Smartphones and other connected devices have made our lives easier in countless ways. In the industrial world, smart machines are performing a similar feat.
Smart machines are defined by their powerful digital capabilities, like real-time diagnostics, seamless connectivity, and contemporary safety technologies. But what makes the machines revolutionary is how these capabilities make industrial operations more competitive.
In food packaging, smarter and higher-performing machines are helping make operations more flexible to accommodate product varieties and different packaging sizes. They also maximize productivity, improve quality, and enhance safety, even as packaging becomes more complex.
Smart packaging machines can help food companies address their most pressing business needs.
For example, smart machines present new ways to protect product quality, especially as packaging operations evolve and become more complex.
Gebo Cermex, a packaging and palletizing equipment maker, recently introduced a modular infeed system to help food and CPG producers meet a key need: mass customization. The system is compatible with any bottle shape and dimension and can feed up to 400 bottles per minute. One challenge was how the system would group bottles to the packing lines. The traditional “screw” method meant bottles could spend up to 12 seconds in the infeed, resulting in labels or bottles being marked, scratched, or dented.
The company chose to use an intelligent track system with independently controlled movers to help protect bottle and label integrity. The system’s movers are only in contact with the bottle for 0.3 seconds—20 times less than a screw approach. The system also uses intelligent bottle-flow management to avoid products piling up and bumping into each other.
Smart machines can also inherently improve productivity and efficiency in food-packaging operations.
They can connect to sensors and devices and use intelligent software to enhance machine control. By combining standardized information reporting with standardized machine functionality, they can help drive continuous improvements in OEE.
But smart machines can also improve productivity in new and creative ways. For instance, a packaging OEM developed a remote-monitoring solution for its packaging equipment. The solution allows customers to monitor equipment statuses both on and off the plant floor using mobile technology. It allows the machine builder to offer remote-monitoring services to better maintain a machine’s health and improve its overall performance.
In addition, smart machines can deliver value with modernized safety. By using contemporary safety technologies that integrate safety and machinery control into one system, smart machines are less prone to nuisance shutdowns than hardwired safety systems, resulting in a more productive machine. They also provide access to safety-system data, which safety and operations professionals can use to better understand risks and improve compliance and reduce safety-related downtime.
Optimizing the Design
The right connectivity and performance levels are paramount in a smart packaging machine’s design.
From a connectivity standpoint, the machine should be able to communicate in real time on an IP-based, standard, and unmodified Ethernet network infrastructure. EtherNet/IP, a trademark of ODVA, Inc., is one example of a proven network technology. It supports a simple network architecture and can handle multiple control and safety applications.
At the system level, a smart packaging machine should make use of the latest integrated control and information technologies. These technologies deliver increased performance, easier access to information, and reduced machine complexity—all of which are ideal for smart machines.
For instance, new control options provide anywhere from 20 percent to 45 percent more application capacity. This can help simplify a machine’s design complexity while meeting more demanding packaging applications. Also, these controllers include up to 1-gigabit Ethernet ports to support more data-driven operations.
It’s also worth considering how a smart packaging machine leverages device integration to impact everything from design time to maintenance. Smart machines that take advantage of advanced integration between controllers and devices can consolidate controller programming, device configuration, and operation and maintenance activities all into one software environment.
This advanced integration brings benefits to the design stage. For example, it allows packaging machine builders to leverage library management to store, manage, and reuse code, which can reduce development time.
But the benefits of advanced integration also extend into production. It can help operators and technicians with more predictive diagnostics, faster system upgrades or replacements, and faster troubleshooting.
Security continues to be top of mind as food companies move to more connected, information-enabled operations.
Indeed, new connections on machines can create opportunities for security threats. And those threats can come in many forms: physical or electronic, remote or onsite, malicious or unintentional.
That’s why smart packaging machines should support a defense-in-depth security approach. Defense-in-depth security is a security best practice based on the idea that any one point of protection can, and likely will, be defeated. It uses layers of security to mitigate such threats and help protect intellectual property, safeguard operations, and secure remote-access connections.
Defense-in-depth security spans six different layers of security. Some of these layers, and potential security measures that can be applied within them, include the following.
Application security. Security measures can be used to manage access and prevent changes at the manufacturing application level.
Authentication, authorization, and accounting software can restrict and monitor application access and changes. Tamper-detection capabilities can track unwanted application modifications. And a role-based access control system can limit worker access to critical process functions or require that they enter log-in information before accessing applications.
Device security. Device authentication and identification can help make sure only trusted devices are used in food packaging.
Food producers can also change the out-of-the-box configurations for embedded devices to help make them more secure. For example, companies can control which tags can be modified from HMIs and external applications. Or they define tags as constants, which cannot be modified by controller logic.
Physical security. In addition to securing access to their plants or facilities, companies also need to secure entry points on their physical network infrastructure. Control panels, cabling and network components, like routers, switches, and gateways, should be protected against intrusions, tampering, and accidents.
Lock-out devices can prevent the unwanted removal of data and virus uploads by restricting unauthorized access to USB ports. And lock-in devices can keep vital connections in place and reduce the potential for unauthorized cable removals.
Be Future Ready
As smart machines continue to be embraced by the food industry, it’s not only important to consider how the machines will fit into production today, but also in the future.
The number of smart devices connecting to smart machines will only grow, as will the volume of data that smart machines must handle. That’s why companies should make sure the smart machines they invest in today are future-ready, with the capacity to support additional technologies and more information.
After all, technology advances happen quickly. And smart machines will be more relevant and a greater competitive differentiator if they can keep pace with those advances.
Mulder is regional segment manager for packaging at Rockwell Automation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.