CPGS Challenged to Improve Their Packaging Productivity and Reduce Costs

Control technology is a top priority for packagers, and they’re counting on OEMs to help.
Image courtesy of A-B-C Packaging.

Today’s Smart Depalletizers and Palletizers Are Up to the Challenge

By Bryan Sinicrope, VP marketing and integrator sales at A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation

As packagers embrace the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to improve their processes and productivity, there have been bumps in the road to success. In a recent survey of consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) by PMMI (Packaging Machinery Manufacturers’ Institute), respondents had some strong opinions how original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can help them achieve overall equipment effectiveness. With goals of maximizing productivity and ensuring product quality while reducing production costs, CPGs said control technology was a top priority–and they think OEMs can do better.

Packagers want machines that are easy to set up and control. They want real-time operating data and historical trends available to evaluate OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), and supported remote connectivity with their OEMs to minimize downtime. They want reliable technology, equipped with monitors to ensure machine health, and simple diagnostics to minimize unplanned downtime. These requests are not luxuries, but necessities for manufacturers to remain competitive in the ever-changing marketplace.

The good news is that OEMs have been building this functionality into depalletizers and palletizers for some time, making these machines some of the smartest on the packaging line. The network of smart components and sensors designed and built into these machines are key to keep them operating at top performance, preventing unplanned downtime, and providing the data that is essential for obtaining top productivity in the day-to-day operation. These systems efficiently protect products, minimize waste, and maximize OEE on the packaging line. Furthermore, in operating these smart machines, employees are empowered to become invested in their successful production.

A-B-C’s 108 depalletizer offers fully automatic operation and can run multiple container styles interchangeably with no downtime for changeover. Image courtesy of A-B-C Packaging.

Optimizing product setup and changeover

Reducing downtime for product changes is one area that can significantly enhance line productivity, especially for packagers running multiple stock keeping units (SKUs).  Changeover settings for depalletizers and palletizers are implemented right at the operator control panel. Product specs are programmed in the PC, so the operator simply selects the desired product. If manual adjustments are required for conveyor or pallet size changes, the required actions are typically a part of the product setup shown on screen. They are shown as action-confirmation steps that the operator completes through the touchscreen sequence. Also available are automatic changeover packages with motorized adjusts that are activated with the new product selection. Pallet building software is typically included in standard palletizer models allowing packagers to quickly implement new product and/or pallet configurations from the factory floor. Depalletizing is similarly simplified with most machines able to unload multiple SKU’s interchangeably, often with no setting change at the control station for quick transition between products. This functionality can help packagers reduce their capital investment by feeding multiple packaging lines from one depalletizer.

A-B-C palletizers offer pallet-building software to quickly add new pallet configurations with different patterns within the pallet. Image courtesy of A-B-C Packaging.

Smart components to avoid unplanned downtime

Both depalletizers and palletizers and their close-linked conveyors utilize a variety of motors, variable frequency drives, and pneumatic actuators plus a battery of sensors that monitor virtually every aspect of operation, as well as safety devices. The control systems bring together all the data from these individual elements to ensure that each is operating consistently to ensure synchronized operation. For machine functions that are controlled by pneumatics, such as layer squaring and slipsheet removal in depalletizing and product positioning/layer squaring in palletizing, smart pneumatics are key to maintaining top performance. Compared to prior pneumatic technology that could slowly fail over time, these new devices monitor vacuum pressure, air flow and actuation speeds, and precisely pinpoint any device that is not performing at full capacity.

Motor sensors work similarly, sending signals to the control station with any deviation from accepted operation. By monitoring components with a known cycle life, operators have the data they need to determine if preventive maintenance is needed. These smart components and sensors continuously monitor operation, and deviations or faults are flagged at the operator panel and factory automation center, alerting staff to take proactive action. The device that is underperforming is pinpointed, eliminating downtime to troubleshoot and detect the problem. The ability to take action when issues are first detected can prevent larger problems and unplanned downtime.

The compact 72AN palletizer from A-B-C offers smart technology in a small footprint machine to increase production and eliminate the cost and liability of manual operation. Image courtesy of A-B-C Packaging.

Profitable maintenance efficiency and laser-focused diagnostics

These smart machines reduce downtime for predictive maintenance as the scheduled actions and required procedures are communicated to the operator through the control panel. When maintenance is due, the operator is alerted and can easily access the required actions. Inexperienced operators can view step-by-step instructions on completing these tasks. For example, many manufacturers furnish their equipment with self-lubricating bearings, however, there are some areas that will need lubrication such as metal to bearing connections and chain drives.

Efficient service with remote diagnostics

Not only has open connectivity changed the way packagers analyze machine performance and address machine maintenance, it has also opened the door to faster, more efficient service calls. Using point-to point communications technology, such as a secure I-O link through VPN, an OEM service tech can remotely visualize the performance of individual components and sensors, troubleshoot issues and get the problem resolved without the expense and time required for an in-person service call. Security for remote connectivity must be built into both devices that use the IIoT, upper-level applications that accept data from them, and remote access applications. For this, packagers can rely on automation providers to help design security architecture that will protect their network throughout the plant and enable secure connectivity to trusted OEMs.

Depalletizers and palletizers have long been important automation that can significantly improve packaging line productivity. The smart machines on the market today have the potential to greatly increase the power of these packaging technologies.

About the Author

Bryan Sinicrope is the VP of marketing and integrator sales at A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation. Bryan is an engineer, with 46 years of experience in packaging machinery, and has held various roles in application engineering, technical sales, and marketing.  Learn more at www.abcpackaging.com.

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