provides easy access for programming the robots as well as allowing access to more and more data. 

“This makes connectivity across the shop floor and even up to MES [Manufacturing Execution Systems] and ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] systems seamless,” he adds.

MOTOMAN’s MLX100 Robot Gateway platform is designed with this seamless ease-of-use in mind. The platform enables users to program MOTOMAN robots directly from RSLogix™ software. DeRosett says that, because the maintenance and engineering staffs at most companies are usually already proficient in RSLogix software, companies can program and support a wide range of industrial robots with their existing staff and without extensive software training. The ability to program the robot from within RSLogix software is meant to offer more possibilities to both packaging machine OEMs and end users. Using PAC/PLC (Programmable Automation Control/Programmable Logic Control) language, the MLX100 allows users to program, deploy and support robotic systems utilizing their existing in-house programming expertise.

Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, WI; Booth #5417), a provider of automation control and information systems, works with robotics manufacturers to develop control solutions. Leo Petrokonis, business development manager, stresses the benefits of using one integrated control system for an entire packaging line. “If the same technology and software is used throughout the plant, then maintenance, storage, training, and spare parts are the same, simplifying a whole range of operations,” he says. Unifying the control function under one system also enables different components to “talk to each other better” and minimizes the specialization needed to repair and maintain the line.

The benefit of integration through unified control platforms is a key focus of Rockwell’s Kinematics Integrated Motion Solution. Designed for robot control, Kinematics helps OEMs and end users to unify all control functions as part of a single, integrated solution, eliminating the additional robot and safety controllers, software and custom modules typically required when incorporating a robot into an application. This approach allows users to utilize the same hardware and software architecture to help control the discrete, motion, safety and robot sections of their packaging lines. Petrokonis says users can save time and reduce training costs with a unified hardware that uses a common programming software and language for the entire application. The control system also is able to synchronize robotic motions with other components of the line; e.g, a vision system or a conveyor.

Easy to be Green? Sustainability Still Sells

Sustainability themes are a staple on the processing and packaging scene. Robotics manufacturers are keenly aware of this and attacking the associated challenges in ways that are environmentally sound andmake good business sense, such as minimizing the energy usage of a piece of equipment or reducing packaging waste through the prevention of dropped products with precision handling capabilities.

Terry Zarnowski, director of sales and marketing, Schneider Packaging Equipment Co., Inc. (Brewerton, NY; Booth #2018), a designer of “complete end-of-line solutions,” observes that sustainability is key in the minds of his customers when sourcing robotics solutions. 

“Our designs utilize less energy through a process of ‘right-sizing’ the equipment to match the needs of the application,” he says. Schneider delivers designs emphasizing flexibility and adaptability to ensure the maximum amount of product can be packed in a given area, reducing packing material needs as well as the volume occupied on a truck or shipping container. Zarnowski adds that this approach improves overall sustainability, lower costs and increased profitability.

Schneider will display an application demonstrating just this effect at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011. A robotic carton loading cell utilizing vision-guided robots will feature high speed picking of randomly located bags on a conveyor and load them in a nested fashion into a carton. Zarnowski underlines that this allows for the densest possible packing of products and thereby reduces the amount of packaging materials.

But other approaches to sustainability abound. FANUC’s Motley explains that the higher equipment availability and shorter changeover times associated with robotics applications increase plant efficiency by not wasting electricity and other resources on powering the plant when the line isn’t running. Alternatively, Sanders of C&D sees sustainability in the “super-efficient” motors, servos and drives built into the company’s equipment, as well as their use of gel-based batteries, which put out a waste product less harmful to the environment than do air-based batteries. MOTOMAN builds sustainability into its controls system, which includes a hibernation feature that powers down the servo motors and drives when the robot is not in production mode. And Campbell of ABB points to the precision movements of their robots, which helps cut down on product waste.

For more information about PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011 or to register, visit www.packexpo.com or contact PMMI’s Show Department at (703) 243-8555 or expo@pmmi.org. PMMI is a trade association with more than 560 member companies that manufacture packaging, processing and related converting machinery, commercially-available packaging machinery components, containers and materials in the United States and Canada. PMMI’s vision is to be the leading global resource for packaging, and its mission is to improve and promote members' abilities to meet the needs of their customers. PMMI organizes the PACK EXPO trade shows: PACK EXPO International, PACK EXPO Las Vegas and EXPO PACK México, connecting packaging and processing equipment and materials suppliers with their customers around the world. Coming in 2010: EXPO PACK México in Mexico City, June 22–25, and PACK EXPO International, Oct. 31–Nov. 3, at Chicago’s McCormick Place. PACK EXPO Las Vegas returns to the Las Vegas Convention Center Sept. 26–28, 2011. Learn more about PMMI and the PACK EXPO trade shows at PMMI.org and Packexpo.com.

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