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PLCs and motion not enough?

Survey: packagers want new class of control.

What’s in a name? Perhaps a lot when it comes to the difference between the controls typically used on today’s packaging machinery and the functionalities packagers actually want.

According to a survey conducted by Packaging World in April 2003 at the request of automation supplier ELAU Inc. the PLC is still the predominant controller (Figure 1).

But when asked to choose the single best term to describe the functionality they want 127 respondents answered much much differently (Figure 2).

In the first question multiple answers were permitted so a wide range of responses was received. The second question required that respondents pick one and only one term.

Surprising losers

It was no shock to see that PLCs get the nod from 25.98% of packagers -- but that was down surprisingly from 68.99% in the first question.

Another big loser was any term specifically including “motion.” For example “motion controller” went from 14.73% to zero! “Motion control” went from 20.16% to just 3.15%. Integrated motion & logic a relatively new concept that has been heavily promoted moved from 20.93% to just 5.51%. Clearly packagers are seeking more than servo motion functionality.

Terms such as “machine control” fared no better.

So what do packagers really want?

Interestingly responses to the second question were tightly clustered. Three non-PLC winners emerged with double-digit responses:

-Automation system

-Integrated control

-Programmable automation controller

The key words “automation” and “integrated” suggest the trend for automation to encompass more than motion and logic likely to include the trend toward integration of packaging and processing lines.

These new terms align with the vision of leading packaging machinery and automation developers (see archived article “Visionaries define ‘Gen4’ packaging”). As the software content of packaging machinery steadily increases motion and logic will continue to play a vital role but so will new applications.

Rather than quantum leaps in drive technology expect the integration instead of other functions previously handled by discrete electronic hardware. These include temperature controllers programmable limit switches vision systems and robotic controllers. This integration will only be possible with scalable Pentium class embedded industrial processors. And that presents another viable reason why packagers don’t see the PLC fulfilling the functionalities they want.

You can also expect groundbreaking advances in the next generation of packaging automation that have nothing to do with traditional control functions. These include better data access for operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) manufacturing execution systems (MES) supply chain management (SCM) and other enterprise applications.

Tell us what you think

Perhaps you’ve come to either similar or radically different conclusions! Tell us what you think in an email with What’s in a name in the subject line to [email protected] and we may use your feedback in an upcoming Supplier News followup report.

ELAU’s marketing department commissioned the Packaging World research survey to verify its positioning of their PacDrive packaging automation system. For information on PacDrive visit

Figure One

Which terms best describe the controls on your packaging machinery today? Please choose all that apply.

129 Respondents Answered

24.03% Automation controller

29.46% Automation system

19.38% Controller

22.48% Control system

27.13% Integrated control

20.93% Integrated motion & logic

29.46% Machine control

20.16% Motion control

14.73% Motion controller

68.99% PLC

13.18% Programmable automation controller

27.12% Programmable controller

Figure Two

Which ONE term describes the FUNCTIONALITY YOU WANT for your packaging machinery? (Choose one only.)

127 Respondents Answered

3.15% Automation controller

14.96% Automation system

2.36% Controller

3.94% Control system

14.17% Integrated control

5.51% Integrated motion & logic

3.94% Machine control

3.15% Motion control

0.00% Motion controller

25.98% PLC

15.75% Programmable automation controller

7.09% Programmable controller

[This advertorial originally appeared in's supplier-sponsored content area.]

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