Pack Expo Recap: Developing automation systems for facilities
Manufacturers are working on developing larger factory automation systems that can encompass most, if not all, of a facility’s needs.
- Manufacturers at Pack Expo are focusing on delivering comprehensive yet user-friendly solutions, addressing challenges like the skills gap and high customer demand in the packaging and logistics industries.
- Companies are integrating vision hardware and automation software to reduce latency, accelerate reaction times, and provide a unified development environment, exemplifying the industry’s drive for streamlined automation and improved communication within facilities.
Pack Expo returned to Las Vegas and was full of interactive displays and demos highlights many advances in the packaging and logistics industries. Many of the advances displayed highlighted progress with the Internet of Things (IoT), smart manufacturing and artificial intelligence (AI). Manufacturers are trying to deliver products that go beyond their initial offerings because their customers need to resolve many problems at once.
Issues like the skills gap and high customer demand remain constant issues. As a result, many of the manufacturers displaying at Pack Expo reported they were trying to deliver solutions that are comprehensive, but easy to use.
Dan Barrera, sales and product management for ctrlx Automation at Bosch Rexroth, described their goal as a “factory automation system.” Their platform is designed to provide a comprehensive IoT connection that provides openness with the user’s hardware and software systems.
For Pack Expo, Barrera said, “We’re trying to deliver virtual packaging solutions for factory automation,” to their customers in the packaging and processing industries as well as others.
That’s not an uncommon refrain. Companies are expanding beyond their normal bounds of being a “controls” company or a “motor and drive” company and trying to expand their range across the entire spectrum of a plant facility.
Matching vision and automation software
With Beckhoff Vision, engineers can see what’s possible when machine vision hardware and automation software are perfectly matched. The line of EtherCAT-enabled industrial cameras, lighting and lensing components are paired with TwinCAT Vision software to round out their product portfolio.
“We can actively control light, position and axes of motion,” said Todd Jarvey, a machine vision and automation specialist at Beckhoff Automation.
Beckhoff Vision is designed to cover an entire machine vision system including cameras, lenses, lighting and more.
This integrated approach is designed to reduce latency, accelerates reaction times and also supports a single development environment.
Making automation simple, efficient
Nicolas Garcia, vice president and general manager of Rotzinger Group, said their consortium of three European companies — Rotzinger, Transver and Demaurex — is bringing their combined footprint to America to give consumers in the packaging, food and beverage and other industries an all-in-one solution. “We’ve worked to combine everything to turnkey solutions and we can manage a complete system,” he said, adding they want to supply a full packaging line to customers where there is one point of contact.
Universal Robots’ booth was about emphasizing their expertise with their collaborative robots, which were picking up different-sized boxes and placing them on pallets.
Michael DeGrace, a UR+ ecosystem manager, said, “We’re all about working with our partners. We know automation and robotics, but they know their industries. We’re here to make things as simple as possible for our partners.”
Kenneth Crawford, director of automation for Weidmueller, agreed. “Simplicity is a key aspect of what we’re doing.”
Weidmueller’s emphasis was on transmitting programmable logic controller (PLC) data to an OS and ensuring everything is operating under one piece of software to reduce any logistics issues and challenges when customers are demanding immediate solutions to problems.
Using sensors, tags to coordinate operations
Turck’s RFID gate was one of the more interesting visual displays throughout Pack Expo as it demonstrated in a rather simple way how to track objects using RFID tags and gates that can be positioned throughout a facility. An automated guided vehicle (AGV) carrying a pallet can go through the gate and when the scanner marks the object, a signal is relayed to a tablet or PC or human-machine interface (HMI) indicating it has gone through.
“It’s a turnkey solution and it helps the user monitor all the assets they have. If there’s a mistake, it’ll catch it right away,” said Greg Lamb, an associate product manager at Turck.
Bringing the factory together
All of these solutions are part of a larger effort by companies to streamline automation and improve communication and coordination within a facility. Demand has not slowed even as the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. The need for automation has not and manufacturers are working on finding solutions that simplify matters for their customers. For many, this means taking matters into their own hands and being as many things as possible for their customers.
Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, email@example.com.