Sometimes you just can’t have too much of a good thing. And when you’re in the business of manufacturing high-performance, high-precision packaging systems and machinery, it’s hard to see the downside of having as much world-renowned German engineering prowess at your disposal as you can handle.
It’s certainly a premise that has worked wonders recently for the folks at Edson Packaging Machinery Limited, Hamilton, Ont.-based manufacturer of case-packing machines and equipment that earlier this year embarked on a mission to drastically reduce the product changeover times across its equipment range.
“Since the creation of our first case-packer in the 1960s, Edson has constantly evolved by developing and adapting innovative new technologies for end-of-line packaging solutions,” Edson’s engineering manager Bob Krouse told Canadian Packaging on a recent visit to the company’s 45,000-square-foot production and administrative headquarters facility—directly employing 70 to 90 people over the course of a year to generate annual revenues of just under $20 million.
Regularly reinvesting between three and five per cent of its annual revenues towards new product development and innovation, Edson has dutifully earned its stripes as a reputable and well-respected packaging machinery supplier to many high-profile manufacturers of food, converted tissue, personal-care products and DVDs, relates Krouse, with an extensive product range comprising well-proven machines such as the SR3600 high-speed large case- and tray-packers; the SR3500 series case- and tray-erector packer-sealers, the RPd270 robotic top-load case/traypacker; the servo-cassette SCt Packer; and the AuxMag KDF (knock-down-flat) box accumulator and loader.
“For us, continued innovation is the key to our success,” Krouse asserts. “We are certainly not one of those companies that wants to sit back and see what other companies come up with.”
“We would much rather be leading the way at the forefront of technological advancement,” says Krouse, recalling how Edson’s recent collaboration with the Stuttgart, Germany-headquartered industrial automation technologies group Festo AG & Co. KG resulted in a remarkable technological breakthrough that had enabled Edson to reduce the changeover times on its case-packing machines from about 30 to just under five minutes.
“A lot of our customers are Fortune 500 businesses who are always looking for ways to improve their bottom line, so we looked at ways to improve machine changeovers,” says Krouse, pointing out that machine downtime associated with product changeovers has been a long-enduring drag on manufacturing productivity in the case-packing equipment segment.
“We had thought about combating the changeover problem for years,” relates Krouse, “but we were always stymied by the technology, or rather the fact that the technology had not yet advanced far enough to the point where it could significantly help us to achieve our goals of saving our customers time, labor and money.”
Krouse says he has long suspected that thoughtful incorporation of modern servomotor technology into the case-packing machine design would ultimately hold the key to resolving the downtime conundrum, but when Edson approached a leading North American manufacturer of servomotors with its ideas, “We were told that it’s just ‘not what they do.’"
“I have to admit that their response surprised us,” says Krouse, who then turned to Festo’s Canadian branch Festo Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., to pursue the matter.
According to Krouse, effecting a product changeover process on a case-packing machine involves more than just changing parts and adjusting up to 60 different axis points on the machine, as it also takes a certain amount of time to get the machine running back at its optimal production rates again.
Although Festo did not have exactly what Krouse had in mind at the time, the company made it clear that the parent company’s highly-knowledgeable engineers back in Germany would be able to develop the proper technical solution for Edson’s needs—namely a low-voltage
servomotor that was easy to wire; inclusion of absolute encoders to eliminate re-homing; and design flexibility to enable its retrofit across a broad machinery range.
“It also had to have a small an non-intrusive footprint,” Krouse adds. “I did not want to utilize panel space for this application; I wanted it built right into the motor.”
After Festo’s engineers in Germany were introduced to Krouse’s concept, they proceeded to put together an optimal solution by utilizing the company’s own MTR DCI mini-servomotor platform—completing the entire project in a mere four months, Krouse recounts.
“We visited Stuttgart in September of 2009 to offer our thoughts on the project, and they had working motors for us by November,” Krouse recalls. “Simply amazing!”
Krouse says he was very impressed by Festo’s low voltage (24-volt) servomotor technology that can be easily integrated across a wide range of HMI (human-machine interface) platforms from leading automation suppliers like Rockwell Automation, Siemens and Schneider Electric.
“I’m sure we can accommodate just about everything,” says Krouse, praising the so-named Edson E-Just servomotor platform for its ability to perform all the required changeover adjustments electronically, with setting accuracy of within one mi
Working in concert with Rockwell Automation’s Allen-Bradley range of programmable logic controllers (PLCs), the system’s HMI prompts the operator to remove the change-parts to activate changeover by pressing a single button—causing all of the axes to move, Krouse explains.
While the axes are moving, the operator obtains all the required replacement change-parts and—after approximately 80 seconds—all the axes set-point adjustments are completed, with the operator then just needing to insert the right parts into their proper places.
This smooth changeover process is enhanced in large part, Krouse explains, by clever incorporation of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, whereby each change-part is marked with its own RFID tag to ensure correct alignment with a mounted tag-reader over a 12-mm range within the machine.
“Should the wrong component be included in the changeover, or if the operator has forgotten to change a part, the RFID tag will inform the operator via the HMI,” explains Krouse, “and the equipment will not function until the correct part is properly put into its correct place.”
According to Krouse, Edson has already commenced the commercial use of the innovative Edson E-Just servomotor with the recent release of the company’s model SR3600 large case-and-tray packer—designed for handling cases ranging in size from a fast and flexible design that
can handle cases ranging in size from a minimum of 11.5×11.5×14-inches to 16x24x234-inch cases.
“The SR3600 uses our new E-Just to move all the 16 axes on it—shifting all the changeover points in about 80 seconds, and doing so within one-millimeter accuracy,” enthuses Krouse, quickly adding that the new servomotor platform can be employed across a broad range of automated packaging machinery, including case-packing equipment made by other manufacturers.
“I can put the Edson E-Just servomotor in any machine and it will work flawlessly,” he concludes. “It is truly a revolutionary piece of technology that will speed up any production line.”