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A new paradigm for wrapper infeed

A new paradigm for feeding product into a wrapping machine is being commercialized. A video on the Beckhoff Automation website demonstrates the principle that packaging machine builders could apply to control the timing of randomly spaced products into a continuous feed wrapper.

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Taken by itself, it could be viewed as overkill for a wrapper infeed, but when the overall system impact is considered, it may soon become a reasonable approach.

I've been writing about linear motor applications for packaging for at least 5 years.  The particular application demonstrated by Beckhoff is one that I advocated to a big candy maker over half a decade ago.  Several different technology suppliers have explored it.  Seems that the technology has now advanced to a point that a practical demo has been shown.  Not getting to Interpack last year, I missed seeing this demo in person, but learned of it during a dinner conversation at the ARC World Forum.

The idea is that the fixed spacing of lugs on an infeed lug chain is replaced by independent movers (the lugs) on a linear motor track.  Each lug's position, acceleration and velocity is independently controlled by servo amplifiers.  Instead of using a complex infeed system of timing belts to uniformly present properly timed and spaced product to the lug chain, this infeed "chain" can essentially shrink, expand, slow down or accelerate to accomodate the random presentation of the product.

The benefits are huge savings in floor space by the elimination of a series of converyors and their controls in front of each wrapper on a line.  Operators have less territory over which they must roam and maintenance has fewer pieces of equipment to keep operational and properly adjusted.  It is a tremendous application of lean manufacturing principles.

My sources tell me that European machine manufacturers are developing these new machines.  A real world application along with advances in hardware and software will drive down the cost and complexity.  Machine builders will see the controls content of a machine increase as a percentage of total cost and will see potentially decreased revenues on the sale of a complete packaging line.  First mover advantage could be huge for a company willing to assume the risk.  Packagers may need to "encourage" the release of these machines once they are developed.

Take a look at the video and let our readers know what potential you see.



Agree the flexibility will be useful for food, pharma and consumer products. Cost and reliability will be the issue, as most factories do not have super experts in troubleshooting such interconnected complex controls. The answer may be in remote access maintenance, 24/7.
Will anybody show this particular system at PMMI in Chicago?

Posted by: David Hoenig on March 28, 2012

The technology is worth a look. In packaging, taking a randomly spaced / timed item and synchronizing it with the intended process is the task! The handling of product and placement into time with the packaging material and / or process is complicated. This technology, by making each "lug" aware of its position in time / space allows the lug to solve the timing / spacing issues by simply speeding up or slowing down as the product is pushed into the packaging process. The cost is important, but I can see additional benefits that today's feeding systems cannot do.

Posted by: Will Salley on April 14, 2012

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