Smart motion control speeds up changeovers and boosts productivity with a flexible approach instead of conventional, complex mechanical systems.
By Todd Webber, president and CEO of MagneMotion, a Rockwell Automation company
Designers of conveyor systems and other motion-control systems long have been forced to choose productivity over flexibility. That is because conventional motion systems use a strictly mechanical design approach, involving rotary-driven chains, belts and gears.
These systems are not only complex, but also inflexible and challenging to maintain. So, while a machine or line may achieve a desired throughput level, changing to a new product can require extensive mechanical retooling.
Such systems may have sufficed in the days of continuous production runs, but no longer. Manufacturers today are producing a wider array of products and packaging sizes. As a result, they need more flexible systems that can accommodate added production variety while minimizing changeovers and other downtime.
Smart motion-control systems offer a new way forward. They use new hardware platforms with advanced control algorithms that allow manufacturers to make changes by reprogramming a system rather than retooling it. They also provide greater control when transporting and positioning products to help increase production performance.
One example of smart motion is an intelligent track or conveyor system that uses programmable independent movers on a straight or curved track. These systems can be scaled to a range of needs, from high-performance, in-machine production to the transport of products between facilities. In addition, they already are helping reimagine motion applications, from packaging and pharmaceutical production to 3-D printing.
All of this can help manufacturers reduce changeover-related downtime, accommodate a larger variety of product and packaging sizes and improve the profitability of shorter production runs.
Smart motion systems can run and accelerate faster than conventional motion systems, and their independent movers can speed up operations further.
One packaging equipment builder incorporated a smart motion system with independent movers into its high-speed collating machine. The new system reduced the number of mechanical components and doubled throughput from the previous-generation machine.
Another machine builder used a smart motion system in a new high-speed case-packing machine that packages pouches in a variety of shelf-ready formats. The machine uses the motion system’s high-speed movers to pack as many as 60 cases, or 300 pouches, per minute. Most legacy pouch case packers cannot exceed 20 cases per minute.
Smart motion systems are designed for flexibility. Software-configured profiles make tool-less product changeovers possible with the push of a button. The systems’ independent movers can transport multiple payloads of varying weights, and manufacturers can add, remove and orient the movers in a range of ways based on production needs.
Cama Group, an Italy-based Rockwell Automation OEM Partner, used a smart motion system on its new high-speed carton-filling machine. The system uses two carriers to handle products of any size without tool changes. This allows for automatic changeovers with no need for manual intervention.
Machine builder KHS also used a smart motion system in its Innopouch K-400 form, fill and seal (FFS) pouching machine. The machine is “pitchless,” with each pouch independently controlled and changeovers completed with the press of a button.
“Instead of using mechanical elements to move product through the machine, we’re now using a magnetically driven device that can adjust its geometry through software,” says Roger Calabrese, research and development manager for KHS.
Faster changeovers invariably lead to more uptime, but smart motion systems also help increase uptime in other ways.
For instance, they have fewer moving parts than conventional systems, resulting in reduced maintenance demands and downtime. They also make information more easily available to operators, which can help prevent jams and reduce troubleshooting time should an issue occur.
Furthermore, smart motion systems can recover faster in the event of an emergency shutdown. In conventional mechanical systems, motors need to return to a home position. Smart systems, however, use absolute encoders on each mover that hold position data and can restart immediately after a shutdown.
More Ways to Support Manufacturers
Beyond supporting more productive and flexible operations, smart motion systems offer other key benefits. For one, they can reduce energy costs significantly. In conventional systems, a whole conveyor must run regardless of whether it is carrying one product or hundreds of products. Smart motion systems, on the other hand, apply energy only to the specific movers that are being commanded to carry products or hold a position.
Smart motion systems also can help reduce machine footprints on the plant floor. They can combine continuous and intermittent processes — such as printing and assembly — into one machine. They also can use highly configurable design elements, such as straight and curved tracks, to optimize a machine’s size on a plant floor. Altogether, these design benefits can reduce a machine’s physical footprint by 10 to 50%.
Last, they help workers. Fewer moving parts, easy-to-use controls and tool-less changeovers all help reduce operational complexity. This can be especially valuable for less-experienced workers who are not only less familiar with production systems, but also increasingly expect more software-driven operations.
Smart Motion and the Future of Manufacturing
Adoption of smart motion systems likely will grow in the coming years, as more manufacturers embrace smart machines and seek to make better use of their production information.
Smart motion systems can manage the flow of a variety of products intelligently to maximize throughput. They can use built-in self-diagnostics to troubleshoot and resolve stoppage issues quickly. In addition, they allow operators or technicians to implement production improvements swiftly via software profiles rather than through long, laborious mechanical changes.
Smart systems also can support greater traceability in industries such as life sciences, food and beverage and automotive. The systems can track and record each product’s journey through the production process. Operators can use this information to know where products are at all times, while quality and compliance personnel exploit it to confirm products went through the necessary processes.
All of these capabilities show that smart motion systems can do far more than free designers from being forced to choose productivity over flexibility: They help motion control be entirely reimagined.
The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.