Making more of motion control in packaging machine



Making more of motion control in packaging machine
Packaging machine designs call for ever greater levels of performance and flexibility,
combined with the ability for faster changeovers from one product run to the next, so
engineers are making greater use of electronic motion control technologies. Gerard
Bush of INMOCO (Intelligent Motion Control) looks at the opportunities and the
The level of automation within packaging lines has increased dramatically over recent
years as end users have called for greater performance, the ability to handle smaller
batch sizes, and rapid changeovers from one batch to the next. As customers look for
ever greater customisation, packaging machines are required to handle a broader
range of products, faster and more efficiently.
Electronic motion control has thus become critical to the design of such machinery. It
can provide the ability to quickly change from one product batch to another simply by
selecting from menus of different options. Further, electronic motion control has
become an important aspect of virtually all functions of a packaging machine's
operation, including product sorting, portioning, enclosing, sealing and labelling – plus
there is always the need to convey the products from station to station along
packaging lines.
Operations will start with the correct sorting and portioning of products to be packaged.
Where solid goods are concerned, we might be talking about products coming down a
conveyor that need to be positioned ready for picking and placing. At the same time,
designers might need to consider how any reject products will be dealt with. Options
for sorting, directing or rejecting products could include everything from pick-and-place
robots or XY tables at one end of the scale, down to mechanical flippers, pushers and
spinners at the other.
Simple mechanical devices offer effective solutions for use with large batch runs of a
single product. However, their lack of adaptability means they are not so good on
machines that are required to be flexible enough to accommodate smaller batch runs
or multi-product runs. Here an electronic solution is preferred because of the speed
with which they can switch from one batch's settings to the next.
Electronic motion systems can store operational menus for a host of different products,
with changeover from one to another at the touch of a button, or even as directed
automatically from a higher level system. Trapezoidal or S-curve velocity point-to-point
moves can be readily programmed into the motion control system, or custom profiles
can be quickly developed to replicate the functionality of mechanical cams, enabling
different aspects of motion (position, speed and acceleration) to be controlled and
On beverage lines, the portioning-of-products function is manifested as a liquid
dispensing operation. This will have similar motion control aspects, but they will cover
the control of pumps to dispense the required amount of liquid.
Alternatively, a packaging line might be fed from an extruder, requiring cutting of
correct sizes of material from a continuous feed. This is most easily accomplished
using a rotating knife, but even here there can be important motion control
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considerations. For example, the knife will need to be synchronised with the extruder
speed, so that product portion size remains constant even if the extruder speed
increases or decreases. This synchronisation can be readily accomplished using an
electronic gear profile or with an electronic cam.
In some applications there may be benefit in looking at more sophisticated methods of
handling the cutting of products from the material stock pieces, perhaps when two or
more product sizes are required. Here XY tables or other placement processes
synchronised to appropriate cutting technologies may offer a solution.
With the products dispensed, cut, sorted and positioned as appropriate, the next
operation on the packaging line will be enclosing the products and sealing them. This
might mean placing solid products into trays, cartons or boxes and closing those boxes
up. The levels of machine flexibility required will determine the sophistication of the
automation system from a motion control point of view. Simple mechanical systems
might well be adequate, but increasingly picking and placing is being provided by
Cartesian systems with defined motion profiles.
On food or liquid processing lines, operations might include applying caps to bottles or
a film or foil cover. Motion control can be used to ensure that caps are secured to a set
torque by running the amplifiers in electronic torque mode.
Film application, on the other hand, will typically be a web tensioning operation, which
is a further motion control task – maintaining the web at a determined tension
depending on the material feed rate and speed of the product on the conveyor.
Options include simple control of mechanical dancer arms to simultaneously controlling
both the supply and tensioning spool using electronic motion solutions.
The same considerations may need to be applied to the final sealing of the containers
for the product batch, as multiple products are sealed into boxes, or multiple boxes are
sealed into larger pallets.
As the packaged products approach the outfeed, a final operation will be the labelling
of boxes or cartons. Where the application of the label is provided by a mechanism
such as a moving arm, here, too, there are motion control considerations. Designers
will need to look at how the speed of the labeller is synchronised to the conveyor
speed (perhaps using electronic gears or cams), and how the arm deals with different
sizes of products.
Thus we have seen that in all areas of packaging machine design, electronic motion
control can deliver improved flexibility and performance. However, the designers and
users of today's high capability packaging machines typically do not want to use wall
mounted controllers, as is often necessary with PLC-based solutions. Instead they
prefer very small footprint motion control ICs and amplifiers that are ultra-efficient so
that they can be directly integrated to the equipment frame.
INMOCO can supply Performance Motion Device's (PMD'S) range of motion control
ICs and amplifiers to meet the needs of high tech packaging machines. The PMD
equipment is also equally well suited to other advanced applications that require both
configuration flexibility and dynamic motion performance, yet can be easily configured
and reconfigured to handle multiple motion control requirements.
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Established in 1987, INMOCO now offers an extensive range of motion control
equipment including: compact servo amplifiers, position controllers, stepper motors,
PLC controllers, linear motors, sensors, electric actuators and gearheads. INMOCO’s
product portfolio is supported by extensive applications and technical expertise, in
addition to customer-specified electro-mechanical development and sub-assembly
services; including calibrating and testing in a class 10,000 clean room facility.
The image(s) distributed with this press release may only be used to accompany this
copy, and are subject to copyright. Please contact DMA Europa if you wish to license
the image for further use.
Editor Contact
DMA Europa Ltd. : Elizabeth Patrick
Tel: +44 (0)1562 751436
Fax: +44 (0)1562 748315
Email: [email protected]
Reader Contact
INMOCO : Gerard Bush
Tel: +44 (0)1327 307600
Fax: +44 (0)1327 300319
Email: [email protected]
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