Eco-Efficient Machinery Reduces Costs in Packaging Operations

Sustainability initiatives in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries place considerable emphasis on the package design and packaging materials to minimize unnecessary packaging.

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Packaging machinery builders, the final cog in the value chain that enables these initiatives, are the unrecognized heroes here. The challenges that packaging machinery builders confront due to changes in packaging materials and sizes create an endless stream of issues. Achieving a mutually beneficial approach to sustainability requires a high degree of cooperation between machine builders and manufacturers. As the CPG industry continues on its path to sustainability, manufacturers place increasing importance on improving energy efficiency and the effectiveness of manufacturing operations.

Forward-thinking packaging machine builders now develop “eco-efficient” solutions that operate with a wider range of materials, consume less energy and require less floor space. The industry is experiencing a renaissance in machine design that will enable CPG manufacturers to reach the next plateau of eco-efficient packaging operations in both the primary and secondary stages.

In their current pursuit of eco-efficiency, many manufacturers often erroneously assume that packaging operations and packaging lines are one continuum. In fact, packaging lines are a chain of individual machines that need to be individually optimized. The manufacturer has the means to optimize the production flow between individual machines, but the packaging machine builders are ultimately responsible for optimization within the envelope of the machine.

Design for eco-efficiency

Designing packaging machinery for eco-efficiency is not a trivial pursuit, as it fundamentally requires analysis down to the individual actuator, optimization of the cycle times and determining tradeoffs between electrical and pneumatic power. A presentation given by Wexxar (a ProMach company) at the 2009 ARC Orlando Forum provided an inside look into what type of analytics are required to design a packaging machine that is near optimal in terms of eco-efficiency. Wexxar designs and manufactures semi-automatic and fully automatic machines for forming and sealing anything from a simple brown box to a specialty, “one-of-a-kind” tray, including machinery for case forming, tray forming and sealing.  Wexxar has taken an analytical approach to streamlining design. This includes analyzing energy usage in both run and idle states, reducing energy consumption, allowing wider material variations, incorporating aerospace structural design and considering total lifecycle cost.

Wexxar's approach analyzes every aspect of the machine in terms of its contribution to waste. Using aerospace design techniques have enabled the weight of structural components to be minimized while not compromising strength. Increasingly, more complex shapes of structural elements requires competency in the machine builders organization to use computer-aided design (CAD), finite element analysis, and ultimately, shape and mill contours of structural components with more advanced metal fabrication equipment. This is necessary because the structural components represent the critical juncture where waste can be eliminated by not overdesigning a machine.

Another salient point is that machine control is no longer necessarily a series of sequentially ordered operations. Overlapping of operations that reduce the overall cycle times should be considered. This streamlines machine operation such that individual operational cycles are performed in parallel, eliminating waits or pauses internal to the machine. Control strategies that utilize sequential events often drive designers to reduce cycle times by increasing accelerations; but higher accelerations increase energy consumption and require larger actuators. Thus, overlapping or paralleling individual operations has a huge impact on a machine’s energy efficiency as well as its initial cost; smaller actuation translates into lower costs.

Sal Spada, sspada@arcweb.com, is a Research Director at ARC Advisory Group Inc., Dedham, Mass.

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