Early last December, a group of automation professionals braved a nasty blast of winter weather to gather at a Procter & Gamble engineering facility in Cincinnati. The occasion was a meeting of the Make2Pack group. The purpose, at least in the eyes of some of the participants, was to demonstrate the future.
Specifically, representatives from control vendors B&R Automation, Baumuller, Beckhoff, Rockwell Automation, Wago and Wonderware were on hand to demonstrate the potential power of a standards-based approach to packaging-machine programming and control. They did it by constructing a form-fill-seal operation run first by a B&R controller, then, seamlessly, by a Rockwell controller, both supervised by the same Wonderware human-machine interface (HMI). This interoperability was made possible by the fact that the programs were written in compliance with Make2Pack and PackML guidelines. Baumuller, Beckhoff and Wago joined in to show that their controllers could also be programmed in compliance with the same guidelines.
This degree of interoperability has been a long time in coming. It started nearly 20 years ago when ISA-88 established standard descriptions of basic machine states—the “state model—facilitating automated data transfer between machines, including machines from disparate vendors, in the batch processing sector. Later, the Open Modular Architecture Control Users’ Group (OMAC), which is now affiliated with the ISA, the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, developed Packaging Machinery Language, or PackML, which adapted the state model to the specifics of packaging machinery, and added new tag definitions (PackTags) common to all packaging machinery.
The result was a common set of terms and definitions that describe packaging machinery operation. Translating this into the nitty-gritty of machine design and control has been the mission of Make2Pack, formed by OMAC and WBF (formerly known as the World Batch Forum). As evidence that standards activities efforts are converging, Make2Pack is now, also, the Part 5 committee of ISA SP-88. A lot of years and a lot acronyms, but as the Cincinnati demo seems to show, and as the partisans of Make2Pack insistently proclaim, standards-based packaging has arrived, it’s real, and the benefits are there for the taking.
“It’s ready to use,” says Mark DeCramer, product manager at Wago Corp., Germantown, Wis., and a Make2Pack member. “It’s available now from several different control suppliers. On the end-users’ side, it is definitely an advantage, because we’re looking at plug-and-play machinery—machinery that speaks the same language. The learning curve drops dramatically because the equipment is going to work in a familiar way.”
Markus Sandhoefner, sales manager for B&R Industrial Automation, Roswell, Ga., concurs. “For machine builders, moving to PackML and Make2Pack for the first time is a significant endeavor. However, this gives builders the freedom to select the control they think is best for the application, no longer specifying brands, but technology. This saves money on the end-user side, but it also provides value to machine builders.” In fact, the modular, or structural, programming with reusable function blocks made possible by Make2Pack’s common nomenclature means that once a machine is developed, the time it takes to program and debug subsequent machines drops by as much as 80 percent.
“Structural programming creates a win-win-win situation,” says Gerd Hoppe, chief technology officer, Beckhoff Automation, Burnsville, Minn. “It benefits the machine builder, the control provider and the end-user. Along with faster development, the fact that you can reuse large parts of your code on different machines means less training time and expense. You also get more robust code.”
Dan Seger, principal application engineer, global sales and marketing for Rockwell Automation Inc., in Alpharetta, Ga., and vice chair of the Make2Pack working group and an active member of the OMAC PackML workgroup, cautions, “We are still in the infancy of the acceptance process when it comes to Make2Pack and PackML. End-users are beginning to accept these standards at a more rapid rate, but original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are not moving so fast. Most of them are taking a wait and see attitude—‘Until we see a number of end-users specifying this, we’re not moving.’ I think that we’ll see in the next 18 months enough proof points showing the benefits of this on the factory floor.”
Dave Bauman, OMAC technical director, assesses the near future of the standard, “The present version of Make2Pack (V3) addresses the automatic mode of machine operation. Most machines, though, have other modes, including cleaning mode, so the [upcoming version] is addressing multi-mode capabilities. We also made a few changes in the Make2Pack state model to better align with ISA-88 and create a better synergy. It’s important to note that this version is backward compatible with V2. That’s because we don’t want to lose people who have implemented previous versions.”
Acknowledging that implementation of a new standard is not trivial, Bauman says, “Implementing PackML is an expense, but once implemented, you begin to save money. In terms of gaining large-scale acceptance, we’re getting closer to the tipping point, because we’ve got quite a few of the major tech providers on board. If you are designing this into your applications now, you are better off than in the past, because just about all of the major suppliers are supporting us.”
Dave Chappell, co-chair of Make2Pack and a director and Working Groups chair of WBF, comments, “The standard is moving at a pretty good pace. We have several automation providers who are currently working to integrate the concept into their control platforms, and we have many end-users who are starting to specify Make2Pack, embedding adherence to the concept in their purchasing. We have a very large multinational, multi-industry base of support that is embracing and moving forward with the concept. The people who are lagging behind are the OEMs. They are waiting to see who won’t buy their equipment without it.”
As to the future of the standard, Chappell comments, “As an adjunct to this, we plan to have a library of commonly used automation components. Process engineers will no longer have to both design the process and design the logic. Now they will be able to simply select and configure, with no validation necessary. The library will be created somewhere in the public domain. This might be administered by the Automation Federation (an umbrella group formed by the ISA to coordinate standards development) as the logical next step.”
● For more information, search keywords “Make2Pack” and “PackML” at www.automationworld.com.