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Cabinet-free packaging machines?

In the last edition of this newsletter, we featured a handful of new developments that Packaging World Blogger and Contributing Editor Keith Campbell found at interpack 2014. Here’s three more.
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• Will cabinet-free packaging machines be next? Gerhard Schubert GmbH showed a system at interpack that did away with the well known and sometimes scorned electrical/pneumatic control cabinets. With IP65- and perhaps even IP69-rated sensors, motors, drives, cylinders, power supply, logic box, and HMI screens, an entire machine might be wired together with plugs and cables, with all of the components mounted at the point of use with the possible exception of the electrical disconnect and fuses, although there is no theoretical reason that these, too, could not also be self contained. For the machine builder, this allows a very modular design and a smaller footprint. And the detailed engineering can largely be done by the component suppliers. Which raises the question of what do we need an electrical controls engineer for anymore? One drawback of this approach is cable management. Bundled cables create many hard-to-clean crevices where dust and bugs will love to congregate. I saw some terrible cable management schemes on the floor. Those machine builders might want to study machinery OEMS that focus on pharmaceutical operations to see how they do it.

• The term "printing" has developed new meanings well beyond what we might have thought of a few years ago. Today's printing applications include at-line label printing that truly allows for package order quantities of one. Some European beverage companies have already implemented campaigns where the package is fully personalized. A more pervasive use may be to customize labels to varying requirements of different states or countries. Watch out for the big box retailers wanting their own custom labels. And why couldn't we use packages like newspapers carrying the results of the latest sporting events delivered the next day?

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• 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, was at work behind the scenes making parts for equipment that was on display. This is not just a prototyping tool any longer, but a way to make complex production parts that would be too costly to produce by other means. Pieces can be printed that include movable components without the need to use fasteners that might fall off into the product. Robomotion had end effector tooling in their booth with both complex geometry and moving components. 3D printing also made an appearance on the process side at interpack. Packaging machine suppliers may think that what went on in the process halls isn't that important. But they need to be aware. If complex products can be made via 3D printing, marketing will insist on making them. And once they are made, they'll need to be wrapped and packaged. A chocolate-enrobed wafer in the shape of a Boeing 767 will be a bit more challenging to package than a kit-kat bar. And when the molding, baking, or extruding line turns out extremely short runs of product, short packaging runs will follow.

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In Pat Reynolds' report "Cabinet-free packaging machines?" he alludes to the need for balance between centralized and distributed aspects of machine control to optimize modular, mechatronic designs. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of distributed motion and I/O to minimize cable runs. But it doesn't make sense to me to put an enclosure around every single control component and mount them all outside the cabinet."

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