Thinking Outside the Box

  • March 04, 2013
  • Feature

Innovations from PackExpo 2012

By Bill Lydon, Editor

Automation innovation continues for the packaging industry with the goal to make packaging more efficient. At PackExpo held on October 28-31, 2012 at McCormick Place in Chicago, there were many automation products with additional features and refinements. However, there were two innovations that really stood out as representing “thinking outside the box” creative solutions. As a side note, this was the largest PACK EXPO International in history with more than 1,965 exhibitors, more than 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space and more than 45,000 attendees.

Adaptive Robotic Tooling (ART)

FESTO demonstrated the patent pending solution, the Adaptive Robotic Tooling (ART) to meet the flexible manufacturing needs of industry. The goal of many machine builders in the food and packaging industries is to make equipment flexible so that the end user will gain maximum productivity. A packaging machine builder, XPAK USA, had the goal of accommodating different products or packaging grids with one machine. The solution was based on this FESTO-developed Adaptive Robotic Tooling that can be programmed to meet a wide range of needs.

This adaptive tool reconfigures to handle various product patterns and sizes using variable grippers. The tool dramatically reduces initial tooling costs as well as automates the production setup. The ART is adaptable in both the X and Y axes, allowing it to pick products based on one grid and then place it in another. The same end of arm tool can now handle multiple products, enabling seamless changeover of the machine. It also simplifies and reduces costs for the end-user by eliminating multiple tools and the associated spare parts.

Linear Carrier System

Beckhoff Automation demonstrated the new XTS drive system (eXtended Transport System), an innovation based on the application of technology and engineering creativity.  The XTS system provides users and machine builders with a new way to build production lines and machines that are more flexible and easier to maintain. Multiple carriers ride on a rail and are independently controlled for speed and direction by software, allowing a flexible way to move parts and products in production.

The new drive system effectively turns the previous linear motor principle around by eliminating complex wiring and drag chains. The motor is completely integrated together with power electronics and displacement measurement. One or more wireless movers can be individually controlled with high dynamics at up to 4 m/s on an almost arbitrary and flexible path.

The XTS system is simple and modularly configurable.  The motor modules form complete units with the movers and guide rails. The guide rails contain electromagnetic coils and all other active functions necessary for the operation of the system. The system requires a power supply and an EtherCAT connection.

The motor modules contain no moving parts, simply permanent magnets and are not subject to any wear. The mover contains magnetic plates which, together with the coils in the motor modules, can generate propulsive forces. It absorbs the attractive forces of the magnets on both sides and compensates them as far as possible. This means that the rollers on the movers, which are equipped with a particularly low-wear plastic surface, can move at high speed in the guide rails. A mechanically robust encoder flag conveys the mover position to the motor module.

Thoughts & Observations

Thinking out of the box to do things differently is difficult for many companies.  But those that have the courage and spirit to do it can offer significant innovative solutions that solve problems and improve efficiency. FESTO and Beckhoff Automation applied innovation engineering design to deliver superior solutions. Both of these products illustrate a clear understanding of user operations and challenges. 

The industry can benefit from more out of the box thinking.

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