Take Control of Your Machines


You design or manufacture packaging, not packaging machinery. So why busy yourselves with the inner workings of the machinery you buy? Your machinery vendor will most likely deliver a system that meets your requirements. The vendor may help you install and validate it. Should you encounter a problem, all you'll need to do is contact your vendor, and a technician will probably be dispatched.

But you may benefit from understanding how your machine is put together, especially its control system. You may want to evaluate the machine's control options. The control system keeps products moving down the line, and it interacts with other machines on your line. And you have to validate its operation.
Trouble is, the controllers of one machine may not work well with those of another. Problems occur when proprietary controls of one machine have difficulty communicating with the proprietary controls of another.

The OMAC Plug-and-Pack Workgroup has smoothed machine communication in other industries, like automotive and aerospace. The group promotes the use of open, modular architecture controls, adopting the very phrase as its name. If machinery vendors were to adopt an open standard for control, the group says, then fillers, labelers, and other units could communicate seamlessly and more efficiently. 

One of OMAC's solutions is the PackML standard. John Kowal, global marketing manager for OMAC member Elau Inc., says, "PackML offers packagers common state models and tag naming. These ease automation, regardless of vendors. PackML has proven useful from initial specifications and factory acceptance testing to operation, MES data collection, and machinery reconfiguration." Based on the ISA S88 batch standard, it can also be implemented in the international standard for control programming languages, IEC 61131-3.

Some machinery providers are building units with PackML in mind. Norden Pac Machinery supports PackML with its Norden EasyWare system. It uses Elau's PacDrive integrated motion and logic technology. The Norden EasyWare system is part of Norden's Generation 3 tube fillers and cartoners. 

In addition to supporting PackML, Elau's PacDrive replaces PLC and typical motion controllers with Pentium M-based controls that put "intelligence into motors," says Kowal. 

Elau's approach is in line with the trend toward servomotor control, but it goes a bit further. It uses SERCOS, a serial real-time communication standard, which is an open standard for transmitting data using cables and modems. 
Kowal hopes all machinery will one day employ IEC 61131-based software that uses an off-the-shelf library. "We support open standards--they make a control system transparent. You should buy machinery based on its performance, not its control system. With each machinery purchase, you shouldn't have to relearn a control system or how to reprogram or troubleshoot it."

If you are interested in line efficiency and reliability, this news should excite you. It may also surprise you, since few machinery providers have adopted PackML. Before you advise your vendor to do so, visit OMAC's Web site, www.omac.org, or attend the group's meeting at Pack Expo Las Vegas to monitor the group's progress. You may benefit from Elau's free PackML CD and workshops. (Visit www.elau.com/packml for details.)

At the very least, you should be aware of the type of control system your machinery vendor has chosen and its reasons for doing so. You may need open controls. You should make that call, not your vendor.

Daphne Allen, Editor

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