From Sustainable Packaging to Sustainable Packaging Machines

PC-based control of plastic thermoforming machines enables one packaging machine maker to enhance overall data collection, enjoy easier programming, and enable better machine performance.

This thermoforming machine from Fabri-Kal manufacturers drinking cups.
This thermoforming machine from Fabri-Kal manufacturers drinking cups.

Use of sustainable packaging material is an ongoing  trend for packaging machine makers. One family-owned maker of thermoforming equipment sought to makes its automation systems more "sustainable" by finding a way to more easily replicate new control system upgrades and enhancements onto other machines. PC-based control was the company's technology of choice.

Fabri-Kal is the company is behind the plastic packages used by some of the largest food manufacturers in the U.S. From packaging for common consumer goods to foodservice products and custom-designed solutions, Kalamazoo, Mich.-based machine builder has a passion to provide innovative and sustainable packaging while ensuring that they manufacture their products in the safest, most environmentally responsible ways possible. Some of their most recent innovations have been for mass-market brands such as Chobani, Yoplait, f’real, General Mills, Nissin, PepsiCo and Vitasoy.

“Naturally, these companies expect the best and Fabri-Kal’s mission is to provide the best,” says electrical engineer Dale Michaels.

Greenware is Fabri-Kal’s line of annually renewable drink cups, lids, portion containers and on-the-go boxes made entirely from plant-based materials. During manufacturing, Fabri-Kal can also re-grind any leftover plastic from forming processes and melt it back down for immediate reuse at their plants. But in 2009, the reusability of traditional PLC-based manufacturing systems no longer matched that of Fabri-Kal’s own plastic products. So Michaels and his team have been upgrading to a PC-based control architecture.

In early 2010, Fabri-Kal began integrating TwinCAT PC-based control software from Beckhoff Automation into its plastic thermoforming machine lines. The benefit was enhanced overall data collection, easier programming, better machine performance and better product quality, says Michaels.

Since then, Fabri-Kal has been on a mission to integrate PC-based control technology into all of its packaging machine lines at all locations, and the company continues to make improvements to its thermoforming machine lines, says Michaels.

Michaels says that “due to the open architecture and flexibility of Beckhoff PC-based control and EtherCAT [networking protocol], I can easily replicate all the new control system upgrades and enhancements onto other machines.” This makes the packaging machines themselves more flexible and any machine design more sustainable. That combination is “making our future goals [of transforming all its machines to PC-based control] more easily achievable,” he says.

Moving among different Beckhoff controller types, the TwinCAT software enables an easy migration to higher performance while continuing to use a standard PC-based architecture. Such technology lets Fabri-Kal “intensify our focus on providing best-in-class plastic packaging products for our customers, ­who are undeniable leaders in the food manufacturing industry.”

 

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