Automation and controls bring packaging lines to life with as much — or little — human assistance as desired for consumer packaged goods companies.
While many companies desire automation to reduce their number of in-person operators, some brands prefer a hybrid model to include more hands in the process. Whatever a client’s design, Rise Capital’s team of engineers, also called integrators, delivers user-friendly automation to refine production and reduce downtime.
“We work closely with you to understand your existing controls platform in order to design and integrate a system that will be familiar to your maintenance team, reduce spare parts costs, and ultimately improve overall performance,” said Craig George, senior integrator of controls.
The first step to automate a packaging line is to consider the product being made. The control system of bagged products varies significantly from cans or bottles. Rise Capital integrators consider the final product and then look at the processes involved, such as filling, packing, coding, palletizing, and quality inspection.
As an integrator, Rise Capital works to find the correct equipment for the job from top original equipment manufacturers worldwide and creates integration, construction, and programming plans to ensure this equipment operates cohesively. A vital component of this is an efficient and coordinated conveyor system.
“That takes up the most amount of effort for a control system for us — programming and designing a conveyance system and the controls associated with that,” George said.
Automated conveyance moves the product from one point to another quickly and safely. Integrators carefully connect each piece of equipment with conveyors and ensure the line runs at the appropriate speed based on the product’s size. They also oversee the placement and quantity of sensors, which detect the presence of product.
Sensors detect jams or that a conveyor is full so that upstream conveyors can be slowed to avoid product damage.
Controls, Controllers and Interfaces
The “brain” of the conveyance system is the programmatic logic controller (PLC), which is found in the control panel. The PLC commands the motor speeds via variable frequency drives (VFD).
While the inner workings of a control panel are technical, Rise Capital integrators make the human-machine interface (HMI), which is the interface between the operator and the PLC, as straightforward and intuitive as possible.
“We present operators with the information they need on the HMI to understand their current status and avoid nuisance warnings and alarms,” George said. “It’s about keeping it simple.”
Rise Capital integrators tailor HMIs tailored to each packaging line, avoiding unnecessary options or settings and ensuring that alarm systems are clear and explain where the problem is happening.
Knowing that most maintenance staffs don’t have a background in controls, Rise Capital integrators keep PLC logic simple and easy to follow using ladder logic, a programming style that sequentially controls the equipment. This also allows easy troubleshooting or line alteration.
Integrators write these different product “recipes” into the PLC, such as the parameters for 32-ounce bottles in a six-pack container. Operators can change system settings for different products simply with the push of a button.
Benefits of Integration
Integration is the most important, but perhaps most overlooked, aspect of automation.
“A lot of customers skip the step where the equipment talks to each other,” said George. “Our official job title is ‘Integrator’ because we integrate the equipment.”
Integrated equipment is a revelation for companies that still rely on manual processes. If a flow wrapper goes down in a cookie-making line that lacks integration, an operator needs to run and hit the stop button and pull cookies off of the conveyor, George said, “because the system doesn’t know how to turn itself off.”
“When we design this line, if the flow wrapper goes down, we design enough accumulation that it can store up the product temporarily. We design a sequence of operations that happen automatically,” he said. “There’s no need for operator intervention.”
Rise Capital’s automation integrators work with the company’s System Analytics department to debug and troubleshoot designs before implementation, a competitive differentiator that improves clients’ speed to market.
“This lets us check our work before we get to the field,” George said.
Rise Capital recently replaced and upgraded 60 conveyor motors for a large case packer installation project. Thanks to emulation, the client “went from powering on to production in four days.”
Rise Capital integrators are also involved in facility construction to ensure that systems are built correctly, writing scopes of work (SOW), evaluating bids, and helping keep projects on schedule and within budget.
“We focus on making sure construction meets the quality standards and specifications of our customers,” George said.
As with most industries, consumer goods companies have a growing appetite for data extracted from their equipment centers to assess performance.
While data can help clients optimize their line, it is challenging to know what data is useful. This has grown in importance as more companies operate their systems remotely due to COVID-19. Rise Capital integrators advise customers on data collection and analysis, often providing remote support.
From concept through commissioning and beyond, Rise Capital’s automation team, in collaboration with colleagues in myriad other disciplines, provide project owners certainty of outcome and optimal production capabilities.