Intelligent Packaging Machine Set to Revolutionise eCommerce Logistics

Intelligent Box Sizer Revolutionises eCommerce

Challenge

  • eCommerce companies are facing stiffer penalties in relation to mismatched product/box combinations, with logistics companies adding premiums to over-sized packaging

Solutions

Results

  • Packaging more closely matched to box contents
  • Less need for wasteful void fill and reduced logistics costs due to optimised box formats
  • No need to rationalise carton selection
  • Integration into warehouse management systems
  • High throughput machine to suit fast moving packaging centres

Intelligent Box Sizer caters for multiple packaging formats, saving money, packaging space and waste

Background

Linkx Packaging Systems Ltd. has deployed an automation, motion and safety solution from Rockwell Automation in its new Intelligent Box Sizer. The Box Sizer is an innovative machine concept that has the potential to create massive savings for e-commerce companies, especially in terms of packaging waste, packaging costs and haulage costs.

By adapting random box sizes to more accurately represent the contents, the machine is already prompting significant interest, especially from companies that ship a huge variety of product types and sizes.

Linkx Packaging Systems Ltd. is one of Europe’s leading suppliers of end-of-line packaging solutions; covering sectors such as food and drink, eCommerce, pharmaceutical and the pet food industries. Its product portfolio includes tray, case and carton erectors, shrink-wrapping machine systems, case and tray sealers, robotic case loaders, palletisers and custom end-of-line packaging solutions. All are designed and manufactured in its state-of-the-art facility in Beccles, United Kingdom.

Challenge

With online shopping and related eCommerce industries growing by an estimated 20% per annum, packaging and transportation issues – especially those related to waste – are becoming ever more concerning.

The primary problem is sizing boxes to fit the contents being shipped. Most eCommerce companies carry a large range of standard sizes, but even these cannot cater for every product size and, as a result, supplemental packaging or void fill is often required, such as paper, polystyrene, starch or bubble wrap. The box range is also limited, to a certain degree, by the capabilities of the automation solution deployed to package the products.

Transportation companies are also being lobbied and have realised that in many cases they are shipping a lot of fresh air in the form of the empty spaces in boxes, which results in fewer parcels in each van, truck or aircraft.

Some in the US have moved over to a concept known as volumetric charging, which calculates the postage costs as a function of both weight and package volume. In this instance, for example, a standard 10 kg box might cost €20 to post, but an oversized box of the same weight could cost €30. It is these additional costs that the e-commerce companies are trying to address with more suitable packaging concepts.

There are machines available on the market that can create custom boxes, but only in terms of the height of the box – as they work on a common box footprint. This is where the new Linkx Packaging System Ltd.’s Box Sizer is set to have a huge impact.

Solution

The new Intelligent Random Box Sizer, the result of a recently created patent, leverages an automation, motion and safety infrastructure from Rockwell Automation. The brains behind the automation solution is an Allen-Bradley® CompactLogix™ programmable automation controller (PAC), which communicates using EtherNet/IP™ with up to 17 motion axes controlled and driven by Allen-Bradley Kinetix® 5500 servo drives. An Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® 525 variable-frequency drive with safe torque-off is also used on the conveyor.

In development for nearly three years, the machine is a direct result of Linkx Packaging System Ltd. listening to its customers and having a real depth of knowledge of its target market. Specifically designed for eCommerce and online shopping fulfilment, where random, single, multiple, loose or grouped goods need to be packaged automatically for dispatch, the machine can intelligently measure the empty volume of a loaded box and then adjust itself to cut, crease and fold the box to suit the volume of goods within.

According to David Hayward, Managing Director of Linkx Systems: “In operation, the boxes are fed on a servo-controlled carriage into the machine from the initial packaging stage, which has already placed the goods into boxes that closely match their size with regards to their width and length. The boxes are then scanned for their size and sensors determine the maximum height of the contents. This data is then transferred to the next station where an overhead servo-controlled gantry, which moves back and forth in time with the flightpath below, lowers cutters – matched to the corners of the box – to cut the corners to a specific depth, creating the new size-specific closing flaps.

“The next station,” he continues, “employs servo motors to add crease lines at the level of the cuts’ depth and a third station folds the flaps prior to taping or gluing. In each case, as the overhead carriages return, they are automatically resizing themselves ready for the next box size. The machine also uses an Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus HMI for operator interaction and information of the equipment.”

In addition to the automation infrastructure, the machine has also been designed to conform to the latest safety standards. Operator protection is achieved using a number of Allen-Bradley Guardmaster® safety products, while the servos and variable-speed drives deploy Safe Torque-Off, which allows power to be maintained to the drives, but disables the outputs thus eliminating hazardous motion. This Safe Torque-Off functionality allows the machine to be started quickly after a shutdown – without waiting for network to re-initialise, removed unnecessary cycling of the drives helping increase product lifecycle – and so improving machine available uptime.

By using EtherNet/IP as the primary communication protocol, Linkx Systems has given itself the opportunity to more easily offer its customers remote monitoring and maintenance, while also having the option to connect the machine into its customers Connected Enterprise. The Connected Enterprise, an approach manufacturers are adopting to leverage the use of connected machines, supply chains and customers, allows them to establish manufacturing processes that are data / information rich, supported, secure and future ready for market demands.

Ultimately, the Connected Enterprise approach for manufactures and their suppliers such as Linkx Packaging System Ltd. will create a more competitive, innovative enterprise that can deliver insights to improve productivity, sustainability and economic performance through faster time to market, lower total cost of ownership, improved asset utilisation and enterprise risk management. Other benefits of access to real-time, contextualised information, include minimised downtime, improved technology and process optimisation, greater workforce efficiency and smarter expenditure. Because EtherNet/IP is based on standard, unmodified Ethernet, it means that there is very little that needs to be done for these connections to be established; and full security solutions are also available for user control and to prevent unwarranted access.

In addition to the automation infrastructure, the machine has also been designed to conform to the latest safety standards

Results

Linkx Systems is a long time user of Allen-Bradley products from Rockwell Automation and often calls upon the company and it’s Global OEM Technical Consultants (GOTC) for help and advice. David Hayward explains: “Whenever new technology becomes available Stuart Ashmore, our GOTC, comes in to help us and advise us on the right path to take. Stuart is really good and if our guys ever need support they go straight to him.

“We’ve worked with Rockwell Automation since Linkx started,” he concludes, “and the reasons are the same now as they were then, it’s down to the products and the support. Our guys also find the software easy to use and the single-platform approach is far more intuitive compared to the offerings from other automation vendors. We also know that the technology is proven and we see very few faults. Rockwell Automation really is an ideal automation solution supplier.”

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