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Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 101 / 15
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Continuous machine monitoring via cloud and PC-based control

PC-based control platform has optimized the design of a vertical form-fill-seal machine concept. The new machine offers unrestricted communication via EtherCAT and the cloud, and links to higher-level layers that are typical in the IT world such as Ethernet, remote maintenance tools and ERP systems.


The operator interface software for the vertical form-fill-seal machine runs on a customized Panel PC with an Intel Atom dual-core processor and multi-touch display.

ITALIAN PACKAGING MACHINE manufacturer MBP, a subsidiary of PFM Packaging Machinery S.p.A., has developed a new vertical form-fill-seal machine that combines the high speed common in continuously operating machines with the fast and flexible format change capabilities of intermittent-operation solutions.

The design of the machine is based on a PC-based automation architecture control that is able of taking full advantage of its high performance.

MBP was established in 1980 and initially specialized in designing and building multi-head weighers. Its acquisition by PFM in 2002 gave MBP access to the parent company′s experience and expertise in technology, process engineering and R&D. The PFM Group, founded in the 1960s with headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, is represented in 70 countries and considered among the world′s leading builders of packaging machinery. The portfolio ranges from horizontal flowwrap machines, vertical form-fill-seal (VFFS) machines and horizontal stand-up pouch packaging machines to complete packaging systems with multi-head weighers for multiple industries.

New VFFS concept

For Andrea Fioravanti, CEO of MBP and Head of Research and Development within the PFM Group, the decision to select automation solutions from Beckhoff Automation was an important step in the development of the new intermittently operating R-Series packaging machines.


The new foil reel control concept makes the machine much more compact and flexible through a movable, triangular foil turning device, which in turn enabled the designers to reduce the number of calender rolls, while also making the system more dynamic.

The new design had to combine the speed and simplicity of continuously operating VFFS machines with the flexibility of intermittently operating machines. For comparison, a conventional VFFS machine can pack between 80 and 100 small bags per minute during intermittent operation, while the new R-Series machines output up to 150 bags per minute in test mode - a productivity increase of approximately 50 percent.

"We have already shipped more than 30 R-Series machines, all of which package 120 bags per minute with maximum reliability. Customers are completely satisfied with this solution," Fioravanti said.

High throughput is not the only outstanding feature of the new model series, however. MBP engineers also worked hard to improve the machine′s ergonomics and reduce its footprint so that end users can more effectively utilize valuable factory floor space.

For this achievement to become reality, the new foil reel control concept was critical. It employs a movable triangular foil turning device, which reduces the number of calender rolls. This makes the machine smaller while also increasing flexibility. The machine also features an electronically controlled dancer roll. TwinCAT NC PTP software, with the appropriate libraries for dancer control and register control, automates the continuous movement of the foil and diverts it toward the discharge belts − with continuous momentum and precision.

One CPU for weighing and packaging

"A major advantage of the automation solution is the possibility to use a single CPU to run all logic and control functions for all axes across the entire system, from weighing to packaging, as well as its extremely clear and easy-to-use interface," Fioravanti said. MBP decided to use a CP3716 Panel PC with a multi-touch display that complies with protection class IP 67. The Panel PC, which is equipped with an Intel Atom dual-core processor, was customized by adding a specific button and the MBP logo.

"Due to the high performance and flexibility of the automation architecture, we are now able to run both the weighing system and the packaging machine with a single Industrial PC with integrated screen for HMI. This offers several benefits for us as a machine builder as well as for our customers. They now have an easy-to-operate, yet powerful system that features an open design and works with all common TwinCAT 3 Motion Control software modules," Fioravanti added.

The transition from a traditional PLC-based system to a PC-based control architecture has definitely made life easier for MBP. "The new architecture includes Industrie 4.0-related concepts that employ IoT communication as a major productivity catalyst.

The PC-based platform enables us to take an integrated approach to control- and communication-related aspects of the machine. Whether for pneumatics, stepper motors, brushless motors, sensors or data acquisition, the entire control and monitoring architecture runs on standard hardware in the form of an Industrial PC. The software is integrated not only conceptually, but functionally, for example by employing TwinCAT 3 as a consistent development environment," Fioravanti said.

EtherCAT to cloud communication

Another major factor in the development of the new R-Series was the availability of a communication network like EtherCAT, which can transmit information via very simple (e.g., CAN-based) protocols.

EtherCAT can also provide links to higher-level layers that are typical in the IT world, such as Ethernet, remote maintenance tools and ERP systems.

"The open system design, which accommodates a wide range of communication standards and cloud computing, makes the R-Series machines definitively ready for Industrie 4.0," he added.

With the TF6730 TwinCAT IoT Communicator, MBP is able to transmit process data from the machine to any device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Plus, with the TF6735 TwinCAT IoT Communicator App, Beckhoff provided a simple solution for monitoring and analyzing this data.

In addition, by going through the cloud, MBP can facilitate remote support quickly and efficiently, as having real-time access to machine data makes technical services significantly faster and less expensive.

The head of the support department at MBP uses an internally-developed application to generate e-service tickets for support technicians. This enables a technician to efficiently download the information needed to perform the required service.

With these capabilities, MBP is able to offer its customers continuous machine monitoring via the cloud while keeping an eye on operating parameters like power usage, start-up current and more in its control room upon request. The data can also be used to continuously improve machine performance based on key performance indicators and proactive maintenance.

Prospects for the future

"Without a doubt, using PC-based control technology provides huge benefits," Fioravanti said. "It enables MBP to scale the CPU depending on the size, protection class and rated performance of each individual application."

The solution becomes even more ergonomic because of the wide selection of electronic interfaces, EtherCAT I/O modules, communication interfaces and servo drive solutions. Users and machinery builders have at their disposal a solution that allows them to satisfy the technical requirements of today′s packaging machinery manufacturing industry in a highly effective way.

Frank Würthner, Business Management Packaging, Beckhoff Automation.


Source: Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 101 / 15
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