What's Next for Packaging Automation Controls?

Vendors who regularly call on large automation customers often get a strong sense of where markets are headed, based on the requests of those same large customers.

At Bosch Rexroth Corp.’s (www.boschrexroth-us.com) Electronic Drives & Controls Division, in Hoffman Estates, Ill., Food & Packaging Industry Manager Dan Throne can quickly rattle off a list of features that his company’s big packaging automation customers have been asking for. The list includes packaging machines that are smarter, simpler to operate, more dependable and safer.

Throne sees these attributes among those that could define the next generation of packaging equipment—even beyond the still emerging generation of servo-centric machines that the industry has dubbed “Generation 3.” He calls it “GenNext.” In a recent meeting with Automation World editors, Throne described ways in which recent product introductions from Bosch Rexroth are pushing in that direction.

One example is the IndraDrive digital servo drive platform that Bosch Rexroth unveiled last October at the Pack Expo Las Vegas show, Throne says. Among other things, the IndraDrive features more intelligence, in the form of an embedded programmable logic controller (PLC) and motion controller. “You can do single-axis, integrated motion and logic control just from the servo drive. You don’t have to use a separate PLC or controller.”

New diagnostic capabilities are built into the IndraDrive. These include predictive maintenance algorithms that enable users to set tolerance bands during drive set-up for operating parameters such as torque, velocity, temperature or machine resonance, and then monitor those parameters during normal operation. The IndraDrive line also features integrated safety technology that complies with the EN 954-1 (European Norm) Category 3 safety standard. When safety functions are incorporated at the drive level, the response to safety switches can be quicker—typically in the 1 millisecond range—than when safety is handled through a separate PLC, which may require 20 to 50 milliseconds to respond, Throne says.

In general, Throne predicts that “GenNext” packaging equipment will not only make extensive use of servo motors and controls, but will also make better use of technology to assure productivity.

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