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Large thermoformer leverages advanced controls

What’s said to be the largest production steel rule die in-line thermoformer in the world of plastics debuts at NPE 2018, and advanced controls are central to its impressive capabilities.

Sample of the kinds of containers formed on the Ultra 2.
Sample of the kinds of containers formed on the Ultra 2.

SencorpWhite, a leading supplier of thermoforming machinery, is using NPE 2018, May 7-11 in Orlando, FL, to introduce the Ultra 2, said to be the largest production steel rule die in-line thermoformer in the global plastics industry. On the machine, which has a footprint of 50’ x 11’, the process tonnage of 35 tons for form and 130 tons for trim is generated entirely by electric servo motors, and the steel rule die inline arrangement results in faster changeover and an overall cost only 10% of conventional punch & die systems, according to company sources. Onboard, 44 zones of heating are being controlled by a heat control supplied by Siemens, who also supplied the servos and other motion control components for this machine.

“The genesis of the Ultra 2,” says Brian Golden, Product Manager for Thermoformers at SencorpWhite, “was market analysis in which we determined a distinct need among our major industry segments for a more precise thermoformer with optimum control of form and trim operations, as well as a large forming area to increase production. The Ultra 2 boasts a 34-inch x 48-inch forming area. Typically, such a large machine would involve major challenges in motion and heat control, especially when running at higher production speeds.” That’s why the SencorpWhite engineering team, led by Greg Danti, turned for assistance to its longtime supplier Siemens.

“We were challenged from the outset, as SencorpWhite was looking for a faster thermoformer to do higher-end work,” says Hue Lieu, SencorpWhite Account Manager. “Likewise, they were seeking ways to achieve faster assembly, faster operation on the machine, overall cost reduction in various areas of heat and motion control, plus finally a greater throughput due to their newly designed steel rule die and proprietary off-loading system.” All of these things had to be addressed, says Lieu. “Just another day at the office, right?” he adds.

Overall, the Ultra 2 was in development approximately 2-1/2 years, with the bulk of the engineering focused on the electrical and electronic controls. “The Siemens team brought our unique TIA Portal to the table,” says Mathias Radziwill, Head of the Siemens Plastics Industry Group. “This system enables complete access to the entire suite of Siemens products and software available, allowing machine builders to engage in a totally digital enterprise during machine development, performance evaluations, simulation scenarios, build stages, and commissioning, plus it has full diagnostic and energy management tools. Many machinery builders view TIA Portal as their gateway to Industry 4.0.”

The key to the machine form and trim tonnage was the implementation of electric servos. “It eliminated an array of mechanical components, with their obvious cost and assembly time expense for the customer,” says Lieu. “The servos also run the indexers on the rail system, which upped the productivity of the machine by 40% or so.”

SencorpWhite Director of Engineering Danti confirmed this fact. “With the industry trending towards higher-performance electric servos, we elected to move away from our previous reliance on pneumatics and hydraulic solutions for generating our tonnage.”

Siemens also assisted in the development of the proprietary off-loading system on the Ultra 2, introducing the SencorpWhite team to its Simotion D motion controller, which runs the system in 100% servo mode. By use of the Siemens’s Scout system, the machinery builder here was able to “test drive” a number of drives to select the optimum combination of features and price point. This new system utilizes stationary motors, driving the need for coordinated motion control. The Scout system provided the technical solution for this requirement.

Parts produced on the Ultra 2, given its combination of volume, speed, and accuracy, range from packaging used in the Health & Beauty Aids industry to medical packs to clamshells to various high-volume jobs where the increased number of parts per shot has tactical market advantages for customers.

In production, the inline steel rule dies allow faster changeover for the SencorpWhite customer. It’s hours, not days, according Danti. The original design called for electric motor drive, but Senior Accout Manager Lieu explains, “Servos were ideal for this application, and once we walked through the updated architecture with the guys, we all saw the light bulbs going off. The combination of less manufacturing time, fewer components, and the increase in speed with the desired accuracy, won the day.”

On the HMI side, the selection of the Panel Pro IP67 gave the SencorpWhite team the optimum solution for a display that could withstand any anticipated working environment. As for heating control on the machine’s 44 temp zones, the choice was the Siplus HCS4300 control system, with detailed diagnostics that can detect internal faults in the load circuit, blown fuses, and defective heater cable. Network voltage and internal temperatures are also monitored per zone. The heating on the machine is radiated top and bottom, with individually controlled zones for form and trim. All communication is run over ASI Profinet. CAT3 safety compliance is provided.

On the proprietary off-loading station, SencorpWhite achieves a 99.5% breakout of the web and the off-loader feeds a parts stacker via a specially designed five-axis servo and three-conveyor motion-handling system.

Golden concludes, “At the end of the day, we want our customers to have more good quality parts in the box, with less waste, less energy consumed, and a lot more profit in their pocket. That’s what we can offer them with the Ultra 2.”

Visitors to the upcoming NPE in Orlando can see the Ultra 2 in action at the SencorpWhite booth W591.

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