Automation Redesign Meets Deadline and Lowers Costs

Aug. 29, 2014
Getting a new vertical form/fill/seal packaging system ready in time for Pack Expo 2013 was a challenge, but Matrix Packaging managed with some strategic retooling that included PC-based control and an EtherCAT industrial Ethernet network.

Matrix Packaging is a core member of Pro Mach Inc.’s Flexible Packaging Group and a leading manufacturer of vertical form/fill/seal (vf/f/s) equipment. The firm’s new Metis continuous-motion machine is a significant new product development suitable for use in factories that package cheese, coffee, powders, snacks and candy, as well as in nonfood applications such as hardware.

Metis is the packaging industry’s first pillow-bag bagging machine that operates in either continuous- or intermittent-motion mode. While Metis machinery can be applied in any application that requires a continuous-motion vf/f/s machine, it is especially suitable for applications that run small thin-film bags at high speeds up to 180/min.

According to Marc Willden, vice president and general manager at Matrix, the controls architecture on this new machine is an essential part of its functionality. “The machine was scheduled for completion by the end of 2012, and we were initially using a major vendor’s PLC interfaced with another vendor’s motion control system via EtherNet/IP,” says Willden. “But we encountered inefficiencies with the PLC-based system in the communication between the logic and motion control, such that it severely impeded performance. We were stuck at 60 or 70 cycles a minute, which was nowhere near good enough.”

“We wanted to stay with an industrial Ethernet protocol and became interested in how Ether-CAT technology could help with PLC and servo synchronization,” adds Mike Krummey, electrical engineering manager at Matrix Packaging Machinery. “In the search for a suitable replacement solution, we sent a Matrix Packaging engineer to Hannover Fair in 2013 and saw a range of high-performance EtherCAT motion demos in multiple booths at the fair, especially in the Beckhoff Automation ( booth. This drove home the point that EtherCAT technology would work well in our application and that Beckhoff was on the leading edge of it.”

Because Matrix had to redirect the entire development of the Metis machine with Pack Expo 2013 as the deadline, “we admittedly did not give Beckhoff much time after Hannover Fair to help us complete the project,” Krummey says. “From kick starting with Beckhoff in May 2013, we had to test the machine prototype in the field for a few weeks and then immediately ship it to Pack Expo for its official debut. This was admittedly a very aggressive timetable, but Pack Expo is the biggest trade show of all for Matrix Packaging, so if there’s a mountain in the way, you move it. The Beckhoff team helped us successfully manage the project and the Metis machine was completed on schedule for the show in a fully functional state.”

Control components The Beckhoff PC-based control platform that Matrix Packaging ultimately implemented includes a CX5020 Embedded PC with 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor, Twin-CAT software, a 15-in. CP2915-0000 multi-touch control panel, Ether-CAT Terminal I/O, AX5000 servo drives, and AM8000 servomotors with One Cable Technology (OCT).

The TwinCAT NC Camming platform was selected for Metis machine programming and Indu-Soft was chosen for HMI software. PackML was heavily utilized here to create a standard state machine and other packaging-specific elements.

“Pro Mach is a big believer in the PackML standard to add value for customers and reduce the time required to complete projects,” says Willden. “It provides immediate clarity. Everyone at Matrix and Beckhoff was comfortable with the expectations of a PackML-based system, so it was more like a paint-by-numbers programming experience rather than a blank canvas.”

The initial decision to use multitouch HMI technology was based on “the bright, highquality displays that are available from Beckhoff,” Krummey adds. “PackML requires a suitably sized HMI, and in my opinion, it would be difficult to implement it on a common 6-in. screen. The Metis has a 15-in. diagonal screen with leading-edge multitouch functionality for about the same price as our previous panel—which was far less extravagant, with a singletouch interface and a much less attractive plastic housing.”

One CX5020 embedded PC runs the entire Metis machine, including logic and motion tasks as well as the InduSoft-based visualization. Major tasks handled by the embedded PC include interfacing programs for communication to upstream equipment, a feeder that synchronizes closely with Metis machine processes, mechanical jaw equipment for sealing bags, and other automated functions.

Krummey says the CX5020-powered Metis system capably controls the three servo axes that run the camming tasks. With communication speeds in the low microsecond range, EtherCAT can easily manage all Metis machine communication for the I/O and motion system. Matrix only needed two servo drives to run the three motion axes by using a two channel X5000 EtherCAT drive and a one-channel AX5000 drive.

The AM8000 series servomotors with OCT further streamlined the motion system because both power and feedback are transmitted in one standard cable. “We would never go back to a two-cable servomotor solution after using One Cable Technology,” says Willden. “OCT is efficient and integrates extremely well into our machines, facilitating cleaner cabling infrastructure.”

Two of the motors on the Metis machine must slide back and forth by roughly 5 in. By having one cable per motor, Matrix Packaging is able to route the cables much more efficiently while keeping enough slack for them to move freely, Willden says. The expandability and interoperability of EtherCAT are also important to Matrix Packaging. Users have access to a wide range of EtherCAT I/O terminals for special functions.

Room to grow

Concerns that the machine control system and fieldbus will not live up to the imagination and engineering abilities of Matrix Packaging are now in the past. “It’s impressive that we utilize well under 1 percent of the capability of our new controls platform,” says Willden. “We like having room to grow, and PC-based control and EtherCAT provide plenty.”

A machine footprint reduction also counts as a major achievement. By the time the company rolled out the PC-based Metis machine, it was possible to use an electrical cabinet that was smaller than expected. “Compared to the first prototype Metis machine with a traditional PLC, the machine unveiled at Pack Expo featured a reduced enclosure size by 6 in. of panel length.”

Matrix Packaging was also able to notably reduce the cost of the equipment that goes inside these smaller electrical cabinets. “Even though we now have much greater performance and functionality, our PC-based control system costs at least 10 percent less than our previous PLC-based solution,” Willden reports.

Matrix Packaging also reduced motor cabling by 50 percent with OCT and eliminated several smaller cabling accessories.

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