For years, even decades, manufacturers have been trying to make production and packaging lines more agile and efficient. Often times this includes the use of robotics, diagnostics, integrated safety, high speed networking, systems integration and simulation. But there is a lot of equipment in the factory and the manufacturers need help.
It’s no surprise then that the pressure is now on OEMs to apply the same automation technology directly to their machines to create a more flexible base. This is a disruptive concept, as it means machine builders will have to abandon their dedicated machine designs and embrace more modular components that can be reconfigured as needed.
But, we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a time when digitization combines physical and virtual worlds and machines are smart, connected and increasingly autonomous. Such a drastic shift in the use of technology means that the industry as a whole must transform.
This manufacturing revolution requires an evolution of the machine. And here’s why:
As consumers demand more products at a faster rate, manufacturers of consumer goods and food and beverage products face mass customization, resulting in more SKUs, shorter production runs and frequent changes. The industry is entering the era of the intelligent machine, a system composed of modules that will support the “lot of one. “
To help OEMs prepare for this change, a new white paper from B&R Industrial Automation North America explores the attributes and enabling technologies behind these next-generation machines, a new category that B&R calls “adaptive machines”.
“The switch from glass bottles to plastic, or from rigid containers to flexible containers requires entirely new filling and packaging machines,” according to B&R’s white paper. “An adaptive machine is a machine that has the ability to change on the fly, plus reconfigure itself with different production modules on the same base machine platform. It will be easily adaptable to constant changes in size and format. But it will also be adaptable to radical and unforeseen requirements thanks to the corresponding equipment changes, such as the replacement of a carton erector module by a bag forming module.
With fluctuating product and packaging needs, manufacturers will need to be able to adapt to changes that might occur over the 20-year plus life of an industrial machine, while maintaining TRS. The adaptive machine will.
And here’s an interesting twist that B&R points out: “With practical batch manufacturing and packaging capability, manufacturers can go directly to the consumer, without the extra steps and costs of going through an online reseller. . This means a new go-to-market strategy for manufacturers. “While the size of lot one has been elusive, its appeal to manufacturers is pretty clear,” the B&R report says.
So how do these flexible systems fit together? At last year’s IMTS and PACK EXPO shows in Chicago, and at EXPO Las Vegas PACK next week, B&R will be showcasing ATS Automation’s SuperTrak, a modular conveyor integrated with B & R’s machine and robotic control. This multi-purpose, built-to-order, one-batch system can be used for assembly, filling, sealing / capping, inspection, serialization, coding, labeling and other applications packing.
Interestingly, the next generation industrial transportation technology uses software to simulate the movements of the shuttles on the SuperTrak conveyor in conjunction with synchronized subsystems such as robotics and CNC. This streamlines the project development and verification process.
Other technologies in play on B&R compatible adaptive machines include:
- An anti-sloshing algorithm to compensate for physical, mechanical and electrical limitations. Anti-sloshing, combined with new track technology, allows faster movement of open containers of liquids without spilling. This is another feature of the motion control software that provides smooth and precisely controlled acceleration and deceleration despite rapid movement.
- A repetitive control algorithm used to predict and compensate for mechanical fluctuations. It is an active form of suppression that undergoes a constant learning process to adapt to changes in disturbance, such as those that can be caused by wear and tear.
- Fast-reacting I / O can respond in as little as a microsecond. With the high throughput, timing and small footprints associated with tracked production systems, this rapid response represents yet another enabling technology.
- HTML5-based human-machine interfaces that run on any web-enabled device, regardless of operating system. This makes it much easier to deploy remote viewing to any phone, tablet, or computer monitor without the need to support versions for Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, or any other operating system.
- Networked security, which replaces hard-wired security, has created both new diagnostic capabilities and safe movement, in which the machine continues to run in safe mode rather than stop. Software modules for programming network-integrated light curtains now allow passage of objects of different sizes and shapes without triggering a safety response – perfect for size 1 products in lots of different sizes and shapes.
- Automated text messaging allows a machine application to send text messages and emails triggered by specific events and can easily be connected to other software components, such as alarms, to automatically notify a service technician when ‘immediate action is required.
Ultimately, the adaptive machine will be a cutting edge system. Yes, that means new technological investments. But maybe that’s the price an OEM has to pay to stay relevant in the future.