Keywords: Packaging Machinery, Motion Control, Networking, EtherNet/IP.
Packaging machine builder, Aagard, specializes in developing scalable, modular "all-in-one" solutions that combine multiple packaging operations into one system engineered to meet custom requirements. According to the company, these systems provide higher efficiency, greater output, reduced footprint, and other benefits. Aagard has developed new technologies that integrate major unit operations onto a common frame and control system.
The company's culture of innovation has resulted in machine designs that it believes have set the bar for the industry. Specifically, Aagard's patented wraparound technology has brought tremendous savings to its customers by reducing material consumption.
By providing a completely modular packaging line solution, Aagard aims to progressively drive innovative solutions throughout every aspect of the machine design. In the company's custom packaging solutions, the modularity of the equipment facilitates cost-effective engineered solutions capable of accommodating a wide range of products.
The introduction of the Aagard "robotic infeed module" represents a leap in technology for the company's packaging solutions by increasing flexibility for handling a variety of products that are difficult to feed in other ways.
Robotic Infeed Development
Aagard's infeed had been one area of its machinery that previously constrained flexibility and represented increased potential for failure. In the past, all infeed modules had been custom designed to handle the specific dimensional characteristics and features of the packaged product being placed in the carton, thereby limiting machine flexibility. Aagard has overcome the fixed package size constraint by incorporating vision-guided robotics into its infeed solutions. Rather than employing third-party robotics, Aagard's in-house engineering team developed the technology to help ensure that the solution is optimized for the packaging line application. The result is an infeed module that has increased the range of package sizes handled while reducing the overall machine footprint and floor space.
The Aagard team evaluated its current automation solutions and found it needed to add more flexibility in certain applications. The success and future of the robotic infeed module hinged upon a scalable automation platform that employed:
A single network for machine-to-machine, motion control, and I/O
High-performance, synchronous network-centric architecture
Modern development concepts providing reusable and modular code
Easy portability of application code between automation product families
The vision was to reduce the overall development costs by investing in an automation platform that simplified the engineering associated with complex systems.
Aagard achieved these goals using the Rockwell Automation Logix family of programmable automation controllers (PAC) with EtherNet/IP networking. According to Aagard engineers, the capabilities of EtherNet/IP with CIP Sync and CIP Motion simplified the inter-module synchronization while also serving as the common networking solution for motion control, vision cameras, and I/O. Of particular note was the time stamping capability of CIP Sync. This allowed for synchronization of motion path planners on the Logix CPU associated with each machine module. Prior to the use of EtherNet/IP, it was extremely cumbersome to synchronize the machinery modules across the packaging line.
Scale and Portability Integral to Logix and EtherNet/IP
The robotic infeed module has less than 16 coordinated motion control axes, allowing use of a CompactLogix solution. However, in some cases Aagard designs machine modules that involve up to 52 axes of motion. In cases where more than 16 axes are needed it's just a matter of shifting the platform from a CompactLogix to a ControlLogix. This Logix family scalability allows the same application code base to be used across the entire platform, saving development time and cost. This was instrumental in Aagard's automation vendor selection process as it ensured that the code development costs for machine modules could be reused independent of the specific automation CPU.
Furthermore, the bandwidth of the EtherNet/IP network is more than sufficient to support the motion performance as well as the diagnostics, alarming, and web-based configuration tools; regardless of the number of axes. According to the company, the incorporation of intelligent diagnostics is an area in which Aagard's customers have been very impressed and see tremendous value. Troubleshooting is immediate and easy. All of this is made possible by the system using EtherNet/IP, an unmodified TCP/IP network.
Aagard's innovative robotic infeed solution, which the company has already proven in prototypes and is now offering to its customers, reduced its machine costs while meeting demanding performance standards. Yet, in addition to these benefits and the scalability, flexibility and footprint reduction mentioned earlier, this machine design offers further differentiation and value, including:
Easy line integration via RAPID
Energy management via Rockwell Automation PowerMonitor 5000
Remote access for maintenance and troubleshooting via the Rockwell Automation Virtual Support Engineer
Video convergence – machine and robot control, line monitoring and surveillance all via IP cameras on a single network
Network segmentation – physical and logical segmentation to achieve all of the above on a single network
The advantages of improved diagnostics, ease of use, energy management and utilizing a connected surveillance and security model all come from using a single, standard TCP/IP network: EtherNet/IP.
The Logix family of controllers has enabled Aagard to realize its vision of a more flexible, robotic infeed module and reusable application code. The capabilities of Logix and EtherNet/IP have revised the way the engineering organization approaches machine and line control. Based on Aagard's estimates, the ability to reuse application code has saved between 10 and in some cases up to 30 percent in the overall development cycle of a machine module.
In addition, all Aagard systems are pretested before they leave the factory. The Logix platform has reduced the factory testing time by at least 10 to 20 percent. With these combined savings in development and test time, Aagard engineers now feel they can assume more risk thereby promoting a culture of innovation.
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