Motion control in packaging: 10 tips for improvement; 1 for good measure

Inside Machines: Eleven tips follow about how to apply recent technology advances to packaging machine and line motion control, benefitting end users and machine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Highly automated lines and machines create faster product changeover, faster recipe adjustments, homing of new line components after an install, enhanced troubleshooting capabilities, and other benefits for most automated machine builders.

By Ajay S. Rana June 17, 2014

Recent technology developments in packaging machine and line motion control provide significant benefits for machine end users and expand capabilities for the machine original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Ten machine design tips follow, along with an 11th that you might not have considered.

1. Decentralized drives

Decentralized drive technology consists of a drive mounted directly over the motor. This technology significantly reduces the amount of cabling required, and it conserves control cabinet space, cooling costs, and related energy efficiencies. Quick connects and a common dc bus further enhance the effectiveness and field performance of this decentralized drive concept. Also, since there is just one cable per motor, it also eliminates the need for a separate communication cable. This is an integral part of hybrid cable technology. 

2. Ethernet communications

Incorporation of an Ethernet communications interface into the drive permits online communications with other brands of equipment. This development has significant advantages in a brownfield line expansion or upgrade with legacy controls or when new equipment that uses various brands of motion control components is being incorporated by an end user or system integrator. Through a regular Ethernet cable connection, other communication languages can be routed to the drive system components and motion controller, thereby providing huge capital savings and time savings. In short, it gives the end user and OEM the flexibility to choose the best control components. From the software perspective, the heterogeneous automation environment of the past was a significant engineering challenge and financial roadblock. This roadblock is gone. 

3. Enhanced safety, integrated

Advancements in the "safety wall" for packaging machine builders, including a safety programmable logic controller (PLC), hardware and software, plus features such as safety integrated into the drives, provide an effective double safety scenario. The days of the mandatory keyswitch lockouts and intense engineering of the line safety have given way to the fail-safe controller, with safety functions integrated on the drive, while closed-loop position control of the drive remains fully active. This means faster restart of the line, as setup functions can be performed with the protective covers and guards open, for shorter downtimes, less wasted product, and higher productivity, all in a safe environment that protects operators and machinery alike.

4. Single motion platform

New motion controller technology, ranging from 1-128 axis capacity, with just two form factors (motion control and PLC functionality in one hardware package) is becoming widely accepted in the industry. Having one software platform and the same programmability to configure from 1 axis to 128 axes adds an extra advantage on cost-saving and engineering time. This development is emerging in tandem with enhanced communication protocols from machine-to-machine or up to a full manufacturing execution system (MES) network. The result is faster construction, commissioning, and line integration. Also, having an integrated web server inside the controller helps troubleshooting, from basic to advanced. Operator control, maintenance, and diagnostics data are standardized, while the data links to the master mainframe or IT system are simplified. 

5. Higher-performance motors

Motor advancements, including field replaceable encoders plus plug-and-play technology and quick-connect technology, have changed the landscape in machine building and line maintenance. As an example, high-performance, energy-efficient ac servo motors, coupled with a drive component, are being offered as a package, and manufacturers are making more software tools available for motor size selection, drives pairing, and communications hardware options. Likewise, servo, torque, and linear motors are available with a quick identification device to make line integration a one-click operation. 

6. Efficient electromechanical packages

Gearmotor packages are generally used for specific heavier duty conveyor applications. Advanced helical bevel technology allows lower horsepower motor usage, smoother starts, high torque control, operating efficiency, and less energy consumption. These are just some of the features that should be considered when specifying gearmotors. As a side note, most manufacturers provide downloadable CAD files for easier design integration by the builder and end-user communities, to facilitate in-plant and engineering system documentation. In addition, all mechanical data are usually available online for the mounting of gearmotors, a real plus for the installer.

7. Environmental protection

New washdown motor technology is emerging for the food and beverage production and food packaging sectors that features a complete stainless steel enclosure. Hygienic design gets special consideration in certain sectors of the packaging and processing industries, whenever machine components are in direct contact with food, beverage, cosmetics, etc. Having a washdown motor with totally hygienic design adds value to the overall machine for the builders and keeps the downtime to a minimum for the end users. Currently, IP69K is getting considerable attention in this huge market segment. IP69K is the standard used for all applications where high-pressure and high-temperature washdown are used to sanitize equipment. IP69K will become the norm for food processing in the near future, as it represents a decided improvement over the older IP ratings. 

8. Modular capabilities

Modular machine design can allow one large machine with multiple sections of motion control or a full production packaging line to run without the need for multiple CPUs. With modularity comes flexibility, and one can then engineer the solution to provide a seamless transition from a machine with all options to a machine with fewer but job-specific options. The economic advantages here are self-evident, and the key driver to this development is the enhanced open architecture of the motion controller and drive systems. 

9. Remote connections

Remote connectivity is more practical through an integrated web server, with a maintenance person having a password that will allow complete condition monitoring and on-site troubleshooting on a packaging line. The end user can also access a full library of "fixes" online. This web server can be customized to suit user needs. In a more complex arrangement, the machine builder and end user can also extract performance data to track machine uptime, component wear, maintenance strategies, and other considerations in an overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) paradigm. Functionally on the floor, of course, the key advantage is the maintenance engineer’s ability to quickly and accurately isolate an issue in the line, do the diagnostic analysis, get a part ordered, or obtain on-site service in the most efficient and cost-effective means possible. The price of one hour of downtime on a major packaging line provides incentive for such remote connectivity plant wide.

10. Global standards, built-in

With more domestic (North American) machinery and equipment builders selling overseas, global standards compliance is important. Supplier presence worldwide is essential to make it easier for the machine builders to get parts and competent service quickly. The remote connectivity mentioned above is also a factor here, but the need for standards-compliant machine components that can be integrated into an existing design for foreign sale is critical. To be competitive in the world market, builders must be cognizant of their vendors’ international capabilities. For the multinational end user, as well, this norm is consequential in achieving efficient compliance approval from the local standards organizations.

11. Regeneration adds efficiency

Finally, while it may not be entirely obvious, regenerative drives technologies provide a new measure of sustainability and the flexibility of energy conservation to machine builders and end users. Smarter machine designs incorporating regeneration means that kinetic energy wasted in braking can be used to drive other machine components or returned to the grid in a measurable manner. This "active front end" technology on the drive, coupled with more energy efficiency on the motors used, yields a definable best practice accomplishment in energy cost savings for the builder and end user alike. 

In the overall evaluation, automation is the watchword for a modern packaging line and the equipment or machinery builder who supplies it. Automation combined with trained personnel will provide faster, more efficient, and cost-effective production. With automation products and software becoming so much more reliable and affordable, the days of the purely mechanical system are numbered, if not already spent. Having a high degree of automation in a line or on a machine means faster product changeover, faster recipe adjustments, homing of new line components after an install, enhanced troubleshooting capabilities, and more.

– Ajay S. Rana is industry business development manager, packaging, for Siemens Industry Inc. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


This article, in the June online archives, contains additional information and links to other machine design information.

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Key concepts

  • Machine designs can be improved with 11 tips related to advanced automation technologies.
  • Packaging machines benefit from IP67K equipment that can withstand high-pressure washdown.
  • Automation provides faster product changeover, faster recipe adjustments, homing of new line components after an install, and enhanced troubleshooting capabilities.

Consider this

Machine builders should know that savvy end users will appreciate the lifecycle benefits related to advance machine designs, which may add a little capital cost but save many times that in energy, less maintenance, and greater throughput and reliability.

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