PART I: a formula for global competitiveness
Rob Hattin’s enthusiasm for his newest venture is just infectious. And at the annual ARC automation forum, the president of Edson Packaging Machinery presented a case study that captured the imaginations of the world’s largest food, beverage and packaged goods makers.
Edson’s best-of-both-worlds solution combines the innovation and application knowledge of his mid-sized Canadian company, specializing in secondary packaging, with the technology and global support of Schneider Electric’s packaging automation specialists.
The machinery in question is a robotic case packer. Part of a compact, cellular concept that allows for flexible siting and reconfiguration, Edson’s RDp 270 combines subsystems readily supported by Edson using Schneider Electric’s worldwide presence.
By replacing traditional mechanical components that Edson must fabricate itself with off-the-shelf mechatronic modules, the company has created what Hattin refers to as the Dell manufacturing model for packaging machinery.
Man on a mission
But there’s more to this strategy.
In a recent review of the state of North America’s packaging machinery industry, ARC senior analyst Sal Spada rhetorically asked: why have America’s multinationals not brought their domestic packaging machine suppliers with them to their international operations?
Spada asserted that this is because, around the world, aggressive European machine builders have taken a significant technological lead over their North American competition. This has led to erosion of U.S. makers’ domestic market share. Coupled with little international sales activity outside of NAFTA, Spada intended his findings to serve as a wake-up call to the U.S. industry.
This revelation was not lost on Hattin, who has long shared the analyst’s concern that European imports have increased steadily for years, and that now Asian machinery is increasingly perceived as delivering value for the money.
Hattin simply contends that North American OEMs have grown complacent with the world’s single largest market in their back yard. Without a viable export element in their business portfolio, he explained, their available market will continue to shrink.
The robotic case packer is Hattin’s direct response to this scenario.
Fast track from design through first unit sold
It took just 97 days from ‘pencil to packer’ and only 84 days from introduction at PACK EXPO 2008 to the first machine sold. Not surprisingly, the first customer is a multinational food manufacturer.
This achievement validates not only the Edson vision, but the technology platform, implementation and partnership.
Hattin created a ‘skunkworks’ outside the company’s normal design process. No one on the team of five had more than eight months with the company, and therefore no preconceived notions.
Recognizing that a world class machine demonstrates form and not just function, he brought in an industrial designer – who sketched out the machine frame the way that sports cars are concepted.
To implement such a design, mechatronics would replace conventional mechanical parts wherever possible with software and servo motion.
Next, robotics and servo modules would supplant conventional servo motion to make the machine smaller, more flexible and less dependent on custom-made parts.
The machine itself would be modular – allowing a second complete robot cell to plug into the first and doubling throughput as needed. Unlike the company’s conventional monoblock designs, case erecting and sealing are individual cells that are much easier to install around pillars and obstructions common to existing facilities.
The details were equally critical to the global design – from all metric fasteners to Category4 safety system to easily cleaned surfaces to international programming and network standards.
Profile of a global partner
Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions combines a respected packaging specialist – ELAU – with the strength of $20 billion Schneider Electric.
Like Edson, ELAU acts globally. After becoming one of the largest suppliers of packaging automation to European machine builders, ELAU came to the U.S. ten years ago and now enjoys strong double-digit growth with North American visionaries like Hattin.
ELAU methodically established engineering capabilities in world centers of packaging machinery design, including Germany, Italy, China and the U.S.
But it was not until ELAU became part of Schneider Electric in 2005 that machine builders could source a complete, integrated solution, from the electrical cabinet to robot arm to operator interface that also incorporates the world’s only automation platform purpose-built for packaging. And that is precisely what Edson did.
Through Schneider Electric’s network of 120,000 people in 102 countries, an entrepreneurial company like Edson can ensure support for all the major components of its mechatronic packaging systems, wherever a consumer goods maker decides to locate its plants. And that includes the emerging economies that continue to grow under adverse economic conditions, where Schneider Electric derives fully 32% of its revenue.
It would simply not be commercially viable for Edson to provide the infrastructure it would take to diagnose, manufacture, ship, stock and install the many individual wear parts of a conventional machine in many different countries.
With the right strategy and right partners, Edson Packaging Machinery has proved that it’s possible to overcome the obstacles that stymie conventional thinkers. They led the way because Rob Hattin recognized that it’s essential to find a way.
PART II: anatomy of the Edson RPd 270 robotic case packing cell
About Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions
Schneider Electric’s ELAU Packaging Solutions is the only automaton supplier in the world exclusively focused on the packaging machinery. They offer the only automation system purpose-built for the packaging industry.
Through ELAU, Schneider Electric equips over $1 billion worth of the world’s best machines annually, with over 45,000 systems already deployed in packaging machinery worldwide.
The market demands packaging operations that are more flexible and efficient to fulfill marketing, supply chain and global business strategies. Schneider Electric innovations have enabled a revolution in mechanical, software and hardware modularity to deliver these agile packaging systems.