Among the 30 well-known machine brands within the Pro Mach group of companies is Edson Packaging Machinery, a major provider end-of-line packaging equipment. In order to successfully hunt for new business and out-compete strong rivals, Edson introduced the Raptor SL case packing machine at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2015 to great fanfare. A horizontal side-load case packing machine that’s fast and compact, it’s suitable for case packing items that can be collated, either vertically or horizontally. “The driving purpose behind the development of the Raptor SL was to create a machine with a small footprint that maintains high-speed throughput of 8 to 12 cases/min,” explains Jeff Werner, Vice President and General Manager at Edson Packaging Machinery.
This high-performance could not come at a high price. The Raptor SL had to be highly competitive, out-performing comparable case packers in the marketplace, while delivering the premium value on which Edson has built its reputation over the last 53 years. Raptor SL users can place knocked-down corrugated cases on a conveyor, which are automatically fed into the machine as it runs, permitting continuous operation during refills. Even as the machine reaches low supply of corrugated cases, the next stack will be fed underneath the previous, all without the machine stopping for a second. “This is a major differentiator that most Edson competitors can’t match,” Werner states. “Even competitors who offer similar machines still require an operator to lift up corrugated in bunches and place stacks at an angle or vertically.”
Product changeover time on the new Raptor SL is exceptionally fast. Achieving changeover times of 15 minutes or less is well within reach for Edson customers, so companies that wish to run multiple SKUs in one shift can easily do so with the Raptor.
As 2015 wore on, Edson Packaging engineers were still in the conceptualization stage of the Raptor design when it was decided that there must be a major machine debut at PACK EXPO. “Even though the timing was not ideal, the Raptor SL was our big technological splash and simply couldn’t wait until the following PACK EXPO in November 2016,” Werner recollects. “At this point, we hadn’t finalized our controls design, but we were determined to modernize our platform in a big way. In order to chart the proper path forward, we had to source world-class controls technology in a cost effective package.”
The vetting process
A wide range of automation suppliers were considered, from traditional PLC vendors to multiple PC-based control suppliers. In the final stages of the Raptor SL development process, key engineering managers from Edson had business meetings with Beckhoff Automation in Germany—both at the global corporate headquarters in Verl and at Hannover Fair, the world’s largest industrial trade show. “Beckhoff Automation was in the running throughout the specification process, and as we conducted rigorous technical comparisons, we also looked at support and service where Beckhoff also materialized as the leader,” Werner says. “Interactions with Beckhoff experts during these trips placed a spotlight on quality control in manufacturing processes of all devices as well as the commitment to R&D and new, innovative automation technologies.”
When Edson kicked off the final Raptor SL design and build process in June 2015, all involved recognized that time was of the essence, since PACK EXPO was just months away in September. Mechanically, the Raptor SL is a completely new design, with thousands of hours of development time required to prepare the machine for show time. “The moment we made our final decision on the machine controls, we reached out to Beckhoff Automation,” Werner recounts. “Beckhoff committed to us on day one that Edson would be supported throughout the process and that all the aggressive control system deadlines would be met. Remember, we had just a three-month window to design, manufacture, and deliver an exceptionally functional machine to North America’s premier packaging trade show. Even a minor development delay could have been disastrous.” To avoid even the smallest delay, the Edson team worked daily with Beckhoff application engineers and held high-level meetings every week to manage project workflows and ensure that designs successfully met all requirements.
By the end of the development process, the Raptor SL was equipped with a full PC-based control platform from Beckhoff and was show-ready in time for PACK EXPO 2015. One CX5130 Embedded PC with a dual core Intel® Atom™ processor runs TwinCAT 3 software and handles sequential logic, motion control, recipe control, alarm functions, HMI, and safety. Also, industrial Ethernet technology factors into the high-speed Raptor SL in many ways. As such, the CX5130 Embedded PC is directly connected to a variety of EtherCAT Terminals, which provide distributed I/O on the machine for digital signal acquisition and connection to safety devices. “This means that Edson can source the entire automation system from one leading vendor with one controller, one software platform, and one network configuration,” Werner explains.
Edson also selected Beckhoff CP29xx series Control Panels to display HMI software created using a development package from COPA-DATA. This visualization software runs on the same CX5130 Embedded PC used for all automation and control functions. “The CP29xx Control Panels, as the HMI touchscreen, simplify how the user interacts with the Raptor SL, including operator notifications to adjust settings as well as diagnostics and alarms,” says Werner. “Since this Control Panel is paired to a powerful Embedded PC, we have the ability to provide machine operators a wealth of information, including training videos, operator manuals in PDF, Excel spreadsheets for part change matrices, and more. Edson also makes it easy to establish Internet connectivity on the Raptor SL, enabling end users to access any other relevant information.”
Use of EtherCAT
The EtherCAT-enabled Raptor SL uses a variety of EtherCAT distributed I/O modules, including integrated TwinSAFE terminals for safety functions. These are available in both cabinet-mounted IP 20 format and machine-mountable EtherCAT Box I/O in IP 67 protection, dramatically reducing hardwiring costs on the machine. “When building a cost-sensitive machine, it is essential to keep labor and wiring time as low as possible,” Werner explains. “We don’t even need electricians to wire our Raptor SL safety system because our mechanics can simply plug in wires from door switches into TwinSAFE terminals; they also connect e-stops, safety redundant air valves, and drives.”
For the motion system, Edson integrated AX5000 EtherCAT servo drives with the AX5805 TwinSAFE option cards for linear motion modules and AM8500 rotary servo motors from Beckhoff. These servo motors provide an increased rotor moment of inertia of 100 to 300 percent and feature One Cable Technology (OCT). With OCT, the two previously separate cables for power and feedback are combined into one standard motor cable. The AX5000 drives are also used as variable frequency drives (VFDs), connected to three-phase 1,750 RPM AC motors. This VFD functionality is needed for compression belts used to glue and seal corrugated cases.
Ultimately, the PC-based control system with EtherCAT solves many of the difficulties posed by previous machine designs. For example, the case-forming operation previously required knocked-down corrugated cases to be picked up by hand and transferred to a forming station with a vacuum head. This design, based on traditional PLCs, predated Edson’s decision to use PC Control. It was programmed to exclusively use point-to-point motion instructions to synchronize two axes via a single start command. Edson found that this machine would too frequently tear cases open. “The Raptor SL with PC-based control, on the other hand, uses camming in TwinCAT 3 software to completely eliminate the stresses that were placed on the corrugated cases,” Werner says. “We now maintain top product quality and reliability even when opening the lightest corrugate case with the weakest glue seam.”
With the Raptor SL, Edson has taken a unique approach via PC-based motion control and can implement highly sophisticated systems without making the software overly complex. “This helps us add high-end functionality to our machine while making the software efficient to manage and easy to troubleshoot,” Werner summarizes.
Edson Packaging Machinery successfully finished the Raptor SL design and build process in time to debut the system at PACK EXPO. By this time, many compelling results were tallied through the industrious application of PC- and EtherCAT-based automation technology. “We decreased the depth of the main control panel by 30 to 40 percent,” Werner reports. “As a result, the machine is lighter with a much smaller footprint, which means our customers save valuable production space and we don’t have to disconnect the main panel from the machine during shipping.”
Gone are worries of snapping brackets or of panels potentially falling and causing damage to machines in transit. This completely eliminates the need to send an electrical specialist on-site to customer facilities in order to reconnect the main panel to the machine. “This reduces 100 or more work hours for every machine installation,” says Werner. “It also eliminates an entire business trip for one Edson employee per machine. We only need to send one service technician to train the customer on the equipment – a 50 percent reduction in required travel when comparing the Raptor SL to previous machine generations.”
EtherCAT Terminals, including TwinSAFE Terminals, offered further installation and wiring benefits. “We no longer need junction boxes on the machine for safety,” Werner says. “We now simply plug safety devices directly into an EtherCAT Terminal or EtherCAT Box. As a result, overall wiring labor has been reduced by at least 25 percent.”
Edson has achieved overall system cost reductions in the long run, but also managed to score major savings up front as well. “When assessing which control package to use on the Raptor, the Beckhoff hardware was about 40 percent lower in cost than the next closest control supplier,” Werner reports. “This was due to a combination of factors: EtherCAT distributed I/O modules with TwinSAFE maintain a low cost per I/O point, AX5000 EtherCAT servo drives ensure a low cost per axis of motion, and the cabling costs using One Cable Technology come in much lower than competitors by eliminating half our motor cabling.”
This PC-based control migration will continue at full speed following the success of the Edson Raptor SL. Development for the next Edson solution with PC Control is well under way, with another new packaging machine poised for a 2016 launch. Also in the near term, Edson will introduce cloud-connected packaging machinery via PC-based control and OPC UA communication technology. This will be accomplished via connectivity between the Beckhoff control system and ProTech, the advanced remote solutions platform from Pro Mach. “Cloud connectivity piques customers’ interest when they learn it is possible to connect to their machines and access real-time production information from their cell phone, tablet, or laptop—anywhere in the world, any time,” Werner states. “Since standardizing on PC-based control technology from Beckhoff, Edson now has the capability to easily establish this Smart Factory level of connectivity and provide excellent remote service and support to our customers.” As the Raptor SL successfully adapted to thrive in a far more demanding business environment and with a strategic plan to evolve even further, Edson Packaging Machinery can feel secure in their apex position in the case packing machinery marketplace.