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Is Your Packaging Machine's Throughput Not What it Used to Be?

How can overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) be improved in the era of customization and SKU proliferation? With smarter machines using independent cart technology.

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More SKUs, greater customization, and the need to track products through production continue to reshape food and beverage packaging – and take a toll on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

In some cases, we’ve heard from OEMs who had been achieving very high OEE for their end-user customers. Now, their customers are reporting significantly lower OEE—only around 40% to 60%.

The reason for the change? The growing number of product and packaging options that end users need to produce requires changing over machines far more often. And each time the line needs to be changed, manufacturing stops and output drops.

It’s clear that a new type of manufacturing requires a new type of machine. One that’s smarter and more flexible. And independent cart technology is leading the way.

Get more from packaging machines

Independent cart technology uses individually controlled movers that transport products along a track, offering countless benefits over traditional gear, chain, and belt conveyance.

For starters, manufacturers can switch production with the press of a button. Object-oriented libraries allow standardization and fast implementation to preset motion profiles from the HMI, resulting in virtually zero downtime for machine format changes.

Unlike traditional conveyor technology, which has fixed space between products, independent cart technology is variable pitch. It can adjust the distance between products on the production line to align with the various product formats. This flexibility allows you to optimize production and increase your throughput for all the food and beverage items you package, in just one machine line.

DT Engineering, an industrial automation developer and system integrator, used independent cart technology in a new system to help meet one Fortune 500 customer’s OEE standard of 85%. The solution ended up exceeding the standard – achieving 97% OEE. Based on that success, DT Engineering developed the solution into a new product for a wide range of assembly, dispensing and packaging applications.

Intelligently spacing carts also helps with one of the biggest trouble spots in manufacturing: infeed. As one of the most complicated stages of packaging food, if an application has bottlenecks, it’s typically in the infeed stage. Independent cart technology can adjust the spacing between carts to prevent slowdowns at specific packaging stations and can combine continuous and clocked processes for infinite production.

When ECONO-PAK needed to create a packaging/cartoner machine that would cater to product varieties for a confectionary customer, it turned to independent cart technology. The legacy machine that was being replaced used a common-chain drive and was tuned to cater for single trays of chocolates. As a result, the machine’s speed was governed by the slowest step in the packaging procedure.

On the new machine, the infeed and carton pusher are now separate. Independent cart technology is used to position shuttles under the product infeed, collect up to three blister packs or trays, and then rapidly move them to the packaging station. Because the shuttles are independently controlled, the longer dwell time at the in-feed station when more than one tray is deposited has no effect on the machine’s overall speed. This helped the customer achieve a 50% throughput increase.

Reimagine primary packaging

The newest addition to the Rockwell Automation independent cart portfolio is the iTRAK 5730 small-frame intelligent track system.

The system expands what’s possible in today’s multi-product packaging operations by providing a smaller footprint. This expands the flexibility and throughput benefits of independent cart technology to primary packaging applications, such as flow wrapping, end-load cartoning, and form-fill-and-seal pouching.

The system can also enhance safety and productivity with built-in integrated safety features. The ability to create safety zones, for example, can increase productivity by allowing a machine to continue moving outside a safety zone where a trip has occurred. Features like safe stop and safe torque off also can improve confidence in machine safety.

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Excellent OEE doesn’t need to be a thing of the past. You may just need a little help from independent cart technology.

Michaela Kaufmann
Michaela Kaufmann
Product Manager, iTRAK, Rockwell Automation
Michaela Kaufmann

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