Unified platform helps robotics for packaging
Cama Group, a multinational maker of secondary packaging systems, standardizes robotics on a unified platform to deliver simplified, high-speed automation software and hardware. The company switched from a proprietary technology mix to one automation vendor’s hardware and software. The challenge was to migrate the automation and motion control systems used by Cama Group’s robotic loading units into the new platform.
Integrated motion control, safety
- Programmable automation controller (PAC) provides an integrated platform for motion and machine control, and one programming environment accessible to operators via an operator interface.
- Multiaxis servo drives allow easy speed and position adjustments, and fast product changeovers.
- Safety system provides safety and standard control in one package, and simplifies integrating robotics into a production line.
- Safety relays provide compliance with global safety standards when integrating robots into machines.
- Drives with safe-off function reside on the same Ethernet network as other components for simplified machine design and production line operation.
Results: Less cost, leaner
- Lower costs
- Leaner production line
- Common platform reduces spare parts
- Common interface reduces complexity
- Meets high-speed and performance requirements.
Secondary package systems
A Russian confectionary, a large yogurt producer in China, and a maker of single-serve “capsule” coffees in Italy are three companies using the Cama Group to custom design, engineer, and build secondary-packaging systems.
“Our strength lies in combining robot technology with packaging machinery,” said Paolo Mosca, electronic department manager at Cama Group. The company delivers solutions primarily for the bakery, dairy, and coffee industries, and increasingly for manufacturers of nonfood consumer items, such as cosmetics and toiletries.
Cama Group provides specialized, advanced robot technology for the secondary-packaging industry. The company engineers four types of robotic-loading units, ranging from two to four axes, each with a different payload capacity and application capability.
Beyond pick and place, Mosca said, these “are robot machines that carry out complex technical tasks, such as managing and loading products on a continuous motion packaging line.”
For example, Cama Group’s Triaflex robot—coupled with an intelligent vision system—can work in three dimensions, with 360-degree head rotation, picking random products from the production line belt and positioning them correctly into packaging. The Triaflex robot is equipped with four controlled axes and carbon-fiber arms for gripping or placing products in all positions at up to 150 cycles per minute. Manufacturers can use the robot to load a moving flow pack into a horizontal cartoning machine.
“We design and develop our own line of robots in-house, and integrate them with an array of automated packaging machines,” Mosca said. “The result is a complete packaging and handling solution tailored to each customer’s unique requirements.”
Simpler controls wanted
Increasingly, Cama Group’s customers have asked for packaging systems with simplified controls. In response, the company decided to research how to migrate the automation and motion control systems used by its robots from a mix of multi-brand technologies to a unified platform.
“We strongly believe that the uniformity of our systems is absolutely fundamental, especially in gaining authority in the market and the trust of customers,” Mosca said. “If the machines on a line are different with regard to hardware architecture, software design, and motor type, product reliability can’t be optimized, and more importantly, neither can the price for the customer.”
Cama Group’s engineers recognized that one platform would be much easier to commission, operate, and manage for customers’ engineers, technicians, and maintenance personnel. And, they wanted to meet customers’ consistent need for more compact packaging systems. However, simplification and a smaller footprint couldn’t come at the expense of performance.
“There’s enormous pressure in our industry to give the customer a high-speed solution they can’t find anywhere else,” Mosca said, with “accuracy and efficiency of packaging processes.” Market competition created a compressed time frame to develop and deliver a new solution that standardized on a common control system that could meet these needs.
See next page for more about mechatronics, industrial networks, time to market, and another photo….
In 2012, Cama Group’s research and development team, along with its mechanical and electronic engineering department, worked with consultants at the automation vendor, providing “specific production line requirements. And, of course, we gave them a very ambitious time target,” Mosca explained. The experts “helped us understand exactly how the system would perform. We worked together as partners to attain the highest speed for the application we were requesting.”
Engineers chose a modular approach to help Cama Group adapt the solution to unique specifications of different manufacturing processes.
“From a technical point of view, we wanted to integrate logic and motion on a unique automation platform,” Mosca said. “The robot automation and control system had to fit different requirements: speed and flexibility in handling operations, synchronization of different axes in the plant, and easy product changeovers.”
At the outset of the project, the blended team defined technical specifications to size the programmable automation controller (PAC), I/O modules, motors, servo drives, ac drives, and operator interfaces.
At the heart of the system is a control platform with integrated motion. Having one control platform allows users to manage different robot kinematics at the same time and synchronize separate tracking, handling, and vision systems. The controller has a SERCOS (Serial Real-time Communications System) interface motion module.
End users can easily share production information across all equipment through one EtherNet/IP network. EtherNet/IP, an ODVA Ethernet protocol, uses the same TCP/IP protocol suite that is used for the Internet, with the open connectivity and global acceptance of standard Ethernet and the real-time performance and security of fieldbus networks.
Cama Group engineers can link their optical character recognition and optical character verification vision systems to other automation products in the robotic cell via EtherNet/IP.
The system uses servo drives that help eliminate the need for a dedicated motion network and allow users to support high-performance drives, I/O modules, smart actuators, and any other EtherNet/IP-connected device on one network.
The drives, with safe-off function, reside on the same EtherNet/IP network for simplified machine design and production line operation. Low inertia servo motors fit compact space requirements while meeting the demands of the high-performance motion system.
Another important goal of the project was to improve operator safety and deliver a system compliant with global safety standard EN ISO 13849-1. The automation vendor conducted a safety risk assessment and implemented an integrated safety system, which allows for safety and standard control on one platform, alleviates complicated hardwiring, and reduces engineering time.
With the unified platform, the PAC uses the same configuration, networking, and visualization environment as the rest of the system. This integration provides users with fewer spare parts to maintain, while the control platform’s openness helps ease integration into an existing plant.
Unlike hardwired systems, the integration of safety and standard control provides operators and maintenance personnel with visibility to all machine events—including safety events—via a human-machine interface. The knowledge and insight provided by the integrated system allows users to respond quickly and return the machine or line to full production.
To manage safety on smaller, individual machines with the robot system, the team used safety relays.
“The new control platform gives our customers a linear and lean production line,” Mosca said. “The modular approach allows us to apply the standard platform in future projects, saving design and development time.”
Results: Time to market
Cama Group has just begun installing the new system in customers’ factories, and one customer has requested the same architecture on an additional packaging line.
During the project, Mosca said, clear definition of specifications and targets helped, thanks to the highly skilled teams involved, along with shared project management methods. These methods helped meet cost and time-to-market requirements.
– Mike Wagner is global segment business manager for packaging at Rockwell Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the Cama article below for more application details and products used in unified robotics platform for packaging.