Information powers the 21st century

There are so many concepts we try to embrace as we begin our journey into the 21st century. But I don’t think any one is as important as our quest for more information.

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We now use an increasing variety of sources for that information. In fact, some of us too often find we’re on information overload. It’s like that old computer error message that tells us our hard drive is full and we can’t save another document.

But while some of us question the quality, not the quantity, of information that’s now available to us from a variety of sources, I’m not going to focus on the unregulated Internet content or Web sites.

No matter what device we use to gather information, many of us are still trying to learn more about how we can use the information that’s so freely available. Our Controls and Integration section is a good example.

In the last couple of years, this section has reported on a variety of applications, many of them with our friends from Hershey. And we’re back there again, as PW reports on the many ways that networks can assist packagers in understanding what’s going on with packaging lines.

Although we try to make this section meaningful for as many readers as possible, much of what we cover is only appropriate for the large companies that we reach. Now, it’s easy to say that today’s smaller companies will be those larger companies in the future, but if you work at one of the smaller companies, it may be difficult to project that.

What is easy to prove is that more detailed data about packaging machine and line performance will be helpful. No matter what your company size, better information should mean better performance. That’s true especially if production, engineering and maintenance people have the time to seriously analyze the operational data. Quite often, that’s where some additional software can help, by taking the raw data and organizing it in a meaningful way.

This month, in our separate Controls & Integration section (p. 49), Rick Lingle, our technical editor, reports on how PPG Industries assembles information about the performance of its packaging lines, displays it and can then make the subtle changes that may enhance line production. Our controls product reviews (p. 66) also describe some of the latest machine/line monitoring systems. And be sure to check out the pull-out poster on p. 56 A-H, which graphically illustrates basic packaging line networking concepts. There’s even a glossary.

Reams of data about machinery performance is not for every company. In fact, probably most companies and/or plants would be hard-pressed to justify the investments—either in software and hardware or in the labor needed to perform the analyses and make recommendations for changes.

The trend here, however, is that the costs for the hardware and software, the devices that track the machine functions, and the software that organizes the raw information, appear to be declining. Just a few years ago, this level of controls sophistication was exclusively the province of Fortune 100 companies. Today, smaller companies have both the capital and the human expertise to use and benefit from these programs.

And I think this will continue, until we reach the point where these data collection systems become virtually a standard feature on many high-end machines or systems, in the same way that airbags and anti-lock braking systems have gone from rarities to common equipment on our personal vehicles.

If this happens, will the companies have skilled individuals who can use the new information for improving line performance? This is becoming an increasing concern, at least at plant level. Or, will the machinery technicians devise a way for the control itself to analyze the data and automatically make operating changes? Automatic changeover of machinery is one thing. Automatic adjustments really means a mechanized operator, the ultimate robot.

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