Form and Function
West Coast end-of-line packaging OEM hits its stride with servo-control technology to raise machine performance to the next level of operational excellence and reliability
Founded in 1977 in Richmond, B.C., Wexxar Packaging Inc. is a proud and renowned Canadian packaging-equipment manufacture specializing in building automatic, sturdy, high-speed end-of-line packaging machines such as case erectors, case sealers and tray formers used to make the corrugated shipping containers for transporting fresh produce, agricultural products, meat, beverages, packaged foods, household goods and many other types of everyday CPG (consumer packaged goods) to grocers, retailers and food wholesalers across North America.
With a Wexxar machine available for forming or sealing anything from a basic “brown box” to complex specialty trays in the company’s comprehensive product portfolio, Wexxar equipment has been installed in over 40 countries to date, according to the company, which has been operating as part of the ProMach group of companies, headquartered in Cincinnati, OH since 2005.
Prior to that, the company operated under the updated Wexxar Bel moniker following its 2000 acquisition of competing case forming and sealing machinery manufacturer Belcor to significantly boost its product offering, which was further expanded in 2009 with ProMach’s acquisition of the Richmond-based tray forming equipment builder IPAK, subsequently integrated into the renamed Wexxar Bel business.
Despite the changing names and owners, the Wexxar brand name continues to be synonymous with productivity and reliability in packaging industry circles, with some of the Wexxar Bel machinery reported to have been operating for over 30 years at some locations.
Priding itself on its “solution-based engineering” philosophy, Wexxar had centralized all its manufacturing operations under the roof of a newly built 100,000-square-foot factory in Richmond in 2014, thereby providing opportunities for greater synergies between the company’s major brands.
One of the brands that has greatly benefited from these opportunities is the IPAK range of tray formers, which have been continuously enhanced in the last couple of years with improved design features and incorporation of advanced servomotor technology to enable the machines to form a variety of tray styles suitable for virtually any industry.
Officially launched in the spring of 2022, the updated IPAK line of tray formers—comprising models TF385, TF485 and TF486—features multiple design upgrades that allow users greater accessibility for faster, easier, and safer changeovers than ever before, according to IPAK product manager Mike “Parky” Parkinson.
“The big story with our new IPAK tray formers is that we made it much easier to do adjustments in the machine, which allows the operator to safely get it back up and running quicker—thereby really increasing the overall efficiency of the entire packing line, says Parky.
“At Wexxar Bel, we constantly listen to our customers and continuously strive to improve our machinery to best meet their needs.”
As Parky relates, updates to the new IPAK tray formers include redesigning the guard doors and other new guarding components to provide better access into the machine for faster adjustments and changeovers.
Additionally, the number of adjustments needed for changeovers has also been reduced—making it easier for employees with varying skill levels to operate, while reducing the amount of required training and shortening the learning curve.
As Parky notes, “Simplifying the design and improving machine access also aids maintenance crews by troubleshooting and servicing the machine more efficiently—minimizing downtime.”
As part of this machine streamlining, the coalescing filter/regulator unit on the redesigned IPAK tray former was relocated outside the machine—enhancing ease of accessibility when pneumatic adjustments are required.
The relocation has also made pneumatic connections more direct and efficient, reducing the chance of air leakage and making for a more energy-efficient operation with an overall lower cost of ownership.
Other changes include reinforcing materials on the overall machine and, notably, reinforced guarding and door hinges to increase overall operator safety and product life.
“With these design improvements all centered around simplifying operation, IPAK really allows employees to take ownership of the machine,” Parkinson said. “Our goal was to build an even safer, more reliable tray former that expedites the changeover process, and we’ve done that with our new tray former.”
The new IPAK automatic tray formers can create a broad variety of tray styles—including four-corner, six-corner, rollover, self-lock triangular corner, etc.—at robust throughput speeds of 15 to over 40 trays per minute, depending on tray type.
According to Wexxar, the TF series tray formers utilize reliable and precise technology to form a perfectly square tray—ensuring the perfect aesthetic look and, more importantly, superior product protection.
Featuring an active compression section, servo-driven blank advance and self-cleaning vacuums, IPAK trays incorporate a user-centric, intuitive design to reduce the amount of time required to learn, operate and maintain the machine.
Equipped with a large 10-inch touchscreen HMI (human machine interface) for user-friendly control and large doors to allow easy access to changeover and maintenance points, the tray formers allow for quick and tool-free size changeovers in under 20 minutes.
Moreover, relocating the FRC to a centralized position on the machine has streamlined the entire pneumatic system and, according to Wexxar, reduced the overall energy costs while increasing machine reliability.
One of the most impactful new machine performance features, according to Parky, was the installation of two IndraDrive HCS01 servo drives along with the IndraDyn MSK motor at the machine’s blank advance station and at the mandrel—to ensure superior speed, reliability and repeatability.
Supplied by Wexxar’s long-time automation partner Bosch Rexroth Canada, the high-performance combination servomotors enable the TF series tray formers to handle a broader variety of tray styles, according to Parky, while also speeding up the process.
“Once the tray enters into the compression station from the loaded hopper, the mandrel is going to come down and form that tray from the blank sheet of corrugated,” Parky explains.
“With the two servos on this machine, giving us the ability to run up to 40 trays plus per minute, with the Bosch Rexroth servo advancing the blank through the machine with consistent performance, reliability and repeatability,” Parky states. “At the end of the day, that’s really what the customers are looking for.”
Adds IPAK engineering manager Davis Huang: “For the last 15 years, we have been very proud building the most compact machines that fit into most applications, thereby providing and forming the best possible trays for our customers.
“With this project, the goal was to make flexible machines that our customers can adapt to make multiple styles of trays, and the Bosch Rexroth servo system is providing us that capability to do that.
“The Ethernet-connected HMI on the machine allows us full control of the servo drive and the motor, while enabling customers to have less machines doing more work.
“We chose to work with Bosch Rexroth servomotors because they make the machine more efficient and provide better control, with greater reliability, while improving efficiency,” Huang states, describing Bosch Rexroth as “a great partner for us to work with, especially at the product development stage.”
Says Huang: “When we started trying to find solutions to move from our traditional control system to the more modern system, they (Bosch Rexroth) came in, introduced the available technology, and did a comparison of all options.
“They then came in with their technical team to help us develop the product we wanted in a very short period of time.
“We are very happy with the support we get from Bosch Rexroth,” Huang states. “We are happy with the products they supply,” he says, “and the level of collaborative interaction between us is always beyond expectation.
“So when it comes to control automation,” he sums up, “they are always the first ones up for consideration as a partner.”
Such feedback is a priceless compliment for Bosch Rexroth’s account manager Christopher McGregor, who was directly involved in the project from the start.
“Our scalable servo drive and control range is flexible enough to handle any of Wexxar’s needs,” says McGregor, noting that Bosch Rexroth has been supplying Wexxar with automation components for over 10 years.
“We act as a single source supplier for Wexxar—not only offering linear mechanical components but also all the drives and controls,” McGregor adds.
“The partnership allows for increased efficiencies between both parties, as well as application-specific knowledge sharing within each other’s technology group.”
As McGregor points out, “Bosch Rexroth leads the market in research and development of motion control—allowing our customers to equip their machines with the latest in drive and motor technology, while still maintaining support of their legacy products.
“As an example, we are currently supporting Wexxar as they transition to Bosch Rexroth’s newest servo motors that are smaller, lighter, and have impressive torque accuracy,” he says.
“The global network of Rexroth engineering and our desire to be a market leader in automation requires us to work closely with our customers and develop new technologies to meet their application demands,” states McGregor.
“Rexroth leads the market in R&D with new products like ctrlx (automation software), linear smart function kits and flex effectors, which are all disrupting our market and leading the way in industry advancements.”
As Wexxar’s Parky sums up, “We’re best in class than what we do, and we look forward to showcasing our new improved equipment to our customers in coming years.
“We are always working to meet the customers’ needs,” he concludes, “so we can grow with our customers as a trusted partner.
“And as we look ahead, we look forward to Bosch Rexroth being therefor us to take care of all our drives and other automation needs.”