Smart Machines Bring Plants to Life

Smart Machines Bring Plants to Life

Learn how smart, secure, Ethernet-enabled packaging machines help increase productivity, improve flexibility, reduce design complexity, and address workforce challenges.

By Steve Mulder, regional segment manager for packaging, Rockwell Automation

Manufacturers are eager to understand their operations better, improve productivity and keep up with competitive pressures. As a result, they expect their machine builders to deliver packaging machines that fill two primary purposes.

First, manufacturers want smart packaging machines that allow them to capitalize on the transformative potential of smart manufacturing. Smart machines are connected, Ethernet-enabled machines. They should deliver real-time diagnostics, use modern machine-safety technologies and be easy to integrate. They also should be designed with an eye to the future, with capacity to scale up to support additional connections and expansions.

Second, they want machines that can support increasingly high-performance packaging operations. This means helping them boost productivity to gain a competitive edge, as well as improving their operational flexibility to support expanded product varieties and more diverse packaging sizes. It also means helping address new productivity and worker-safety challenges that are arising from an evolving workforce.

Embracing Smart Machines

Smart, high-performing machines can help manufacturers improve their operations and address pressing business needs in several ways. Four key focus areas include improving productivity and efficiency, increasing flexibility, reducing design complexity and addressing workforce challenges.

Improving productivity and efficiency. One of the most essential ways to get more from packaging machinery systems is by connecting machines, sensors and devices and using intelligent software to improve control. Companies can also combine standardized machine functionality with standardized information reporting to drive continuous overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) improvements across multiple sites.

The greater connectivity available in a smart-manufacturing approach also creates completely new ways to improve productivity, such as remote monitoring. This can be used to oversee operations, perform real-time diagnostics and troubleshoot problems.

For example, Rockwell Automation OEM Partner Premier Tech Chronos offers a cloud-enabled, remote-monitoring solution for its packaging equipment. The solution can give operators and maintenance teams mobile access to machine statuses, and it allows for the sharing of diagnostic information. It even can provide the required part numbers, fulfill part orders and schedule maintenance if an issue arises.

Increasing flexibility. Expanding product portfolios and more diverse packaging sizes means that production runs are shorter and changeovers are more frequent. As a result, manufacturers need greater flexibility in their machines to minimize changeover times and ultimately maximize throughputs.

Traditional motor solutions that use rotary-driven chains, belts and gears can be rigid, with complex designs and little flexibility. New machine solutions often can meet modern production needs better.

An intelligent track system, for example, is a scalable, motion-control system that provides independent control of magnetically propelled movers on a track. It replaces traditional mechanics with simple software profiles, which can improve speed and flexibility in a diverse range of packaging applications.

Rockwell Automation OEM Partner and food and beverage packaging machine builder Delkor Systems uses an intelligent track system on its HSP-400 case packaging system for flexible pouches. The system’s independent control of product movers allows the HSP-400 to reach three times the average speed of other case packers with precision, says the company.

Reducing design complexity. Incorporating smart devices from multiple equipment manufacturers can lead to challenges in getting those devices to communicate and operate in concert with each other. This can increase engineering time and costs during machine design and commissioning and create maintenance challenges in the future.

Improved controller-device integration helps address these challenges. Premier Integration from Rockwell Automation is a unique capability that consolidates controller programming, device configuration and machine-operation and maintenance activities into a single software environment. Premier Integration is made possible by using the latest intelligent devices in a Logix-based control architecture.

During integration, the Logix-based controller can recognize and retrieve the profiles of other Logix-based devices automatically. The engineer selects the specific device module, and the software pulls in all of the device’s parameters. This can reduce substantial time engineers spend poring through device manuals to identify the meaning of parameter fields in the control-system software.

Library management is another capability in Premier Integration. It allows packaging machine builders to store, manage and reuse code from their programs. This can help them reduce development time and build on the outcomes of their successful projects.

Addressing workforce challenges. The global manufacturing workforce is in the midst of a massive transition. Skilled worker shortages have emerged as a threat to growth and productivity in multiple regions around the world. To help manufacturers cope with these challenges, packaging machines should be designed for easy use by newer and experienced workers, while also optimizing worker safety and productivity.

Contemporary machine safety systems can help reduce safety risks and improve productivity. These safety systems are integrated with machinery-control systems and are less prone to nuisance shutdowns than hardwired systems. They also are more ergonomic, reducing the probability that workers will override the systems and put themselves at risk.

Additionally, human machine interface (HMI) faceplates with systemwide diagnostics and easy-to-understand display screens can help younger, less experienced workers detect issues and ease troubleshooting. Embedded help functions and user manuals also can help improve machine familiarity.

Design Considerations

Achieving the desired levels of connectivity and performance are essential to a smart machine’s design.

At the network level, the machine should be able to communicate in real time across an Internet Protocol(IP)-based, standard and unmodified Ethernet network infrastructure. For example, EtherNet/IP supports a simple network architecture, with the ability to handle discrete, continuous process, batch, safety, drive and motion applications.

At the system level, the machine should use the latest integrated control and information technologies. These technologies are well-suited for smart machines because they offer increased performance, easier access to information and reduced machine complexity.

New compact controllers provide up to 20% increased application capacity to support the growing demands of smart manufacturing. New I/O modules also offer two 1-gigabit Ethernet ports for faster scanning and for connecting up to 31 modules without the need to expand.

Security also is essential in a smart machine. More connections present more opportunities for security threats, whether they’re physical or electronic, malicious or unintentional, remote or onsite.

Smart packaging machines should follow a defense-in-depth (DiD) security approach to help protect intellectual property, safeguard operations and secure remote-access connections. DiD security is based on the idea that any one point of protection can and likely will be defeated. It uses a combination of physical, electronic and procedural safeguards to establish multiple layers of protection.

Smart Manufacturing Comes to Life

Smart manufacturing is transformative. It helps connect people, processes and technologies to improve collaboration and decision-making at all levels. It can replace laborious, manual data collection with automated data collection to save time and reduce the risk of human error. It can use production intelligence to increase productivity, improve quality and address safety risks.

Machine builders are central to making all of this possible in packaging operations with smart, secure, high-performing and Ethernet-enabled machines.

Learn more about smart machines from Rockwell Automation.

Learn more about the Rockwell Automation OEM Partners.

The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.


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The JOURNAL from Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is a bimonthly magazine, published by Putman Media, Inc., designed to educate engineers about leading-edge industrial automation methods, trends and technologies.