Photo by Keith Larson
“They want everything to be as simple as possible. Let the logic in the machines do the changeover, so the operator just has to press a few buttons.” Triangle Package’s N’gai Merrill explained why Post wanted a simplified version of machine changeover for its multiple cereal brands during a facility tour in conjunction with Automation Fair 2022.

Triangle Packaging innovates to differentiate

Nov. 14, 2022
Machine-building company hosts tour of its manufacturing plant in Chicago

Celebrating its 100th year in business, Triangle Package Machinery still operates with the freedom and innovation of a family-held machine-building company. It’s what allows Triangle to design and manufacture premium machinery for the packaging industry and reinvest annual profits into research and development as it identifies customer needs and market opportunities.

“We’re at the premium end of the market,” said N’gai Merrill, chief operating officer at Triangle. “Customers are willing to pay for quality machines that last for 30 years.” Merrill and a group of executives hosted a group tour at the company’s 120,000-sq-ft manufacturing plant in Chicago during Automation Fair 2022. Now in its third generation of being family-owned, Triangle employs almost 200 people and offers sanitary food packaging equipment, including tray loaders, horizontal cartoners, combination weighers, rotary pouch equipment and vertical-form-fill-seal (VFFS) machines, which account for more than 70% of its business.

Being in business that long doesn’t come without hurdles. When Triangle migrated from Rockwell Automation’s Kinetix 6000 drives with MPL motors to Kinetix 5500 drives with V-series single cable motors, benefits abounded. Improved flexibility and maintainability, increased sustainability, smaller panel footprint and simplified installation were mere appetizers to the main course of cost savings from the reduced energy-input requirement needed by the single-cable design of the servo.

“When implementation began on Triangle’s X series VFFS series bagger, it noticed an issue with the sealing jaws,” noted Niki Lococo, OEM account manager, Rockwell Automation. Rockwell had changed the thermal model behavior between the Kinetix 5500 and the Kinetix 6000. “Current would build up, and the jaws would close on themselves,” she explained.

“We established a plan to improve the 5500 design to operate as well as the 6000 system did,” said Lococo. “We developed, tested and implemented the jaw-torque-control add-on instruction (AOI).” During development and testing, the Rockwell Automation Global OEM Technical Consultant (GOTC) team worked with Triangle engineers to test a new AOI to remove the thermal difference between the two classes of Kinetix drives. “The implementation of the AOI was successful,” said Lococo.

While Triangle still supports legacy machines with control architecture from another manufacturer, Rockwell Automation has been a Triangle partner for more than 20 years, helping the machine builder to differentiate itself from competitors through Triangle’s use of ControlLogix and CompactLogix and its focus on sanitation, customization and service. “Our machines are built to be kept clean,” explained Merrill. “We are highly customized, too. We have a product line with lots of options. And we have service techs all around North America. We can provide service throughout the life of the machine.”

All machines are built to do changeovers as quickly as possible—an attractive feature. “Most machines will take hours for a changeover, but changeovers of our machines can be done within minutes, and all changeovers can be done without tools,” explained Luis Torres, director of product line management at Triangle.

Post, manufacturer of multiple breakfast cereals, wanted a machine that was going to be auto-changeover. “We have that on our cartoners,” said Merrill. “They’ve got issues with labor or people with the same backgrounds to be able to operate machines like in the past. They want everything to be as simple as possible. Let the logic in the machines do the changeover, so the operator just has to press a few buttons. Our strategy is trying to be more focused around what we do with R&D. I want us to focus on things we can sell broadly across the portfolio.”

Another area where Triangle is focused is the human-machine interface (HMI). “We have an HMI project in our pipeline,” said Merrill. “Everyone is trying to simplify their HMI to be able to have new people come in and know what to do. People are used to an iPhone. They want things more visual.”

Before the pandemic, it was getting more difficult to find operators. “Post-COVID, that just fell off the cliff,” said John Cooke, Triangle’s sales director. “The turn toward autonomous machines is gaining momentum.”

The use of IO-Link has also allowed Triangle to pull devices out of the cabinet to minimize cabinet space, noted Russ Sharpe, control system application engineering manager. Some additional technologies are gaining ground industry-wide, but Triangle is waiting for customers to adopt them.

“Ultrasonic sealing only uses energy when it’s in operation, but it hasn’t caught on in the United States because companies are reluctant to change from heat sealing, even if it means longer term that it’s better,” explained Cooke.

“The focus is on adding new machines that focus on particular applications,” said Merrill. “The compact sanitary bagger is for fresh produce. We just launched our zipper tape machine. There’s a big focus on fresh poultry. There’s a lot of zipper tape applications for fresh poultry.” 

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