Modular packaging machinery breaks down complex machine functionalities
into self-contained processes - namely machine modules. Modular
concepts demand rethinking previous approaches in mechanical,
electrical and software engineering.
The required technology is already available from established
automation specialists. The concept of modular design for packaging
machines and systems is becoming more popular all the time. Reusing
individual software objects substantially reduces engineering
requirements. Many hardware, software and mechatronic components
developed for one machine can be reused in new designs with only minor
modifications. On the most modular of machines, plug-and-play modules
can be introduced into production lines as needed, for example, for
on-pack labeling, couponing or shrink bundling of limited-time product
promotions. With modular machines, lead times are reduced as well as
Masterfoods in Germany leads in adoption of modular machinery
It is therefore no wonder that modularity is becoming one of the key
criteria for packaging machinery investment decisions. A discussion
with Stefan Aumann and Stefan Kohl from Masterfoods GmbH clearly
indicates the direction machinery must go. Masterfoods produces a wide
range of pet food products in addition to such popular food brands as
Mars, Dove and Uncle Ben’s. Stefan Aumann is responsible for the
engineering and the introduction of new production systems as the
Senior Segment Engineer in the European sector. Stefan Kohl handles
planning and operation of packaging systems in the plant at Verden an
der Aller, Germany, which is located between Bremen and Hannover.
How have the requirements in the packaging sector changed in your company?
Stefan Aumann: We are a branded
company and products normally run for a comparatively long time.
However, now we have to use our systems for a wider spectrum of
different products and therefore have much more product changeover than
we did several years ago.
Can this be quantified?
Stefan Aumann: I don't really
want to state any figures now, but let’s say this: Changeover times
have become a major time factor in the meantime.
Stefan Kohl: Another point is
the life span of products. The consumer expects more diversification
these days and this is the reason that the average life spans for
individual products have decreased. Generally, the classic can
dominates for pet food, but there are always modifications on packaging
systems for the introduction of new types.
What strategies do you have for equipping your packaging systems for the future?
Stefan Aumann: Flexibility of
production is foremost for sure. And that requires modular machine
concepts. This helps us to utilize our factory more effectively and to
reduce our format change times. Modularity also ensures a much higher
degree of reusability compared with conventional machine manufacture.
Stefan Kohl: We are also
putting increased efforts into automatic changeover concepts that will
permit motor-driven adjustment of format changes. Another aspect also
plays a significant role here: Program controlled changeover procedures
can be more consistently reproduced.
Stefan Aumann: We can prevent
deviations that may result when manual adjustments made by different
operators. The reproducibility of settings when changing from one
product to another is subject to certain limitations. For example, it
is normal that the consistency of packaging materials varies somewhat
within tolerances. To ensure that production continues to run with no
problems, these types of variable parameters should not be compounded
by inconsistent settings.
What attributes factor into your procurement of packaging systems and machinery?
Stefan Aumann: Mainly cycle
times -- how fast is the machine -- and whether the machine conforms
with the basics of modular machine design. When procuring new
equipment, modularity is a real focal point. Conformance with PackML as
defined by the OMAC Packaging Guidelines is also an aspect, because the
standardization helps us. And we consider short setup times to be of
great importance, of course.
What benchmarks are defined?
Stefan Kohl: We give the
machine manufacturer very precise times that have to be maintained when
changing products with the machines. This also includes information on
the degree of manual intervention required for changing the machine
from one product to another.
Is there already a wide range of modular machines available?
Stefan Aumann: Unfortunately
not to the extent that we'd like. We are confident, however, that the
range will increase in the future. We demand it from our suppliers
Stefan Kohl: With this in mind,
the decision for a machine or a system is also made depending on the
"Best Practice" aspect: We analyze how machine manufacturers generally
solve technical problems. If it doesn't correspond with our concepts of
modularity, we start looking for another manufacturer. It doesn't help
if a machine manufacturer has to stretch to meet our requirements for
modularity. That manufacturer will never make as good a machine as a
manufacturer that is already heading in the same direction we are.
What does the topic of communications mean to you?
Stefan Kohl: Communications are
very significant to us. We integrate machines horizontally as well as
vertically. The machines must be able to satisfy the corresponding
prerequisites, such as standardized interfaces and variables for
How important are uniform control concepts in this regard?
Stefan Kohl: It is not of
primary importance that all machines have the same controller. It is
only important that all machines and machine modules can communicate
with one another.
Do you require that machine programs conform with the IEC 61131-3 standard?
Stefan Kohl: Compatibility with
IEC 61131-3 is not mandatory. However, it is gaining in significance.
We are now at a point where the main part of the software in our
machines more or less conforms with the IEC standard.
What roles do diagnostics and preventive maintenance play for you?
Stefan Kohl: Continuous
diagnostics are essential to minimize machine downtime. And we also
need the data to manage maintenance. We are currently building on a
system based on statistical approaches. It permits determining the
probability of component failures and when.