New England Machinery's Essential Quality, Continuous R&D and Updated Drives and Controls Make Its Machines Practically Immortal
Shakespeare's plays were nothing new. They just told the same stories better than anything before or since. The same is true for the best packaging machines. They often perform traditional tasks, but they do it faster and live longer with simpler components and tighter controls in smaller spaces and on better integrated lines than previous machines and competing devices.
For instance, the first packaging-related machine New England Machinery ever built was an unscrambler it provided to Schering-Plough in the early 1970s. Amazingly, after the customer decommissioned it, NEM reacquired and refurbished its inaugural machine in 2002, and now it runs at NEM's tradeshow exhibits as a living testament to the durability of NEM's products.
Located in Bradenton, Fla., NEM builds high-speed packaging machinery for the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, chemical, household products, automotive and personal care industries. Besides its full line of standard products, NEM designs and builds custom packaging machines, including cappers, unscramblers, secondary orienters, retorquers, lidders, pluggers, pump sorter/placers, scoop feeders, hopper elevators, cap sorters and other machines.
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Founded in 1974 by several experienced packaging engineers in Connecticut, NEM moved to Bradenton in the late 1980s, and in 2003, founder Geza E. Bankuty turned over ownership and management to his daughter Judith Bankuty Nickse, and son, Geza F. Bankuty. Since Nickse took over as president and CEO, NEM has increased its sales, market share and exports. Likewise, it continues to invest heavily in R&D and offer superior customer service and PMMI-certified trainers to serve its customers and achieve unprecedented growth.
"We started out with unscramblers for rigid plastic containers used in pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and health care, and their basic concept hasn't changed much," says Dan Duhaime, NEM's controls engineer. "What has changed is we now have much better mechanics and controls. For example, we started with dc motors and drives, went with ac motors in the late 1990s, and in the last five to six years, moved to fully integrated, variable-frequency drives (VFDs) with PLCs and HMIs networked via EtherNet/IP and Modbus TCP/IP.
"Previously, we had a lot more belts and pulleys, but using direct-drive ac motors and VFDs is much simpler, and helps us provide the faster throughput and smaller footprints that our customers want. VFDs and ac motors also allow improved automation, speed up changeovers, require fewer spare parts, and don't wear out as often. So, changeovers that used to take an hour because tension on belts and pulleys had to be manually adjusted now take only 15 minutes because directly driven components can be quickly opened and closed for different widths. We've also been using more servomotors in the past 10 years, especially on capping machines. They give us torque feedbacks, better positioning and orienting, and let us handle more types of products. Servomotors can also increase unscrambling speeds by 50% because they have higher base speeds and can go from zero to full torque faster."
Following its first surviving machine and others also close to 30 years old, NEM has built and sold thousands of machines worldwide that have far outlasted competing devices. The secret to this longevity is really no secret: NEM says it builds all its machines from scratch on heavier frames, employs a container-handling design concept that allows them to operate much longer, and factory acceptance tests (FATs) all its equipment in-house. All components are made in-house from hardened steel, anodized aluminum or stainless steel. Assemblies are made from ¾-in. aluminum bar, which makes for very robust, long lasting designs.
Beyond maintaining long operating lives, the durability and innovations in NEM's machines also enabled the company to combine formerly separate functions into one unified, monoblock machine that takes up less space and runs more efficiently than both prior devices.
"Monoblock means putting two pieces of equipment into one existing design and frame, so users can avoid having to buy two pieces of machinery, " explains John Hansmann, NEM's engineering manager. "One of the best examples of this is our new NELPSO-72, a combined high-speed unscrambler and servo-based orienter. Both of these machines existed previously, but we monoblocked them into one design and frame in just eight weeks, and now we can combine any of eight different unscramblers with any of four different inline orienters." NELPSO-72 uses CompactLogix PLCs, PowerFlex VFDs, Kinetix servomotors and drives, and PanelView HMIs from Rockwell Automation.
However, even though NEM has developed a large core of standard machinery, it still designs and builds many custom machines. In fact, it recently developed unscramblers for cucumbers, sausages, frozen ice cream containers and other products that used to be very difficult to handle. It can also carry out custom work very quickly, which can be crucial for some projects.
"A decade ago, we had a customer that bought a three-head rotary capper, but during the factory acceptance test, they asked us to add three more heads to the dial plate to double the machine's output," says Duhaime. "So our staff stepped back, took a look, and came up with a game plan. Then, they worked an entire weekend to disassemble, reassemble, rewire and reprogram this machine into a six-head rotary capper. And when the client returned on Monday, they were amazed at how fast their machine was transformed and how well it operated. That machine still is running in their plant 10 years later."