The Future of Machine Programming Is Fast

A manufacturer of label converting and finishing equipment reduced design time and costs with Application Templates that lead to software modules so modular in nature that they are effectively autonomous programs in their own right.

Mechanical flexibility and precise tension control are among the key benefits A B Graphic International values in its slitter/rewinder for label production.
Mechanical flexibility and precise tension control are among the key benefits A B Graphic International values in its slitter/rewinder for label production.

A B Graphic International (ABG), a global manufacturer of label converting and finishing equipment, has set a new standard with the latest generation of its machines. And by using Fast Application Software from Lenze, the machine builder has significantly sped up the software design of its systems, resulting in faster delivery times and lower engineering costs.

ABG is based in Bridlington, England, but also has facilities in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the U.S. Systems include inspection rewind equipment and turret rewinding systems as well as machines for many specialist applications, including RFID tag insertion, laser die cutting, booklet label machines, and 100 percent camera inspection systems.

The Fast software has not only given ABG an edge over the competition but, thanks to an integrated standardization process, now forms the backbone of its machine programming.

“We always use the latest technology available,” says Mark Norman, controls manager at ABG. Lenze’s 9300 servo drives have been in use for more than 13 years. With that being the case, why not embrace Lenze’s latest products to speed up machine development?

“The label printing industry is rapidly changing due to the digital revolution,” Norman says. “Production runs get smaller with a growing demand for custom, localized labeling. Digital printing machines are replacing conventional flexographic presses, and there is a growing need for PC-based systems. But our customers also expect improved winding quality, faster changeover times, and more reliability. This means that we look to servo technology and software to help us out. And although I realize that full servo is something of a buzzword, in our case it offers unrivalled mechanical flexibility and precise tension control. We are therefore replacing more and more mechanical systems with the latest i700 servo inverter from Lenze. And to help us out with software development, we recently adopted their Application Template and Fast function blocks.”

Job definition format

The initial impetus at ABG for taking a good look at machine design and developing a new generation of label converting systems based on the latest technology available was a specific request from the printing industry: to be JDF-compatible.

“In the printing industry,” Norman says, “JDF is used to describe the entire job content. For instance, a JDF message can hold prepress parameters, label size, slit width, slit quality and roll size. This is all information that we can use to automatically set up our machines without operator intervention, and it enables our customers to run smaller batches with faster changeover times.”

For ABG’s rewinding machines to be able to read JDF files, a PC-based approach was required so that Ethernet and access to a central server would be possible. These needs were met by Lenze’s VisiWinNET visualization software platform, which includes, in addition to SCADA, server/client technology. But why stop improving there when greater gains can be achieved?

At about the same time that ABG was working on its fully automated and JDF-compatible design, Lenze introduced its i700 servo inverter. For ABG, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to upgrade its hardware to a more consistent platform with a much more straightforward topology. “One of the obvious hardware upgrades that we were keen to pursue was the replacement of the old 9300 servo drives by the new i700 inverters,” Norman says. “This proved to be a wise choice, as the installation time is now reduced by at least 25 percent. The main reason for this reduction is that the wiring takes far less time, as we can easily interlink the DC power supply bus and the EtherCAT connections, and no circuit breakers or individual mains supplies need to be installed, providing additional time savings.”

The introduction of the i700s also substantially reduces the cabinet footprint. “The i700 has both double-axis and single-axis drives and it is more compact than its predecessor,” Norman notes. “This means that our required cabinet size is reduced by 15-20 percent.”

There have also been improvements on the HMI side. “We have replaced our previous HMI with the model p500 from Lenze and are using their smaller EL103eco for localized controls,” Norman says. “The biggest benefit of using a more integrated hardware platform from one supplier is that all the tags for VisiWinNET visualization have already been generated in the PLC Designer software via a symbol file. This also saves a lot of time.”

Straightforward machine structure

On top of all these benefits, the more straightforward machine structure paved the way for a modular approach that enabled ABG to program different hardware elements (modules) just once and reconfigure them for later projects. Some of the modules have been further simplified by using Lenze’s Fast Application Software, which already has a variety of application-specific, ready-to-use templates designed to tackle common elements in targeted industries.

“One of the key aspects when revising your automation hardware as drastically as we did is getting the software right,” Norman says. “One of the tools that Lenze suggested for this task was their Application Template software. It offers a modular structured approach that saves a lot of time and reduces errors by a consistent methodology that involves more configuration than programming. To get started, we made a functional breakdown of our machine specification into modules. We identified common modules as our basic building blocks through which we can configure most of our machines. After they have been programmed, we configured all the axes related to the module. We subsequently linked all modules to a machine master, which sets the modules into the required mode or state through the Application Template.”

The project also included a virtual master axis that all the other axes within the Application Template followed. Norman adds that this approach makes their software truly modular, as the individual modules are effectively programs that run autonomously. This means they can be easily exchanged and independently tested, enabling parallel engineering. When asked about the main difference between copying and pasting proven lines of code from old projects compared to the reusability of the Application Template methodology, he puts it this way: “The big difference is the fact that all the variables, including I/O and HMI data, are declared as structures within the module. This is not the case when you copy/paste.”

At this stage, it’s hard to quantify all the gains of the Fast modules and Application Template approach for ABG engineers. The first machine is running smoothly in France, further installations are working well, and more machines are in production. There are nevertheless plenty of aspects to qualify and Norman is convinced that using the Fast modules and Application Template is the right way forward.

“Despite some challenges, which were resolved by Lenze listening well and responding thoroughly to us, I am positive that the new Lenze Fast approach will live up to its name when it comes to speeding up machine programming,” Norman says. “We have already experienced this success with some of the modules. The quality of the performance has also improved. Instead of a web encoder, using a virtual master combined with the Fast Winding module has, for instance, resulted in the control of web tension being even better than the high standards previously achieved.”

It is this quality aspect that might be the true advantage of using the standard software modules. “It’s been a pleasure using pre-tested Fast modules that have been developed by Lenze so that the end user only has to configure the functionality rather than writing and testing complex code,” Norman says. “We also see a large benefit using standard function blocks in terms of getting worldwide support from Lenze.”

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