Sustainability, safety, energy efficiency – the list of requirements when building a machine is long. When it comes to the automation of packaging systems such as FFS machines, for example, engineers need to ask themselves what the ideal solution might look like. Configuring individual components takes a lot of time. SEWEurodrive’sStarterSET, however, offers a fully comprehensive automation solution that covers everything from the hardware and software to the cloud.

By Hans-Joachim Müller

It’s not just amateur gardeners who need green fingers – sustainability actually becomes a key focal point much earlier on in the supply chain, when their seeds are being packaged. Materials that can be recycled and composted are growing in popularity. This places special demands on the automated packaging process, during which vertical FFS (form, fill & seal) machines are used to package bulk materials such as tea. The individual steps of the fully automated process not only need to dovetail perfectly to enable high throughput, the machine also needs to be operated with maximum energy efficiency. “On top of that, we are seeing more and more sustainable paper packaging being used instead of film and foil,” explains Alexander Hack, Strategic Portfolio Manager at SEWEurodrive. However, what initially sounds like a simple change presents many machine engineers with new challenges. This is because paper tears more easily than film and foil. Machines need to be able to control the packaging process very sensibly so that packaging doesn’t get damaged and failures don’t occur. Furthermore, the most important factor in operating FFS machines is that they provide all-round safety for both the operator and the machine.

StarterSET makes life easier for machine engineers

Is there an easy way to meet all the relevant requirements? This is the question engineers ask themselves when it comes to automating their vertical FFS machines. Although there are plenty of solutions on the market, engineers often have to put the individual components together themselves before they can benefit from a fully comprehensive automation solution. This takes a lot of time and, ultimately, the individual components will not be perfectly coordinated end to end. It is also becoming increasingly important to incorporate packaging systems intelligently into the overall production line and to make end-to-end communication possible. This is almost impossible to achieve without an overarching solution that dovetails and communicates perfectly. That’s why SEWEurodrive has developed a fully comprehensive, modular automation solution for vertical FFS machines that makes life easier for engineers. The StarterSET, which includes forming, filling and sealing automation solutions that dovetail perfectly for FFS machines, is ideal for even challenging filling processes and ensures maximum effectiveness and quality in the packaging process.

A modular concept ready for immediate use

Hack is keen to emphasize a number of points: “It was important to us to develop a very finely cascaded modular concept. In concrete terms, this means our customers can start using the StarterSET straight away and extend it in line with their needs in an easy, flexible way. As we say, you can do everything, but you don’t have to.” This holistic solution includes perfectly coordinated software and hardware packages. Among other things, the StarterSET includes servomotors from the CMP50 series, matching PxG planetary servo gear units, compatible servo drives and a higher-level controller for automation and motion synchronization. It also contains coordinated I/O modules, a web-based HMI operator panel for easy machine operation and displaying the processes, plus the Movikit software modules embedded in the controller. What’s more, it can be extended with complete safety modules and advanced safety functions. “Our customers don’t just get the individual components – they get an entire automation solution from a single source. They therefore benefit from SEWEurodrive’s extensive expertise, excellent quality, safety and comprehensive cost savings,” Hack explains.

Parameterization instead of programming

The heart of the StarterSET is a software bundle consisting of Movikit software modules that are embedded in the controller. This machine-specific and comprehensive software package includes preprogrammed modules that can be used for everything from simple drive functions to sophisticated motion control functions. For example, the software modules in the vertical FFS machine ensure maximum seal quality, a perfect printed design on the product, the correct web tension and precise dispensing of a bulk material such as tea. These functions can be implemented within a very short time by means of parameterization and programming, since the Movikit modules are preprogrammed and, consequently, easy to start up.

“This saves our customers a lot of time and still gives them the option of making customized adaptations,” Hack explains. “That’s because the modules can be configured flexibly,” he continues. SEWEurodrive achieves this by working with an open source code. This means application engineers can freely adapt vital aspects relating to the machine, such as customized sequences or process chains. “This is where the holistic approach of our StarterSET comes to the fore – it offers a combination of modularity and flexibility. It saves a lot of time, and yet application engineers don’t have to forgo customization,” says the Strategic Portfolio Manager by way of a summary. This means developers don’t need to waste time programming standard functions – instead, they can concentrate on the sequences and process chains that make up the specialist expertise of each engineer.

AutomationFramework

The Movikit modules contained in the StarterSET can also be combined and made interdependent, thanks to the MovikitAutomationFramework software module. This state and mode manager, which has been standardized in line with Packaging Machine Language (PackML), provides a “shell” for the user program and combines the Movikit modules. What does this mean in practice? All the Movikit software modules in the AutomationFramework operate in the same state and run synchronously using a central state machine – in other words, they assume a common waiting position or start at the same time. As soon as a new software module is integrated, it also becomes a part of this synchronization. One key benefit of this is that extending and modifying the system is much easier, which saves time and money in practice.

Communication beyond machines

The Automation Framework is also compatible with the PackML communication standard – and is open to the outside world thanks to the OPC UA server included in the bundle. The PackML standard includes the PackTag data interface for supporting end-to-end communication, which ensures that both incoming and outgoing machine data is standardized, allowing machines from different manufacturers to communicate in a line. This also makes it easy to visualize the data externally, which includes using visualization modules from different machines in one system. However, SEWEurodrive goes one step further – the software module also contains a visualization template that ensures application sequences can be checked and optimized before startup, without the need for any additional programming.

It’s the quality of the seal that matters

Where in the vertical FFS machine are the Movikit modules contained in the StarterSET used? They are used for sealing the individual product packages, for example. The sealing process needs to be of a high standard to ensure a top-quality end product. In addition to effectiveness, seal quality is hugely important. The right temperature and the optimum pressure are decisive, as are the packaging material that is used, the format and the speed of the machine. All in all, complex closed-loop control is needed to achieve secure and reliable sealing. Processes such as this can be controlled with extremely high precision using the software modules in the MovikitAutomationFramework – evenwith major interference variables. For example, MovikitMultiMotionCamming controls the opening and closing of the welding tongs and the pressure for sealing the bags. The modules don’t require any complicated programming and can be parameterized with ease in next to no time.

Automation components from a single source

“By purchasing the predefindedStarterSET, our customers get a fully comprehensive SEWEurodrive automation solution with proven quality from a single source. This shortens the time needed for engineering and projects, reducing their overall costs,” Hack explains. The StarterSET isn’t just available for vertical FFS machines. The Bruchsal-based automation specialist also provides other machine-specific StarterSETs – from the start of a packaging line to the end-of-line. The set that the customer buys isn’t final, and can be added to as and when required. Each StarterSET undergoes further advances in line with developments on the market and to fulfill specific customer requirements. Hack regards this as a cornerstone of automation for the future: “We ensure customers can build and automate their machines faster with our hardware, make them more customer specific with our software and do all that more easily with our StarterSET. As the world becomes increasingly complex, we want to make life easier for our customers with our solutions.”