Custom Case Packers Employ PC-Based Controls

The CP-30 custom case packer with integrated robotics ensures ultra-fast throughput and reduces changeover times by over 80% using advanced PC-based control technology and EtherCAT.

R.A Jones developed the custom CP-30 case packer for a large, multinational CPG manufacturer of coffee products.
R.A Jones developed the custom CP-30 case packer for a large, multinational CPG manufacturer of coffee products.

Part of the Bologna, Italy-based Coesia Group of packaging machine builders, R.A Jones of Covington, Ky. serves many of the world’s biggest CPGs with primary and secondary packaging machines. Best known for its wide array of standard packaging equipment for aerosols, cup filling, chub packaging, multipacking, pouching, case packing, and cartoning, R.A Jones offers completely custom machinery when the best machine for the job doesn’t exist yet. One technology seen as having a rising tide, especially in this custom work, is PC-based control.

“With many of the emerging R.A Jones machine lines, we’ve standardized on PC control and automation from Beckhoff,” says Bob Burkhardt, product portfolio manager for Cartoning, Robotics & Pouching, R.A Jones. “This includes some of our case packers, vertical load cartoners, and top load cartoners, but also in solutions for some of our most challenging jobs that require custom machinery.”

One of the latest machines to directly address a one-of-a-kind customer challenge is the custom CP-30 case packer. This was a special project for a large, multinational CPG manufacturer of coffee products where R.A Jones was contracted to develop a new high-performance case packing machine design. Parent company Coesia partnered with R.A Jones in the development, with Beckhoff supplying the automation technology. With 12 machines ordered by the CPG, the sheer volume of custom equipment to manufacture in a tight timeframe was a tall order, but so was the high level of automation required by the end user.

“With coffee products coming in as fast as 1,200 per minute, the machines had to run continuously, even in the event of a jam,” Burkhardt says. “R.A Jones sought a machine control platform that could automatically diagnose and correct machine stoppage without an operator’s manual adjustments. This eliminates the burden on workers to stop production and pull reject boxes in a fast-paced production environment.”The machine features a case feed robot inside to move flat corrugated blanks into the case erecting segment.The machine features a case feed robot inside to move flat corrugated blanks into the case erecting segment.

The resulting CP-30 machine automates all aspects of case packing, including jam clearance and packaging changeovers via over 70 dynamically controlled servo axes. It can automatically eject cases that don’t open correctly under the magazine without stopping the packaging process. 

The CP-30 features a case feed robot inside to move flat corrugated blanks into the case erecting segment. “We worked with Beckhoff application engineers to create custom kinematics software for this specialized robot,” Burkhardt says. “While similar to a SCARA, this robot is completely custom to provide a high degree of rotation for the pick head as it pulls the blanks out of the magazine.” If the case fails to open, sensors will automatically detect this, and the pick head will reject the case. Afterward, the case feed robot will pick a new case.

While the automated reject handling is a key benefit for the end user, so is the notably high throughput and flexibility. “With the 12-count cases for smaller cartons, the CP-30 surges at 30 cases per minute,” adds Nick Werner, Custom Controls Group, R.A Jones. “The CP-30 case packer also flexibly builds numerous case patterns. Whether you’re dealing with large or small carton sizes, the same CP-30 can handle nearly any combination of carton counts.”

Packing automation technologies into one toolbox

For an industry as dedicated to standards as packaging, machine builders serving the space have historically used a lot of single-purpose, black box-style controls dedicated to a single aspect of automation. “The ability to consolidate hardware for different areas of control was a key benefit for R.A Jones,” says Paul Schuster, product portfolio manager, Coesia Digital & Aerosol, R.A Jones.

“The processing power we get from PC-based control is impressive,” Werner adds. “Practically speaking, this means the difference between implementing one Beckhoff controller and having to juggle multiple controllers from a traditional PLC vendor to handle machine automation.”

The CP-30 features a Beckhoff C6030 Industrial PC (IPC) with Intel Core i7-7700 quad-core processor that provides ample power for all the computationally intensive functions in case packing. R.A Jones is also in the process of implementing an IoT remote monitoring service called Coesia PerforMate on its machines using a Beckhoff IPC.

“One of the biggest things we observed with the Beckhoff IPC was impressively low scan times—around 1 millisecond scan time for more than 70 servo axes,” says Austin Rismiller, electrical project engineer, Research & Development/Innovation, R.A Jones.

Another enabler of fast communications and low scan times is the EtherCAT Industrial Ethernet protocol connecting all drives and I/O on the CP-30. “EtherCAT provides an outstanding level of speed in our machine communications,” Werner shares. “The ease of setup when automatically scanning devices into the network greatly helped with startup, commissioning and troubleshooting. This and built-in EtherCAT diagnostics made it easy to quickly localize and correct any wiring mistakes or breaks that may have happened down to the exact I/O terminal.”

The EtherCAT I/O system also enables R.A Jones to easily connect to other industrial networks, such as IO-Link. This establishes direct connectivity to various smart devices, including the RFID reader, a programmable stack light, and smart photo eyes. The approach helped eliminate home-run cabling back to the main control cabinet by using distributed EtherCAT I/O along the machine.

R.A Jones also sources EL72xx series EtherCAT I/O terminals with built-in drive technology to control ultra-compact AM8100 series servomotors. EL9576 terminals add brake chopper functionality in the same 12 mm wide DIN rail mounted I/O format. “Beckhoff directly addressed the small motor and drive sizes required for CP-30, which is a major benefit,” Schuster says.  “Combining the power and feedback cables into one line using One Cable Technology (OCT) added to our space and wiring savings.” The CP-30’s footprint is smaller than comparable case packers and its electrical cabinets even fold down, so the entire machine can be shipped in a normal semitruck.The CP-30 case packer features a variety of compact drives from Beckhoff, such as ultra-compact AM8100 series servomotors connected to EL72xx series EtherCAT I/O terminals with built-in drive technology.The CP-30 case packer features a variety of compact drives from Beckhoff, such as ultra-compact AM8100 series servomotors connected to EL72xx series EtherCAT I/O terminals with built-in drive technology.

Machine safety is integrated into the standard control platform and EtherCAT network via the TwinSAFE system. TwinSAFE I/O terminals connect to guard doors and e-stops throughout the machine and safety data is sent via Safety over EtherCAT (FSoE) using a certified black channel approach. The servo drives in the application also communicate via FSoE to provide a variety of safe motion functions. The CP-30 is broken up into two safety zones with dedicated TwinSAFE logic in each. A cartoner side zone is on the operator side, where the case feed robot picks all the cases. A transfer side zone is where the cartons come in from the infeed and go to the upstacker. This provides the ability to stop the appropriate zone during safety events instead of stopping the entire machine. 

On the programming side, TwinCAT 3 as an engineering environment and runtime for machine control also demonstrated major advantages. The universal TwinCAT platform handles all aspects of machine control, including PLC, safety, motion control and more. “I’m a fan of how TwinCAT XAE is presented in a standard Microsoft Visual Studio shell,” Rismiller says. “That’s refreshing compared to traditional PLC vendors’ software offerings. TwinCAT 3 integrates all computer science standards in programming, like C++ and Python which meshes into my programming knowledge from college. Providing these options in addition to PLC programming standards, such as structured text, is a key benefit.”

As part of the project, R.A Jones used the existing Coesia Automation Framework Library (AFL) in TwinCAT. “TwinCAT offers the ability to protect Coesia and R.A Jones software and function blocks as intellectual property,” Werner says. “Even better, end users never have to trouble themselves with the PLC code for troubleshooting and maintenance since these interactions are handled via the HMI. Assisting in this user-friendly approach is a CP3918 Control Panel in 18-inch widescreen format with multiple push buttons we selected for machine control functions—all designed right into the panel.”

The timeline for critical electrical design and installation of the CP-30 machines was compressed into a rigorous six-month period to stay on schedule for the end user’s plant upgrade. This required close and constant teamwork among engineers at R.A Jones and Beckhoff to meet a tight delivery window. “Beckhoff and R.A Jones were brought into this globally strategic project that had direction from their parent company, Coesia,” said Mark Ruberg, Packaging Industry Manager at Beckhoff USA. “Our effective collaboration and local support resources were up to the challenge of these development milestones.”

Throughout the design and build of this custom machine, the local Beckhoff team worked side by side with R.A Jones. “Garth Gaddy and Keith Bunke from the local Beckhoff team have been great to work with,” Werner said. “Keith was our point of contact for application engineering — we worked together so closely, I had him on speed dial.”

Also notable, the CP-30 flexibility is boosted by the Acc-U-Change Plus solution from R.A Jones that allows users to handle changeovers with the push of a button, ensuring a vertical start-up and high case quality during production. The removable Acc-U-Change Plus components are RFID-enabled, so end users can verify that the right equipment is installed in the right place for all case sizes and patterns.  “Where changeover times to a different-sized case often take 20 to 30 minutes in other case packers, we’ve been able to bring changeover time to around five minutes or even less on the CP-30,” Werner says. “Using automation from Beckhoff, we’ve taken 19 manual moves out of the equation—with one touch on the HMI and the automated changeover can move from largest size to the smallest size and vice versa.”

After these experiences, R.A Jones has at least two new machine projects in development that will have Beckhoff as the standard machine control platform to similarly boost throughput, reduce machine footprint and shorten changeover times. Along with the custom case packing machine, R.A Jones has standardized on Beckhoff control technology for a new chub packaging machine for tubes of ground poultry and pork. “R.A Jones is also introducing a new vertical loaded cartoner and it will feature Beckhoff as its standard controls platform,” adds Burkhardt.  PW

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