Hello, Packaging Machine Calling

I haven’t attended a conference in the past six years where the topic of connectivity wasn’t discussed.

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There are so many levels at which data connectivity of machine controls is essential that it’s sometimes hard to comprehend all of the technologies that have come together to make it possible. Even beyond technologies, connectivity also requires a new way of looking at machines, lines and management.

Control-level networking has only reached critical mass over the past few years. Since the end of the “fieldbus wars” in the early 21st Century, the application news that crosses my desk anymore focuses on EtherNet/IP and Profibus/Profinet for the bulk of connectivity, with CC Link showing signs of life and EtherCat and Ethernet PowerLink growing in the motion-communications category. Therefore, the feature article in this issue discusses networking as a foundation technology.

In order to converse, devices must speak the same language. They may each connect with the same protocol, but if the data sent by one device isn’t understood by the other, then communication is still nonexistent. What was needed were common definitions and protocols for data. OPC, a communication standard from the OPC Foundation, provides a standard way of transferring data among devices. It has been successful, as seen in its wide-spread adoption. Built on older and now obsolete Microsoft technologies, a press-time announcement states that the OPC Foundation has adopted the “Express Interface” or Xi, technology that was developed to move the standard into the current Microsoft .Net environment with programming support in C#. This technology improves data transfer and adds security, ensuring OPC’s usefulness into the foreseeable future.

This confluence of technology, combined with management’s desire for more information and more integration with manufacturing and enterprise software systems, puts pressures on packaging automation engineers to keep up. But improved competitiveness in the market is surely worth it.

Check out an Automation World podcast interview with Joe Grove, vice president of engineering at OSSID. Managing Editor Wes Iversen talks with Grove about his company’s adoption of the PackML standards, at www.automationworld.com/podcast-6123.

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