Advanced Blending Solutions heats up plastic-based packaging innovation
Application story: PC-based control and EtherCAT help reduce programming time and panel costs by 25%.
PC-based control and EtherCAT help reduce programming time and panel costs by 25%: "Paper or plastic?" is a question many are asked at the local grocers’ check-out lines. Of course, we know that paper products are derived from trees, but what about plastic products? It’s no shock that plastic is a manufactured product that doesn’t occur naturally and must be specially produced. The plastic manufacturing industry can count the food, medical, and electronics markets as major growth areas for flexible packaging. Run by high-performance and open PC-based control technologies, the Menominee, Mich.-based Advanced Blending Solutions LLC (ABS) aims to remain competitive in the flexible packaging industry by offering custom plastic blending and extrusion control packages and flexible solutions that are robust, affordable, and innovative.
ABS is a supplier to the plastics industry of auxiliary equipment for material handling, blending, and controls. Focusing on the plastic film and fiber markets, ABS equipment supports higher end applications, such as in food and medical packaging, as well as fiber and resin compounding.
“To have competitive offerings for applications that range from simple to complex, we strive to provide innovative solutions that enable modern plastic film and fiber processing plants to maximize product quality while optimizing company OEE,” explained James Wood, ABS director of engineering. Striving to provide results-oriented solutions for each application, ABS works with customers to evaluate needs and deliver the most efficient and financially viable result possible.
“Offering our standard systems with available custom control packages is what distinguishes us from the competition,” Wood said.
Inside the 99,000-sq-ft ABS production facility, Simplicity Series blenders, vacuum receivers, pump packages, and weigh hoppers are just a few of the advanced machines manufactured on site. Continuous blenders from the Simplicity Series perform simultaneous metering of all components, which eliminates the need for mechanical mixing while consistently producing the desired blend. ABS Smart Stands are used to verify raw materials to match recipes. The company also manufactures Angel Hair Removal systems, which are used to remove stringers (referred to as “angel hair” in the industry) from the resin.
ABS is committed to being a single-source provider for customers’ industrial blending and extrusion needs, from system design to on-site installation.
“Our machinery handles and stores the raw material upon first arrival to the customer’s facility and then conveys the resins to ABS blending equipment, which in turn blends the resins prior to extrusion. In many applications, our equipment functions in one of two modes: either as the master controller on the machine line, overseeing all aspects of the process, or as a slave device, integrated to and communicating through another vendor’s downstream plastic processing equipment,” said Wood.
Panel PCs and software PLC convey all the right benefits
During an ambitious campaign to all at once overhaul design, boost controller performance, and improve system communication, ABS decided to offer its Simplicity Series blenders with an industrial PC (IPC) technology in 2007. Since then, progress to modernize the architecture of ABS systems has been significant. Today PC- and EtherCAT-based controls handle many major functions in Advanced Blending Solutions’ systems, including blending/extrusion control throughout custom ABS equipment.
Industrial PCs were chosen after learning more about overall machine automation capabilities. Considering the number of systems ABS manufactures per year, using IPCs “gave us the ability to more easily manage our equipment by standardizing on a uniform control platform,” consisting of panel PCs, PLC software, and EtherCAT I/O modules, explained Wood.
Intuitive and feature-rich control systems from ABS are enabled by touchscreen panel PCs. With integration of a 15-in. built-in panel PC, equipped with an Intel Celeron 1.9 GHz dual-core processor, ABS can efficiently and effectively control machine construction and plant engineering applications. Power, functionality, and flexibility led ABS to use the panel PC as the “standard” control display for its applications.
The IPC “gives us everything we need, such as impressive power from multi-core processor technology,” Wood said. Compact Flash storage media means “it’s an exceptionally stable piece of hardware which is of critical importance in the harsh environments typical of plastics applications.” PC-based control also enables ABS to scale up and down to various system sizes and provides the ability to run on Microsoft Windows 7 OS and another software vendor’s human-machine interface (HMI) platform, used to program the system visualization.
Advanced Blending Solutions continued its machine modernization campaign with the addition of powerful programming software that integrates real-time control with a PLC system, motion control, and a programming environment in one package.
“The power behind the software and ability to organize our plastics application code into libraries has been great for programming and using structured text versus our original system,” Wood explained. Blending, extrusion control, and material handling are all functions that the programming software “expertly supports in ABS blending/extrusion systems,” he said, adding other features along with Microsoft Windows 7, such as enhanced data collection, custom reporting, and remote access for ABS support teams and customers. In addition, it helped establish worldwide ABS network integration.
On the networking side, high-performance EtherCAT I/O and other I/O modules are used in ABS blending/extrusion systems, including velocity control equipment, which manages airflow/speed that’s moving material through the vacuum pump and migratory feeder machines that perform simultaneous metering of all components. In addition, the EtherCAT I/O system provides simple connectivity to the CANopen components used on ABS machines. EtherCAT I/O nodes, couplers, and a CANopen master terminal make it possible to transmit data from all connected CANopen devices over one standard Ethernet cable and one EtherCAT network.
EtherCAT is the standard network for the control solution. Almost all the IPCs and related I/O devices have EtherCAT connections, Wood said. “Considering the ease of installation using standard Ethernet cabling and components along with extremely fast update speeds, EtherCAT met all of our requirements. CANopen is primarily reserved for our special applications that interface with machinery from other manufacturers that use the CANopen protocol. However, EtherCAT master/slave gateway terminals that easily connect with legacy fieldbus technologies quickly eliminate any possible stumbling blocks in this area,” Wood said.
Adding savings to the mix
With so many additional capabilities available to Advanced Blending Solutions today, the company can progress to a higher level of innovation and continuous development. With the blend of TwinCAT, EtherCAT I/O, and panel PCs, ABS has reduced programming time, making it much easier to streamline and shorten its product development cycles.
The unified programming software “has enabled us to simplify the entire programming process, which is extremely beneficial to us,” explained Wood. “We took full advantage of PC-based controls, and there’s no need to implement a separate stand-alone PLC.” The unified programming software “is a clear driver for simplifying our engineering processes.” The panel PC technology “saved ABS between 20% and 30% on control hardware costs,” Wood said.
Advanced Blending Solutions also can offer customers energy savings with its velocity control product. “Utilizing PC-based control and EtherCAT to moderate speed and manage our control algorithms, we’ve achieved energy savings of 30% in the material conveying process through better velocity control of the pumps,” said Wood.
With so many remarkable results piling up, Advanced Blending Solutions has successfully fulfilled its goals of creating custom control solutions while continuing to innovate and develop long-term competitive advantages for customers. However, development of high-performing, flexible, and cost-effective plastic processing equipment from ABS is far from over.
Future plans are well underway for additional control system upgrades with new automation technology.
“With powdered resins growing in popularity as raw material for plastics blending and extrusion, we are working on a line of automated feeders that will convey and blend powders. Based off our previous successes, we will work ... to come up with another innovative control solution for these new systems in development,” explained Wood.
- Submitted by Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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