Mass Customization Pushes Innovation Efforts

Packaging demands for flexibility in lot runs and changeovers have prompted several advances from Festo and its partners.

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With the changes that have come through the pipeline over the past few years in consumer products, manufacturers face more need for customized products—meaning shorter lot runs and demands for multiple changeovers. These requirements are passed on not only to high-end equipment manufacturers, but all machine builders, according to Frank Langro, director of marketing and product management for Festo. “Flexibility is no longer an option,” he said. “It’s a necessity for packaging.”

At a press tour of Festo’s PACK EXPO booth this week, executives from Festo and partner companies emphasized the concept of mass customization and the need for flexibility in manufacturing.

Brad Schulz, industry segment manager for end-of-line packaging, talked about Festo’s T-Gantry, which provides flexibility in both the X and Z axes through a single-belt design and two stationary motors that operate much like the knobs of an Etch A Sketch.

Festo’s PFS-001 integrates a PLC on a valve manifold to create a modular pneumatic quick changeover system that is suited to retrofits. It controls up to eight individual pneumatic actuators with individually adjustable setpoints, eliminating the need for multiple manual adjustments and time-consuming changeovers to run new products. With this technology, manufacturers can change the width of a conveyor on the fly, Schulz said.

This is the kind of technology that Flexibility Engineering is making use of for advances in its Anysize automatic positioning system for guide rails. Anysize was first introduced in 2008, but Festo’s dynamic valve technology has enabled the latest iteration to accommodate a wider variety of package sizes. It can now handle hundreds of different bottle types, as well as cases of different sizes, noted Joe Pawelski, vice president of technology at Flexibility Engineering. “Some companies run 20 different bottles on the same line,” he said.

That need for product changeover is rampant in the consumer packaging industry these days, and most conveyor lines are not ready for automatic changeovers, Pawelski said, noting that most are still manual.

Servos are used sometimes to automate a conveyor, but they are typically cost-prohibitive, Pawelski noted, adding that pneumatic cylinders take up a lot of space, and hand-crank solutions are too complex. Flexibility Engineering has been able to keep its Anysize technology simple and cost-effective. “And there have been no failures on the cylinders to date, which is pretty incredible,” he said. “That’s what you get when you keep things simple.”

Transport carrier innovation

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) factors importantly into mass customization, providing more intelligent ways to manufacture products, according to Nuzha Yakoob, senior product manager for advanced mechatronics at Festo. Intelligent transport mechanisms, for example, figure into Industry 4.0 concepts like mass customization and lot sizes of one, she said.

Festo partnered with Siemens to create the Multi-Carrier System (MCS), which uses RFID technology and task-specific automation stations to accommodate a wide range of product variations on a single line. Each transport carrier can move freely and independently from all other carriers, and have precise positioning with repeatability of 50 µm. The carriers move collision-free and can be transported at constant velocity along the track—all with zero changeover time.

That technology has enabled Brenton Engineering to create a flexible medical device packaging system that avoids interrupting production to change over to new product packaging. Brenton has integrated MCS into a case former and top loading robotic case packer, where it can independently route products and packaging to various operations, giving the manufacturer more flexibility.

“We wanted to be able to expand or contract the design,” said Mike Grinager, vice president of technology at Brenton. They specifically wanted to be able to get a smart track system only where they needed it, which MCS enables, he added. “We know what we want, and we drove Festo and Siemens pretty hard to deliver.”

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