Controls platform brings cartoning flexibility

Pedigree Ovens of Harvard, IL, a contract manufacturer in the niche market of high-end dog treats, recently decided to invest in cartoning technology to improve productivity and increase capacity.

Ultra Packaging’s Veronica is a user-friendly seven-axis cartoner that erects cartons from flat paperboard blanks and efficiently transports, closes, and glues the cartons.
Ultra Packaging’s Veronica is a user-friendly seven-axis cartoner that erects cartons from flat paperboard blanks and efficiently transports, closes, and glues the cartons.

It chose the compact Veronica Vertical Cartoner from Ultra Packaging, Inc., which operates with a complete Bosch Rexroth control and drives solution that delivers the flexibility, high throughput, and fast changeover times that Pedigree required.

While some of Pedigree’s clients use conventional folded-top cartons, others request a gable-top closure for improved shelf appeal. In addition, Pedigree supports multiple package dimensions, ranging from 4 to 10.5 inches high, 3 to 9 inches wide, and .75 to 3.5 inches deep.

With approximately 60 clients—each with multiple treat types or flavors and up to five packaging variations—Pedigree’s success depends on its ability to meet all client requests. Until recently, the company used a manual cartoning process to fulfill customers’ needs. Once treats were bagged, a conveyor brought the filled bags to manual stations where they were inserted into erected boxes. The boxes were then manually sealed with glue guns.

Ultra Packaging’s Veronica (see photo) is a user-friendly seven-axis cartoner that erects cartons from flat paperboard blanks and efficiently transports, closes, and glues the cartons. It’s engineered to be a cost-effective solution for growing companies that need fast changeovers and flexibility. Key to the Veronica’s versatility is its advanced control and drives platform from Bosch Rexroth.

“Rexroth components help make the Veronica as powerful and as versatile as it is,” says Bob Stockus, owner of Ultra Packaging. “With Rexroth’s components, the Veronica is user-friendly and can be adapted for each user’s needs, while staying within a budget.”

The Veronica uses the IndraMotion XLC motion logic controller, Bosch Rexroth’s premiere platform for motion, robotic, logic, and hydraulic control applications, which is programmed according to the PLCopen standard IEC 61131-3. This results in synchronized motion control on each axis as well as logic programming, and it features a wide range of open interfaces, including Sercos III, PROFINET, and EtherNet/IP.

Rexroth’s IndraDrive Mi cabinet-free drive/motor system drives each axis. With drive electronics integrated into the motor housing (see close-up photo), servo units can be housed on the machine itself; this helps make the Veronica a very compact and modular machine that can be easily fit into tight factory workspaces.

The integrated motors and drives offer additional benefits like reduced space and cooling requirements in the control cabinet. This system also reduces the machine’s component cost; a single cable for power and communication runs from the power supply, and each IndraDrive Mi is daisy-chained to the next for significantly reduced cabling. While such things are important, says Pedigree Ovens owner Kurt Stricker, he emphasizes how crucial it is that the control and drives platform brings flexibility. “It was critical for our dual fold capabilities,” says Stricker.

Even though the Pedigree application is the first that uses the Veronica for gable-fold closures, the cartoner proved perfectly suitable for the job. Once the pet treats are bagged, they are transported to the cartoner via a conveyor controlled with the same IndraMotion XLC used for the Veronica. The conveyor lifts the products about six feet to reach the Veronica.

The Veronica’s first step is to erect each carton and seal the bottom. The product is inserted at a manual production station, and the Veronica then seals the filled box. For conventional closures, this is the same process as sealing the bottom: The Veronica kicks a flap into place, applies glue, and kicks the second flap into place.

Gable-top closures require an additional step. After the carton is erected, the bottom sealed, and the product inserted, the Veronica must create gussets on the sides. The machine has a mechanism that moves up and down on either side of the box to push the sides in. Then the machine applies the glue and folds the flap over the top to create a gable-top closure resembling a milk carton.

The changeovers between conventional and gable folds can be done quickly, thanks to a special sub-assembly Ultra Packaging added to the Veronica for Pedigree. All the components necessary for each type of fold are grouped together on one plate so the machine operator can change them all at once.

“Rexroth’s control and drives platform provided essential programming capabilities,” says Stockus. “Because the Rexroth IndraDrive Mi drive platform is extremely accurate regarding the timing of the drives’ positions, we were able to accomplish this and keep the changeover times to a minimum.”

For Pedigree, this was an important benefit of the Veronica. While most manufacturers would have two separate systems in place to handle two different folds, Pedigree can do everything with just one machine. With greater capacity for changeovers, the company now does up to three of them daily and 10 to 12 per week, enabling faster turnaround times and greater flexibility.

Overall, the automated cartoning process is five to seven times faster, creating significant improvements in throughput. Five to six people working together with the Veronica can package 40 to 60 bags per minute. And for easier jobs that simply require repackaging into shelf-ready boxes, the team can reach 60 to 70 bags per minute.

“We were able to reduce labor and increase speed immediately, and the return on investment was really quick,” Stricker said. “A job that used to take us three days can now be done in an afternoon.”

The Veronica met all of Pedigree’s objectives and exceeded target production rates. The Rexroth XLC controller and IndraDrive Mi drive system provided the modular technology and intelligent automation platform that enabled Ultra Packaging to efficiently modify the Veronica to integrate conventional and gable-top cartons on a single machine.

“We pride ourselves in our flexibility, in manufacturing and in packaging,” Stricker said. “That’s where the Veronica’s really helped us. It’d be hard to imagine getting all this work done without the Veronica.”