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Homing the stars: a giant step forward in servo labeling

A Packaging Automation interview with Martin Malthouse Founder and President Associated Packaging Equipment Corporation


PA: What is the primary benefit of roll fed labels?

Malthouse: Your can get very excellent labels from roll fed labels and they are relatively inexpensive, providing of course that the customer has sufficient volume. And that’s net-net.

PA: Why have you incorporated star wheels in an in-line design?

Malthouse: The star wheel system enables us to get more containers through per minute, per revolution of the head of the machine. We are the only company that has a machine labeling cylinder from 15 inches in diameter up to a meter. This gives us an ability to offer six various kinds of machinery using the same principles.

Driving these star wheels by servo control enables us to home them to exactly the label size and the particular container that you are going to run. That’s a giant step forward. It also enables us to put more labels on our large labeling system. The large machine with a one meter diameter can run 750 cans a minute, controlled by ELAU controls and dependent upon container diameter.

PA: And what is the significance of the control solution?

Malthouse: The advantage that ELAU offers us in applying servo control to the web register is that we use a fixed dead knife. The ELAU program enables us to draw the web back from the knife cutting station and also push it forward to make up for that difference when you have an intermittent stop.

It lets us put more labels on the cylinder head because it’s a closer pitch, we’ve got better control over the container whether the containers have a variance in diameter, and it also gives us a vertical stability for unstable containers.

ELAU enables us to home the stars for every star we need.

PA: Does ‘homing the stars’ make changeovers faster?

Malthouse: Everybody says they have changeovers in minimum time. Now, we know that’s not totally true, because we know after all these years that star wheels are not the easiest things to get synchronized.

If you are a beverage company and you want to change from one size to another, and they do that often, and it takes a half hour, perhaps one hour – it’s time lost and you can never get it back.

Homing the stars gives you an ability to do it simply. Push the button, the stars go where they are supposed to be and you are ready to start production. Each one is driven individually by a servo drive.

PA: How was ELAU to work with as an engineering organization?

Malthouse: Many companies that we spoke to relative to this next step for our company, really said, yes, we can do it, but they walked away from the final issue. ELAU decided to work with us jointly to develop this machine and they have done an excellent job.

We selected ELAU as a provider for servo systems and software because I was impressed with their approach to our general problem, which we know is not an easy one. Control of the web register system is not like running a robot, it’s in constant motion, and you have constant adjustments.

Their block system seemed to be the right approach for tackling these problems and their software engineers were very diligent and worked with us extensively to solve the problem and they have solved it successfully.

PA: What are the benefits of Schneider Electric being ELAU’s parent company?

Malthouse: Schneider Electric offers us a global footprint. Let’s take Thailand. We have many machines there. China. Countries that are not familiar with servo systems. Schneider and the ELAU can provide those services if necessary. Although we think that we’ll be able to, by the Ethernet connection to those machines, provide in-house service and advice.

PA: How easy was it working with ELAU?

Malthouse: I can tell you this, we’ve had a lot of experience working with various people who endeavor to be able to do these things and this has been the easiest and most profitable exercise that we have gone through. What would have taken us perhaps a year to do with a lot of struggle was done in short order.

For more information on Associated Packaging Equipment Corp., visit

For more information on ELAU, visit

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