We are living in a material world and I am a digital girl. Meaning, I do most of my shopping online. And I’m not alone.
According to PwC’s U.S. Total Retail 2016 survey, online shopping is at the center of the retail revolution, driven mostly by the pervasiveness of mobile devices and shoppers’ need for instant information during the buying process. While consumers still primarily prefer to shop local at a brick and mortar store, there is a growing comfort among Millennials (and me) to shop online.
As a result, there’s a great deal of research surfacing around the digital disruption impacting consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. But the focus is on delivering searchable content and being social media savvy. It’s all about marketing. What about manufacturing?
This topic came up during a recent conversation I had with Doug Burns, director of sales and marketing at Lenze Americas, a provider of motion control systems. According to Burns, in response to new buying behaviors, manufacturers need more flexible equipment to accommodate a different mix of products and packaging. There is also a need for real-time input to provide feedback on production data and analytics around uptime, downtime, predictive maintenance and operator alerts.
Robots, Burns said, are key to obtaining the new levels of flexibility CPG manufacturers will require. But the current set up needs to change to make an impact. Specifically, while SCARA robots are commonly used in the packaging industry, they often operate as standalone units. The robot of the future needs to be tightly integrated with machine control.
With this in mind, about a year ago Lenze expanded its FAST application software with a robot programming module so that it handles control and motion functions holistically, making it easier to integrate kinematics into the overall automation system. The use of standardized, reusable software modules simplifies configuration of robotic movements and integration with machine control functions. This allows machine builders to focus on increasing machine performance, added functionality, and equipment energy efficiency.
In fact, the energy efficiency category is another area that CPG companies have made a priority. One way to do this is to decentralize control by taking the automation out of a central cabinet and locating it closer to where the function is on a machine.
Decentralized control allows a drive package to be part of an enclosure or mounted directly on the equipment, which puts the power at the motor shaft. This provides numerous advantages, including smaller cabinet size, reduced heating within the cabinet, lower requirements for wiring, and faster commissioning.
According to Burns, decentralized motion control can reduce, and even eliminate, the load on the machine control system. Inverter drives are capable of taking over decentralized control responsibilities. An I/O system can be incorporated into the system to evaluate the control signals. An end-to-end network can be established using EtherCAT or CANopen, with access via a scalable visualization concept.
“It all comes down to machine flexibility, access to information and sustainability, that is, having systems that use less energy and have less waste,” Burns said.
Overall, the message is that consumer buying behavior impacts manufacturing practices. While I’m shopping the Internet, CPG companies are reconfiguring in the background to make sure they will be profitable regardless if I buy my stuff in the store or online.