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Machine setup time and footprint both reduced with PC-based control

PC-based control and EtherCAT Industrial Ethernet technology bring faster machine setup, a smaller controls cabinet, and other benefits to this maker of cap lining machines.

Cap liner. Among the machines built by MMC are those that cut and insert lining material into newly molded caps and closures.
Cap liner. Among the machines built by MMC are those that cut and insert lining material into newly molded caps and closures.

MMC Packaging, based in Laval, Quebec, Canada, is a leading supplier of state-of-the-art cap-lining equipment to manufacturers of container caps and specialty closures. With more than 1,000 systems in the field worldwide, the firm is also renowned for its work in assembly machines, cap slitting machines, closing machines, vision systems, and other custom automation equipment. Major customers for MMC Packaging include plastic and metal cap manufacturers in the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, automotive, and personal care/beauty products industries.

MMC Packaging machines handle caps after the plastic injection molding or metal forming processes. For example, a typical MMC lining machine cuts and inserts lining material into newly molded caps—these liners can be made of various materials including pulp, foam, foil, etc. This liner cutting and insertion process requires the execution of a series of events in a synchronized manner. Furthermore, MMC offers various configurations to perform the action of cutting and inserting the liner into the cap. With Rotary Die technology, for example, rolls of liner are pre-cut and fed through the insertion station in a sequential fashion. With Punch and Die technology, on the other hand, liners are cut and inserted in a single operation. After the cap linings have been inserted, MMC Packaging implements a thorough inspection process, ensuring that caps are free of any defects before they move to other production steps.

MMC’s fastest machine model can process up to 1,200 caps per minute. The firm’s machines are also well-known for accommodating easy changeovers in less than 30 minutes, and certain models can run several tooling types and still maintain this efficiency.

While continuing its mission to boost machine equipment quality, MMC Packaging found concerning limitations in the area of hardware PLCs. “The difficulties with a traditional PLC platform include limitations in processing speed, system memory, data storage, and database capabilities, among other challenges,” explains Mathieu Ouellet, Vice President of Business and Product Development, MMC Packaging. “As we’ve endeavored to modernize our systems, we needed more processing power and flexibility from our controller platform. This meant a change of control technology was in order.”

Ensuring perfect product quality requires top quality of the machine itself as well as the automation and controls components. “The LM-270 is the best-selling machine from MMC Packaging, and we must maintain the shortest lead times possible, so we started the development of our new controls platform there,” Philippe McNally, President & Owner, MMC Packaging, explains. “This latest lining machine generation leverages advanced PC-based control technology, industrial Ethernet technology, and a revolutionary user interface that provides critical production data in real-time to our clients.” This also includes comprehensive operational and performance data from the machine so MMC clients have up-to-the-second information regarding the health and efficiency of equipment, which optimizes maintenance efforts and boosts uptime. The LM-270 cap-lining machine features an intelligent console called the MMC-icon™, an innovative new solution that serves as the central information hub for machine and production data. It permits troubleshooting in real-time data management via the system database. The status of all the sensors and actuators, current voltage—everything—is recorded and available for system analysis and troubleshooting purposes.

During the development of the new and improved LM-270 cap lining machine as well as the new QTVision™ (Quality Through Vision) system and the MMC-icon™ solutions, MMC Packaging needed a cutting-edge user interface with an ample selection of standard programming tools. “The traditional PLC world does not provide those tools at the level we need, so we looked toward a more modern PC-based system,” Ouellet says.

The first steps toward PC-based control for MMC Packaging actually started with research into industrial Ethernet technologies. “We first encountered PC-based control from Beckhoff Automation because of EtherCAT,” explains Yan Letourneau, Senior Electrical Designer, MMC Packaging. “I was quite impressed with the speed and capabilities of EtherCAT, so I started following the technology and attended a Beckhoff seminar about EtherCAT. As another design need at the time, I sought an HMI panel capable of multi-touch functionality and found that Beckhoff also offers a wide range of solutions in this area, so I quickly got in touch with the Beckhoff sales team in Quebec.”

“From our very first meeting, I knew the skilled engineers at MMC Packaging were clearly thirsty for new technology,” recalls Ted Sarazin, Beckhoff Regional Sales Manager for Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces. “The control platform used by MMC had some advanced features, but it was clear that the hardware had reached its limits and couldn’t go any further. The PC-based platform from Beckhoff was the ideal solution to fully-enable MMC as they took the next step to secure their leadership position with true 21st century packaging machine technology.”

As the control programming platform, MMC Packaging standardized on TwinCAT 3 next generation automation software. TwinCAT 3 supports all IEC 61131-3 programming languages, object-oriented programming (OOP), and C/C++. Moreover, it provides many other optional tools to programming engineers. Another highlight in TwinCAT 3 is the possibility to reserve individual CPU cores of a multi-core processor exclusively for TwinCAT. This feature, known as “CPU Isolation,” gives the full performance of the reserved cores solely to TwinCAT.

All LM-270 automation, including conveyor control, reject functions, and confirmation of rejects are handled using TwinCAT 3 now. With PC-based control, MMC Packaging was also able to implement more efficient timing on the machines. “With TwinCAT 3, manual intervention is minimized when performing timing changes on the machine,” Letourneau adds. “Using automatic timing in software, the LM270 machine, with all its connected peripherals, can easily change speed on the fly and adapt the equipment rate to the volume and production needs of our clients.”

TwinCAT 3 NC PTP controls and synchronizes the events of indexing, cutting, and inserting lining materials with registration marks. “We also use TwinCAT 3 Scope to record all the data in the process,” Letourneau explains. “The data is stored on the hard drive of a Beckhoff C6525 fanless built-in Industrial PC (IPC).” The C6525 is equipped with a dual core Intel® Celeron™ processor and has an integrated heat sink to safely dissipate heat outside of the electrical cabinet. In addition to recording production data, the LM-270 leverages the same C6525 IPC as the centralized control hardware along with Beckhoff CP391x multi-touch Control Panels for the display hardware.

Today, Beckhoff controls are also used on the MMC QTVision line of vision solutions. The QTVision is equipped with the CX2040 Embedded PC with Windows Embedded Standard 7 Operating System, TwinCAT 3 software, and EtherCAT as the system bus. The CX2040 features a powerful 2.1 GHz Intel® Core™ i7 quad-core CPU, which is more than capable to simultaneously run a wide range of automation, control, and data acquisition tasks. “We previously used a ‘white box’ PC with the control programmed with C++ and had four or more cameras connected to it,” Letourneau adds. “That PC couldn’t keep up with the vision programs, which caused a CPU load of around 70%. After moving to the CX2040 and TwinCAT 3, we went from 70% CPU load down to 30% with the CX2040. With four cameras, we can inspect up to 2,400 caps per minute and process up to 9,600 images per minute using the CX2040 without causing strain on the CPU.”

With the new controls platform and interface, MMC Packaging utilizes 3-D models and tutorial videos to supplement operator training and support. “The ability to run all tasks including automation, PLC, motion control and the Windowsbased graphical interface on a single device was a huge factor in favor of PC-based control as well,” Ouellet says. “Our 3-D manual utilizes multi-touch functionality programmed using C++ or C and includes pinch gestures to zoom in/out and view valuable equipment information and learn how to best operate the machine. We have many other ideas to provide other beneficial multi-touch features to MMC Packaging clients.”

Control speeds in the low microsecond range are now commonplace for MMC Packaging, such as triggering cameras in the vision systems at 250 microseconds. As with any equipment manufacturer today, better machine diagnostic information improves the end customer’s ability to identify potential problems, pinpoint them, and resolve them before unplanned downtime occurs. With a wider range of data logging and troubleshooting tools, MMC expects to significantly reduce their customer assistance intervention time and boost their customers’ uptime as a result. Enhanced diagnostics capabilities and remote connectivity through the PC- and EtherCAT-based control platform are the key enablers here.

“TwinSAFE also demonstrates another added value from EtherCAT,” Letourneau adds. “Even for safety technology, I still use standard Ethernet cables. All the safety data goes through the EtherCAT protocol, and there are TwinSAFE terminals throughout the machine. A system-integrated programmable safety solution is much easier to modify in the future as our machine designs evolve.” MMC Packaging mainly uses TwinSAFE today for e-stops, safety guards, integrated servo drive safety and for safety measures on VFDs.

To implement the servo drive safety, MMC Packaging utilizes Beckhoff AX5000 EtherCAT servo drives equipped with AX5801 or AX5805 TwinSAFE drive option cards for safe stop functions (STO, SS1). The TwinSAFE-enabled AX5000 servo drives are paired to AM8000 series servo motors with One Cable Technology (OCT), which cuts the number of motor cables and connectors by 50%. “Since the power and feedback is combined into one standard cable with OCT, this approach is far simpler and leads to a smaller machine footprint,” Letourneau says.

“One Cable Technology in our servo system along with the EtherCAT I/O system and TwinSAFE have been instrumental in streamlining our machine designs,” Ouellet adds. “Instead of managing all control wires from the central units to all of our peripherals, we now only have to wire a single Ethernet cable, which dramatically cuts our wiring cost and saves 20 to 24 hours of installation time per setup.” It is also possible to integrate any standard Ethernet device with EtherCAT, the cables used are standard, and no proprietary fieldbus cards are needed. MMC Packaging also uses EtherCAT gateway terminals that provide an easy interface to other networks and protocols when required.

High Density (HD) EtherCAT Terminals in 16-channel format also help MMC Packaging save space in electrical cabinets. “With HD Terminals, we have replaced outdated terminals that had fewer I/O points and inefficient screw-type connections,” Letourneau says. “The EtherCAT I/O terminals we use today have efficient Cage Clamp connections that enable far simpler wiring. This streamlines machine setup and results in shorter machine lead times as well. We reduced electrical cabinet space by more than 30% and the savings can be directly traced back to the EtherCAT I/O system and compact PC-based controllers like the C6525 IPCs and CX2040 Embedded PCs.”

“The first stage of the MMC Packaging controls upgrade is officially complete,” states Anthi Balafoutis, Sales and Marketing Coordinator, MMC Packaging. “The LM270, MMC-icon™ and QTVision machines from MMC Packaging are only the first of our machine lines to be equipped with Beckhoff PC-based controls. The next step in our strategy is to develop and implement this technology on all other machine lines we offer, including MMC assembly, sealing, and slitting machines. We will also retrofit existing MMC machines already in the field.” With PC- and EtherCAT-based modernizations well on their way, MMC Packaging can ensure innovation marches forward in the cap-lining machinery business.

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