The days of design, assemble, ship and forget are long gone. Today's machine builders face a growing litany of design and build specifications. They must achieve pre-defined, ever-more difficult performance criteria, and provide support, troubleshooting and maintenance services that marry them to users for the operating lifetime of their machines.
Fortunately, many builders say they wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, some builders report they and their customers, system integrators and suppliers are so inside each other's heads that in some ways they're becoming a collective entity with a common goal of curing end user headaches.
Solving Persistent Problems
This joint mission begins with knowing that retailers want low-cost products that pop on the shelves and grab buyers' attention. This is not an easy job, and it's one of the main reasons why machine building is all about helping manufacturers deliver those products and services.
However, though many problems get solved quickly, some can endure for decades while users search in vain for solutions and dream of relief. For instance, toothpaste, cosmetics, oil paints, anchovy paste and other products have been packaged in plastic tubes for 60 years. All the while, manufacturers have struggled to find leaks after tubes are sealed, which can foul lines, hobble production and increase costly downtime, especially during changeovers. Unable to check each tube during production because seals are weak until they've cooled, most manufacturers pull samples from their lines. But it takes a lot of pressure to identify a leak, and this destructive testing yields incomplete results.
"The world has been looking for a good leak-detection system ever since we began sealing plastic tubes in the 1950s, but previously there was no way, and so it was just a dream for all those years," says Göran Adolfsson, president of Coesia Health and Beauty in Branchburg, N.J. Coesia builds consumer packaging equipment, and acquired tube-filling equipment maker Norden Machinery about five years ago. It revamped its Nordenmatic 1702 tube-filling machine with updated robotics and an innovative leak-detection system (Figure 1). "Now, by collaborating with our users and suppliers, we've developed for the first time a gas-sniffing system that injects a very detectable, inert gas into the tubes, and then squeezes them lightly to identify any leaks."
After sealing, the machine uses a simple Festo pneumatic cylinder to apply gentle pressure to each tube, and a detector checks for presence of gas at a parts per million (ppm) level. This non-destructive approach is performed quickly enough that manufacturers can check each tube without removing it from the line, reject individual tubes without stopping the line, or stop if three or more tubes are found to have leaks.
"This can save a huge amount of time and money that used to be wasted on taking samples and rejecting batches," says Bastien Fusy, Coesia's design and support engineer. "The basic filling method is pretty much the same — and even robots and servos have been accepted in tube filling for more than 10 years — but now we can achieve greater speeds with simpler programming and ease of use, and this gives users a lot more confidence. This leak-detection system solves a lot of problems for our users and for us, too."
Joined at the Hip
To deliver more vital gains and flexibility for their customers — such as halving lifecycle costs by combining two functions in one machine — some builders form long-term alliances and joint ventures with other builders, system integrators and far-flung providers.
RockTenn in Orlando, Fla., has long used single-machine exchange dies (SMEDs) from D.S. Smith Packaging in Maidenhead, U.K., to form corrugated cases around a steel mandril in RockTenn's Meta Systems machine. This makes for faster box building and eliminates much of the skew associated with traditional folding, erecting and sealing. The cases can be constructed with 30–40% less fiber, but with the same or better stacking strength.
Most recently, RockTenn and D.S. Smith developed and patented a 55-case-per-minute Meta Systems machine that combines two different substrates — craft corrugated and pre-printed, solid-fiber cartoning — into one case that can be used for both shipping and in-store display (Figure 2). "We also help users minimize costs by using an option that's like a lease, so they can keep up with the changing technology, but aren't saddled with capital expenditure costs," says Terry Huber, electrical engineer and programmer in RockTenn's automated packaging and corrugated container division. "When a customer contracts to buy our corrugated material, the machine lease is an add-on."