Software Opens Up Communications

Industry’s progress toward a standard for modular software for running packaging lines and interfacing with product production software promotes line integration, and recipe-driven product changeovers and format changes. In this approach, parameterized, pretested, reusable software function blocks from software libraries replace the need to write original code. The Make2Pack initiative is developing a standard for packaging automation—ISA 88 Part 5—that leverages the ISA S88 batch standard and guidelines developed by OMAC. The guidelines support the IEC 61131-3 standard for industrial control programming.

“Pfizer and P&G are leading the Make2Pack initiative, which is developing ISA 88 Part 5. ISA 88 is a batch process standard that describes process equipment control in a modular way. A state model for packaging machinery based on ISA 88 was developed in the OMAC Packaging Group, and this is being further developed in the Make2Pack group to provide a standardized way of presenting modular control methods regardless of vendor platform,” says John Kowal, global marketing manager, ELAU (Schaumburg, IL).

Many pharmaceutical companies have adopted ELAU’s IEC-compliant modular packaging solutions. The standards-based modular approach supports robotics. Software-configurable free-standing robots or robotic arms embedded into standard machinery can replace “black-box” proprietary robotic solutions that require special programming and manual handwheel and dial adjustments.
“We are taking away the need for machine builders to become kinematics experts, and the packager has one less controller they have to pay for, learn, support, and validate,” Kowal says.

Pester Pac recently introduced the pac robot 2, 3, and 4 robotic configurations, with solutions integrated into a film wrapping machine and a top-loading robotic cell for filling thermoformed trays. In the Pester Pac solution, “a single software object (an ELAU IEC function block) is replacing an entire hardware controller and monolithic program. One program and one controller synchronize the robot arm with the rest of the machine, so you don’t have to coordinate two controllers talking to each other,” says Kowal.

Modular software supports faster machine building from standard hardware and software modules. Line builders can more easily integrate OEM machines supporting the software standards. Builder’s choices are not constrained by incompatible machinery. Such sophisticated software written to standards will obviate the necessity of proprietary custom solutions in many cases. “There is room for a highly dedicated customized line, and room for a highly customizable line,” says Kowal. “Instead of a hard custom machine built for a single purpose that will run at high speed for five years, you are using reconfigurable modules, and developing less software from scratch. Software modules are reusable, while monolithic code at best allows copying and pasting of subroutines out of the context of their original programs.

Modular software supports industry speed to market. “Pharmaceutical companies will say, ‘Don’t talk to us about packaging as a supply-chain strategy. Talk to us about getting our new blockbuster drug to the market fast,’” says Kowal. —David Vaczek


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