Filling machine turns up the juice

March 9, 2006
Electronic servocontrols are coming to paper-carton filling machines for juice and dairy products.

Elopak's P-S50S carton-filling machine replaces traditional mechanical devices with electric servocontrol, reducing manufacturing costs and simplifying machine operation.

Officials at Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill., say they are teaming up with Elopak, New Hudson, Mich., on servos to replace mechanical-drive components such as line shafts, gearboxes, cams, chains, belts, pulleys, and clutches.

The goal is to reduce assembly time and manufacturing costs by simplifying machine operations, and combine several processes on the same system, says Elopak project engineer Kenneth Poublon.

Electric servos perform better than mechanisms and are more reliable and flexible. Advanced control-system diagnostics report machine conditions and help diagnose faults. And it is possible to monitor and remotely diagnose machine problems from thousands of miles away, over the Internet.

Elopak's P-S50S gable-top carton filling machine uses Mitsubishi Electric's Q Series Automation Platform and MR-J2 Super Servos to combine complex servomotion with machine-logic control, eliminating about half the mechanical devices found in a typical filling machine. "The Q Series Automation Controller shares complex operations across several processors with extremely rapid response," says Leroy Bowman, Mitsubishi Electric motion control specialist. This includes process and motion control, and operator touchscreens for setup and adjustments for varying product viscosities.

For example, one processor coordinates 32 servoaxes, each performing complex cam-motion profiles. A second CPU handles high-speed standard I/O and temperature (heat-sealing) control, while a third serves as an Intelbased Windows PC that runs third-party software for data collection and reporting. All this comes in a modular-rack system that requires only a 4 X 17-in. footprint.

Software from Mitsubishi Electric, called the Q Series, synthesizes many mechanical operations. It lets designers build "virtual" mechanical devices such as shafts, differential gears, and cams, which only exist as graphical elements in software. When used with the company's motion processors and servos, the end result is coordinated, high-speed, complex motion profiles.

The servomotors and cables are rated IP76, which gives them good protection against spraying water. A wall separates the motors from the juice and milk-handling area for added protection against high-pressure washdown.

The new machine is currently in limited production at a Swedish beta test site to quantify cost and efficiency advantages. Once armed with specific costs related to machine construction and operation, Poublon anticipates the technology in the prototype will be incorporated into future machines with faster runtimes.

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