Packaging OEM offers multi-touch enabled machines

Inside Machines: Edson Packaging, a manufacturer of case packing machinery, turns the page to a new era of multi-touch enabled machinery, putting an industrial spin on one of the most popular consumer electronics technologies.

By Shane Novacek March 18, 2014

Machinery original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are starting to incorporate the intuitive multi-touch display functionality well known by many who have grown accustomed to using smartphones and tablets. Multi-touch technology for computer touchscreens has become so pervasive that it’s not uncommon for children to know how to play a game of Angry Birds (by Rovio Entertainment) about the same time they learn to talk. With this type of interface common in our everyday lives, it has also begun to shape the expectations of users of industrial human machine interface (HMI) technology. Long before the first tablet reached consumer hands, Edson Packaging, based in Hamilton, Ontario, had been integrating new enabling technologies into case packing machinery for a wide range of industries, especially for tissue products.

Edson continued that trend with the introduction of multi-touch enabled case packing machinery. A 2012 acquisition by Pro Mach provided a new business structure at Edson Packaging, which offered more resources for initiatives such as lean manufacturing and other initiatives to advance packaging technology.

"When we were a privately owned company, we invested 3% to 5% of our revenue into R&D, which certainly was quite good," recalled Brianne Moar, sales and marketing, Edson Packaging. "Since becoming a part of Pro Mach, we now invest significantly more revenue into R&D, bolstering our competitive advantage in the packaging industry."

Multi-touch helps machine operators

After intense R&D efforts and attention to customer feedback, the company introduced the Edson Packaging InteleSuite, a range of enabling solutions that promotes connected machinery in the packaging industry. Early innovations include Edson Packaging InteleLink, a solution based on near field communication (NFC) technology. InteleLink provides instant transfer of information through radio frequencies, similar to "tap to pay" chips integrated into some credit cards. This feature provides instant access to videos, PDF files, images, and links to blogs, and enables directs phone calls to Edson Packaging support. Users simply tap an NFC-enabled phone or tablet and the requested information is instantly transferred to the device.

Another part of the InteleSuite is Edson Packaging InteleTül, a radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking system for change part tools. InteleTül verifies that the right tooling is placed on the machine, which avoids costly equipment collisions that could damage the machine and cause downtime for several hours or days.

Also in the InteleSuite is the Edson Packaging InteleVüe, introduced on an Edson SR3550 high-speed horizontal case packer machine at the Pack Expo 2013 trade show in Las Vegas. InteleVüe is a multi-touch enabled packaging machine interface that uses a 24-in. multi-touch control panel and industrial PC (IPC). The Edson Packaging machine can store many file types that can be enlarged with typical multi-touch gestures such as zooming, scrolling, flicking, and others. In addition, videos for setup, training, tutorials, and troubleshooting can be stored. Implementation of live video feeds that display and record machine processes also is possible.

The IPC has a third generation Intel Core i7 processor (2.3 GHz, 4 cores) and is designed to match the vibrations specifications and operating temperature requirements for Edson Packaging machinery. The compact design is sleek and saves cabinet space. Edson uses a 64 GB solid-state drive for stability and reliability, and 15 to 25 times more storage capacity than the prior solution.

Zooming in on new HMI functionality

Edson Packaging began its InteleVüe initiative to use multi-touch technology shortly after Hannover Fair 2013.

Jeff Werner, Edson vice president of technology, said, "New multi-touch technology for industrial applications stood out. We recognized early on that multi-touch technology that enables useful and compelling new features would become a big selling point for our customers," Werner explained.

"We always strive to expand machine interface capability and utilize the latest technologies that most people have grown accustomed to. So Edson asked, ‘why can’t you use functions commonly used on tablets and smartphones on your capital equipment?’ The answer today, obviously, is that you can. Still, Edson is early to the game so our customers enjoy a significant edge with these features that most other machine builders are not providing yet."

InteleVüe’s ability to easily integrate video and all kinds of machine data on the multi-touch HMI became very important for Edson. Increased resolution "enables us to put meaningful trend data up on the screen," Werner explained.

"Instead of seeing square waves, we actually see curves and much improved trend data. Edson has also created incredible value through the ability to integrate rich multimedia for training, tutorial, and troubleshooting purposes-none of that was possible with the previous…HMI hardware.

"Also, five-finger multi-touch can boost functionality and give us the ability to create useful features such as rotary dials for jogging servo axes, fine tuning speeds, etc. Another possibility is to include two-handed confirmation on the screen," Werner explained. The elegant construction and design of the control panels was another key consideration for Edson: "We and our customers appreciate a very slim and sleek-looking display. The fact that we could select a 24-in. multi-touch screen also provided a much larger display area than we typically would have through any of the traditional single-touch HMI screens. There is simply no contest when comparing the two panel types."

Multi-touch reduces risk for operators

Not only has Edson Packaging increased user functionality and access to machine data with InteleVüe and multi-touch technology, the company has improved operator safety. The need for operators to go inside the machine for changeovers and maintenance has been drastically reduced because of the amount of information available from the control panel/IPC when paired with a web cam or high-speed camera. For example, when plant personnel are troubleshooting or setting up for a new product that has never been manufactured before, they can see the machine process safely from the outside by viewing on the control panel.

In terms of viewing angles, Edson can implement the control panel on a swing arm that pivots around a central point, but some machines, such as the one demonstrated at Pack Expo 2013, can feature a linear rail system for the display to glide it back and forth. This mechanical add-on permits full travel of the control panel down one side of the machine with an approximate 10 ft travel range. This provides enhanced functionality, more flexible positioning of the HMI, and a clearer view of the display as machine operators perform setup routines.

"This translates to far fewer instances of the operator needing to be within a hazard zone," Werner reported. "This is very important because every single time an operator must enter the machine to verify product position, high-voltage power to the servo motors must be turned off. Servos have an expected life cycle of a certain number of power-up and shutdown sequences. If the operator can view the inside of the machine without having to go through the guard equipment and power down the servos, it translates into fewer power cycles and higher life expectancy for numerous components," Werner said. Because of the control panel video feed, "required power cycles to the safety circuit have decreased by at least 25%."

While Edson Packaging has enjoyed immediate positive results with InteleVüe, including very tangible ones by using multi-touch technology, the company marches on in modernizing the technology on its machines.

"We will continue developing and improving our InteleSuite offering, including many new installations and even retrofits," using a 24-in. multi touch control panel, Werner said.

Additional automation innovations may be incorporated into the new top load Edson Packaging Raptor case packing machine, he suggested.

– Shane Novacek is marketing communications manager, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


This Control Engineering April Inside Machines article has additional information, photos, and a link to product-specific details at the bottom of this posting with more photos.

Key concepts

Multi-touch human machine interfaces help a machine builder to:

  • Provide a familiar operator experience
  • Lower risk
  • Increase functionality Consider this How could multi-touch technologies help your installed base?

ONLINE extra

As Edson Packaging celebrates its 50th anniversary, about 90% of North American tissue mills have an Edson Packaging machine somewhere in the plant. In 2012, just prior to the company’s half-century anniversary, Edson was acquired by Pro Mach, one of the largest packaging machinery consortiums in North America. Now Edson is part of the end-of-line packaging group within Pro Mach, which is one of several other groups, including primary packaging, flexible packaging, material handling, as well as identification and tracking.