Packaging equipment goes mechatronic

Oct. 11, 2007
As more end-user industries, such as Automotive, Food & Beverage, and Life Sciences, seek a competitive advantage gained through manufacturing operations, the pressure has mounted on machine builders to accommodate greater flexibility in production- line capabilities and improve information connectivity.

To this end, the trend in packagingmachinery design has been to increase the operational range of the machine by adding changeover flexibility for a wider range of tooling, variation in materials, and continuous design changes in the finished product. Manufacturing agility and flexibility have become mandates in a broad range of industries. To achieve this, manufacturers are increasingly adopting more machinery with embedded motion control. The integration of electronic motion- control components in packaging machines and production systems has become more critical than ever. Therefore, machine builders and system integrators are seeking more economical solutions to traditional hardwired problems.

Flexibility was the first step in expanding the operational range of machinery; however the latest trend in machine design is to combine both flexibility and modularity in machine architectures that let machine-building OEMs cost effectively deliver customized configurations. Increasingly, more OEMs are transitioning into custom design houses capable of providing line and machine configurations that are built to individual specification. However, to cost effectively deliver custom machinery, the strategy adopted in the market is to leverage the modularity in both the mechanical and electrical subsystems of machinery. On the surface, the transition to modular mechanical subsystems has progressed extremely smoothly, particularly with the increased adoption of servomotion in the latest machine designs.

More machinery is moving toward mechatronic solutions that are aided by the increasing computing power of purpose-specific machine controllers. The term mechatronic continues to evolve in meaning, encompassing more elements of the machinedesign process and reflecting the challenges that machine builders face today. Every machine builder must manage a collaborative design effort between electrical, mechanical, and software-engineering teams. While the cost of automation-control platforms and hardware continues to decline, the hidden value of embedded software in the machine is escalating rapidly. Machine builders are now taking software development seriously as it has rapidly garnered a greater percentage of the overall engineering effort. In effect, machinery with a high degree of mechanical and electrical modularity continues to be controlled by increasingly more complex software applications. This transition has been ongoing for several years, but the investment made by machine builders is beginning to show up in the machinery on the market.

Sal Spada, Research Director of Discrete Automation at ARC Advisory Group has a background in machine tool design and motion control.

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