Consumer demand for personalized products and customized delivery is growing. To meet this need, manufacturers are looking for innovative ways to deliver mass customization of consumer packaged goods. Now is a good time to rethink your packaging machine design
Sara and her husband Antoine love peanuts for both snacking and baking. Sometimes they buy their own snacks in small packages during a quick run to 7-Eleven. Other times, they choose larger packages of various sizes for party bowls or for baking projects like cookies, peanut brittle, caramel peanut brownies and other treats for family and friends. They look for lower-salt or no salt options, they insist the packaging be environmentally friendly, and they sometimes order their peanuts online for next-day delivery.
This is just one of the thousands examples of mass customization where increasingly personalized products and customized delivery are the norm, moving from concept to reality. The convenience of online shopping means that consumers expect door-to-door delivery within a day or less.
In addition, the trend towards smaller households has spurred the growth in single serving offerings while our love for variety has prompted the emergence of more multi-pack options.
To keep up with this changing consumer demand, consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers require highly productive and agile packaging equipment. For OEMs, the challenge is designing cost-effective machines that can meet new demands for flexibility across primary, secondary and tertiary applications.
Your OEM Can Help
In a margin-driven world where productivity and speed to market are critical, your OEM is a key contributor to enabling smart and flexible manufacturing success.
Smart, flexible machines built with advanced technology can make it easier to shift between varying packaging sizes or even changeover to run entirely different products. The ultimate goal is multi-purpose equipment that can change between products, sizes and configurations at the push of a button, making your operations more agile and flexible.
The reality is, most packaging lines are not equipped for rapidly changing demand. While legacy equipment on plant floors was typically designed for high-speed throughput, it faces significant obstacles when handling highly variable products.
At the heart of the problem is the equipment’s ability to respond on the fly to a diverse product mix. These systems are designed to advance products through the line on a preconfigured path at a fixed speed. On a traditional packaging line, “pitch” – the spacing between products – is determined at the outset and based on “worst-case” scenarios. Pitch is limited by the longest dimension of product in the direction of travel, the largest packaging station and the maximum pitch achievable by the system.
Likewise, in a conventional system, it is not possible to vary the number of products handled at each station or the amount of time required for each operation. “Parallelism” – the synchronized movement of products through the line – is fixed and determined by system throughput requirements and the process that takes the longest to complete.
As a result, producers are finding themselves in a highly manual conundrum of delivering in this high-mix environment without the proper automated packaging solutions to make it cost-effective. This is where a machine builder can help you with the right solution to deliver the required flexibility and efficiency.
Advanced Packaging Technology
Linear Motor Independent Cart Technology (ICT) provides an advanced solution that provides infinitely greater flexibility and efficiency than traditional systems. ICT intelligently moves products as operations are completed and can bring a changeover downtime from hours to minutes, literally making changes with the push of a button.
How? Linear motors change the equation with magnetic direct drive propulsion of multiple product-carrying carts along a track. They enable independent control of each cart using control software – and embedded sensors that continuously calculate cart position. Accelerations, decelerations, velocities and positions are programmable.
Instead of traveling at a fixed speed, products independently move from station to station as packaging operations are completed. Once the system starts running, it precisely adjusts speeds and distance as needed in the process. As such, line pitch and parallelism are variable and dynamically modified to manage traffic flow.
Envision a packaging line that automatically adjusts pitch to accommodate first flat and then formed carton sizes. Or a system that seamlessly transitions from three-up box formation to four-up filling to eight-up loading – ICT makes this possible.
Changeover from one product or packaging format to another is programmable and managed from a recipe-driven operator interface. In addition, because ICT uses far fewer moving parts than conventional fixed conveyance systems, machine complexity and maintenance is kept to a minimum.
The end result is an extraordinarily efficient system that maximizes throughput, flexibility and uptime.
Another technology central to flexible manufacturing is robotics. Challenge traditional designs with more integrated, accurate and safe solutions from your supplier. A holistic solution that brings together robotics, equipment and automation control allows you to quickly reconfigure your machines for a variety of products.
Advances in robotics engineering can also support flexibility with sensors and vision technologies that automatically adjust to accommodate new products. In fact, Codian Robotics is a Rockwell Automation Encompass Product Partner that produces delta robots of two (2), four (4) and five (5) axis designs. Their Robots are open controls architecture allowing you to harness the power of Logix and Kinetix to control the line and the robots, using a single control system.
4000 Configurations with the Push of a Button
Aagard – an OEM of custom automation equipment – developed an innovative customer solution to automate packaging of variety packs in various configurations. In fact, the customer required 4000 configurations and these ranged from one to six flavors and 12 to 96 products per case. They required stand-up displays, divider sheets, tight floor space, fast changeover and high end line rates (100 cases per minute), it became clear that traditional packaging technology would not offer the agile solution the customer needed.
With the agility and ease of operation needed, an automated packaging solution built around iTRAK technology became a simple answer. iTRAK combines linear and rotary motion which simplified the solution by eliminating the requirement for dozens of delta robots over a conveyor that add up to thousands of components including rotary motors, gearboxes, grippers and other complexities.
“The key to success in this situation was to focus on the business need and evaluate available technology,” said Jason Norlien, vice president of technical sales at Aagard. “We created a solution built for future market demand and business growth.”
Rockwell Automation-controlled gantry robots will pick the product for staging, building the pattern needed for each carton. From there, iTRAK components adjust to accommodate the height, width and overall configuration of the pack and select the right-sized cardboard blank to fit the product.
This is all done without tooling changes – only the single push of a button on the HMI. That same instruction from the HMI could also come from a supervisory or ecommerce system, demonstrating that as the Amazon Effect takes a deeper hold in CPG, custom orders can be easily accommodated without manual intervention.