Say hello to the 'manufacturing line'

Welcome to the second edition of Process2Packaging, presented by PMMI, Automation World, and Packaging World.

We look into the technologies and cultural changes in manufacturing that result in closer alignment and collaboration of the processing and packaging lines of a company. Benefits from implementing technology changes seem to leapfrog from one to another, leading ever higher on the management scale. This eventually has led to the present state-of-the-art in manufacturing lines, where process machines and packaging machines can be considered as parts of one manufacturing line. This evolution of technology in manufacturing becomes interesting in its interrelatedness through building one technology on another.

You could say it started with digital control of pieces of the machine, which automated starts, stops, and human-machine interface as machine designers tried to add flexibility. Next, servo motion control replaced purely mechanical motion. Integrated control began in the late 1990s, and it gave machine designers the opportunity for digital control of a whole machine. Rather than merely replace mechanical components with servo-motion systems and a programmable logic controller for machine control, designers discovered machines could be extensively redesigned in order to reduce cost, reduce lead times to delivery, and improve flexibility for their customers.

If one machine can be controlled digitally, how about a line? Communications technologies built upon these digital architectures allowed entire processing or packaging lines to be coordinated with the plant's overall production schedule, greatly improving manufacturing efficiency and profitability. Technology has erased the barriers between processing and packaging lines, allowing manufacturers to treat both as a single manufacturing line.

Software will continue to play an increasingly important role in this manufacturing transformation we're witnessing. On page 6, for example, Pat Reynolds reports on how Sierra Nevada Brewery is using a software solution to greatly improve the lines of communication between processing and packaging. It will be interesting to see just how far Sierra Nevada and packaged goods manufacturers who follow them can take this new approach. One thing seems clear already: The notion of a single "manufacturing line" as opposed to one "processing line" and one "packaging line" is gaining some real traction.
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