Controlled Motion for Packaging

June 26, 2008
Fifteen years ago, I was a packaging industry neophyte.

My background was primarily assembly, but I had a customer who was chatting with me one day and mentioned that he had a problem with a packaging machine. Changeover from one package size to another was time-consuming and painful.

A team from my company and an integrator whose expertise was machines, but not specifically packaging, evaluated the situation and recommended putting servo motion control on all the movable sections that related to changing the machine—in order to handle different package sizes. I didn’t know that was revolutionary until seven or eight years later, when I started sitting in on the OMAC Packaging Workgroup meetings.

Packaging machinery manufacturers have jumped in and applied motion control in many innovative ways. It is really taking the industry to a new level. Meanwhile, motion control technology suppliers have continually improved their products and the way they are used.

Motion control is not simply a plug-and-play component, though. Applying motion in machines does require some engineering in the design. The project we did sometime around 1994 had big problems when we discovered the integrator wasn’t really familiar with motion. Its engineers actually routed the encoder wire with the motor power cable in the same conduit. Every time the motor started, the induction in the wire translated to current in the encoder wire, sending a false signal. You do have to know what you’re doing.

While the suppliers have made the technology easier to maintain, engineers should study the alternatives available and pick the solution most fitting for their problem. In Greg Farnum’s article in this issue, the point is made that sometimes, too many features add unnecessary complexity. So choose wisely.

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