The explosion in SKUs is a shining example of how consumer trends are affecting the packaging-machinery industry. “Consumers are asking for what they want where they want it and when they want it,” said Steve Mulder, Rockwell Automation’s OEM packaging segment manager, who moderated the Smart Machines and Equipment Builders Forum at this week’s Automation Fair in Philadelphia.
“I remember 20 years ago when people bought most packaged consumer products at the supermarket,” he reminisced. “Today, we see them sold at hardware stores like Menards and at Walgreens and at gas stations.”
Add to that the manpower challenges that manufacturers are facing and expectations of smaller equipment footprints—not to mention the constant pursuit of improved OEE. “The reality is it’s not getting any better,” said Mulder.
“Two million manufacturing jobs will stand unfilled by 2025. Optimized machine design means line simplification and reduced floor space with increased production. Some companies are seeing up to 10 times the number of SKU changeovers they used to have. Changeover time can have a huge impact on OEE.”
One person who’s been tasked with addressing these challenges is Pete Lawton, director of technology at Pearson Packaging Systems. “Engineering has to get machines out the door, so the problem is engineers don’t have time to research,” he explained. “That’s why my position was created.”
Lawton is spearheading Pearson’s continuing look at user-centric design to find out why operators and maintenance people do things. “The abilities and education levels of operators have gone down,” he said. “User-centric design is a philosophy that’s focused on the user of the equipment to overcome ergonomic challenges, accessibility challenges, visibility challenges and language barriers. The goal is to take the information and improve the lifecycle of the machine and keep downtime to a minimum.”
User-centric design has a big impact on OEE. “It improves employee training, changeover speed, fault recovery speed and setup speed and accuracy,” said Lawton.
New technologies on deck
Pearson has assessed its technology in mechanical components, human-machine interface (HMI), electrical and programming, and now the company is looking at those benefits and determining where to go next.
Mechanical components’ redesign included access points, crank adjustments, addition of LED lighting and change of machine color to light grey. This resulted in fewer changeover points that are easier to access, ergonomic adjustments and improved visibility inside of machinery.
Future plans include self-diagnosing machines, improved networking capabilities, machine health sensors and the use of extended reality concepts, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). Lawton also indicated an intent to look at wireless sensors and devices, as well as alternative materials to lighten weight and reduce actuator size.
“We’re doing a lot more system packaging lines,” he said. “We’re doing more on-machine drives and leveraging networking technologies to provide flexibility of physical configuration.”
For HMI, Pearson is using FactoryTalk View Machine Edition and PanelView Plus 7. “We’ve worked very tightly with Rockwell on that,” said Lawton, who listed numerous upsides, including large, colored, high-contrast screens; more real estate for larger images and icons; standardized design, terminology and icon usage; reduced page counts; simplified navigation and information; interactive, guided fault recovery; live sensor mapping; the ability to use 3D models instead of pictures; and web-style navigation.
Lawton envisions providing video animation and an intuitive, feature-rich web-like experience, along with analytics, performance metrics and interactive 3D models on capacitive, multi-touch screens. Industrial PCs would improve data storage for analytics.
Pearson’s machines are OMAC PackML-compliant and already use industrial VPN routers for remote troubleshooting. This allows for a consistent programming language for faster integrations and improved serviceability, as well as remote access to HMIs and PLCs.
Cost-effective predictive maintenance is on the horizon, including global remote access. Plans for an intelligent customer portal to identify and order parts directly from the machine are also part of the plan. Robot control from a PLC and fog- and cloud-based analytics are part of the forward-looking vision, too.
“The data and analytics we’re getting now are starting to expand our world,” said Lawton, including visibility that reaches higher into the organization. “What are the use cases for our manager and vice president?”
Independent cart technology is also in Pearson’s sights. “We have played with the MagneMotion,” said Lawton. “It’s a very interesting technology. We have not put it on a machine yet, but we see it can reduce the number of moving parts and eliminate product transfers. I’m moving it into the R&D lab to see what we can do with it. The initial cost is higher, but the long-term cost of ownership is lower. We’re convinced it’s one of the technologies of the future.”
Robots also rank high on the future-plans list because of the untapped potential, said Lawton. “Why would you have the mechanic go in there, if you can have a robot do the change?” he asked. “Leverage the robot for everything it can possibly do. Use the technology to the nth degree. That’s been our philosophy. How much can we get out of this?”