For years, decades even, manufacturers have been trying to make production and packaging lines more agile and efficient. Oftentimes, that includes the use of robotics, diagnostics, integrated safety, high-speed networking, system integration and simulation. But there’s a lot of equipment on the plant floor, and manufacturers need help.
So, it’s no surprise that the pressure is now on OEMs to apply the same automation technology directly to their machines in order to create a more flexible foundation. It’s a disruptive concept, as it means that machine builders will have to abandon their dedicated machine designs and adopt more modular components that can be reconfigured as needed.
But, we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a time when digitization combines physical and virtual worlds and machines are intelligent, connected and increasingly autonomous. Such a dramatic shift in the use of technology means the industry as a whole must transform.
This manufacturing revolution requires a machine evolution. And here’s why:
As consumers ask for more products at a faster pace, CPG and food and beverage manufacturers are dealing with mass customization resulting in more SKUs, shorter production runs and frequent changeovers. The industry is entering the age of the smart machine, a system that is made up of modules that will support the “batch-of-one.”
To help OEMs get ready for this shift, a new whitepaper by B&R Industrial Automation North America explores the attributes and the enabling technologies behind this next-generation machinery, a new category that B&R is calling “adaptive machines.”
“Switching from glass bottles to plastic, or from rigid to flexible containers requires completely new filling and packaging machinery,” according to the B&R whitepaper. “An adaptive machine is one that has the capacity to change over on the fly, and moreover, to reconfigure with different production modules on the same base machine platform. It will readily be adaptable to constant size and format changes. But it will also be adaptable to radical and unforeseen requirements through corresponding equipment changes, such as replacing a carton erector module with a pouch forming module.”
With fluctuations in product and packaging needs, manufacturers will need to be able to accommodate changes that could occur over the 20 plus year service life of an industrial machine—all while maintaining OEE. The adaptive machine will do that.
And here’s an interesting twist that B&R points out: “With a practical batch-of-one manufacturing and packaging capability, manufacturers can go direct to consumer, without the added steps and cost of going through an e-commerce reseller.” That means a new go-to-market strategy for manufacturers. “While batch size one has been elusive, its appeal to manufacturers is quite clear,” the B&R report states.
So, how are these flexible systems coming together? At last year’s IMTS and PACK EXPO shows in Chicago, and at PACK EXPO Las Vegas next week, B&R will showcase ATS Automation’s SuperTrak, a modular conveyor that was integrated with B&R’s machine and robotic control. This multi-purpose, build-to-order, batch-of-one system can be used for collating, filling, sealing/capping, inspection, serialization, coding, labeling and other packaging applications.
Interestingly, the next-generation industrial transport technology uses software to simulate the movements of shuttles on the SuperTrak conveyor in conjunction with synchronized subsystems such as robotics and CNC. This streamlines the development and verification process of the project.
Other technologies in play on B&R-enabled adaptive machines include:
- An anti-sloshing algorithm to compensate for physical, mechanical and electrical limitations. Anti-sloshing, combined with the new track technology, allows faster movement of open containers of liquids without spilling. This is another motion control software functionality that provides precisely controlled, gentle acceleration and deceleration despite fast movement.
- A repetitive control algorithm used to predict and compensate for mechanical fluctuations. It’s an active form of suppression that undergoes a constant learning process to adapt to changes in disturbance, such as may be caused by wear.
- Fast reaction I/O can respond in as little as one microsecond. At the high cycle rates, synchronization and small footprints associated with track-based production systems, this rapid response represents yet another enabling technology.
- HTML5 based human-machine interfaces that run on any web-enabled device regardless of operating system. This makes it much simpler to deploy remote visualization on any phone, tablet or computer screen without needing to support versions for Android, iOS, Windows, Linux or any other operating systems.
- Networked safety, which replaces hardwired safety, has created both new diagnostic capabilities and safe motion, in which the machinery continues to operate in a safe mode rather than shutting down. Software modules to program network integrated light curtains now make it possible for objects of different sizes and shapes to pass through without triggering a safety response – perfect for batch size one products of different sizes and shapes.
- Automated text messaging allows a machine application to send text messages and emails triggered by specific events and can easily be connected to other software components, such as alarms, to automatically notify a maintenance technician when immediate action is required.
Ultimately, the adaptive machine will be a cutting-edge system. Yes, that means new technology investments. But it may be the price an OEM has to pay to remain relevant in the future.