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PackML Workshop Draws OEMs, CPG Companies to The Automation Conference

A special component of The Automation Conference 2014, produced for the third time by Summit Media Group in May, was a “Demystifying PackML” workshop held one day ahead of the conference

The workshop, which was produced in cooperation with the Organization for Machine Automation and Control (OMAC), drew attendees from consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies and packaging machinery original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

PackML, which stands for Packaging Machine Language, defines a common approach for automated machines designed to encourage a common “look and feel” across a plant floor and enable innovation. PackML was adopted as part of the ISA-88 industry standard in August 2008.

Chris Thomas, who was the workshop instructor, is also senior electrical engineer at packaging machinery builder Axon, a part of the ProMach group. “It had been our experience that workshops on PackML tend to be at a very high level, to the point where it all becomes a bit scary,” he said. “PackML is an important thing, but it doesn’t have to be scary, especially if you use the tools that are available out there.”

Procter & Gamble, for instance, as well as countless technology providers, have developed templates that are very helpful “because they mean you don’t have to start from scratch with each machine you build,” Thomas said.

I asked Thomas to comment on the observation occasionally made that PackML comes with an added cost to the packaging machinery OEM—a fact that has caused some OEMs to shy away from implementing it.

“Is there a cost up front? Yes, there is some upfront development cost involved where reconverting some code is concerned,” Thomas said. “Your machine needs to be viewed in terms of the Make2Pack model, where you decompose or modularize the machine into its elements. But once you’ve gotten past this, you quickly see the benefits to be gained. You can take a single element and test it as its own entity. It doesn’t care about anything else going on in the system. Once these modules are established, the next time a machine comes along, you just go to a library and there you have all these threads and blocks that all work, so all you have to do is plug them together.”

At Axon, “we can hammer out a machine much more quickly than in the past, thanks to PackML,” said Thomas. “That’s why the entire ProMach Group is so committed to it. The message from our CEO is a very clear one: This is the way to go.”

When asked if PackML brings a competitive advantage, Thomas agreed that it does. “Once you understand it, it’s pretty much obvious that it’s the smart way to do something,” he added. “It makes so much sense from an engineering standpoint. If customers push for it, that’s even better, because it underlines the validity of doing it in the first place.”

Thomas noted that, at Pack Expo International this fall, Axon will have a new machine that takes full advantage of PackML.

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