Report reinforces need to open machine automation specs

Packaging machine builders who open their control specs experience reduced delivery times, cost savings, and performance guarantees. As technology moves forward and packaging automation specialists develop purpose-built technology to change how packaging machines are designed, the familiar PLC-driven vendor spec has stifled innovation and speed to market.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report, “Packagers’ Automation Specifications Must Be Aligned with Business Strategies and Foster Innovative Machine Design,” from the analysts at ARC Advisory Group. The study, commissioned by open automation supplier ELAU, involved interviews with engineering leaders in the consumer packaged goods, food and pharmaceutical industries.

Paul Greene, director, drug product automation, Pfizer Global Manufacturing, explained during a recent ARC Forum that manufacturers must actively seek out and rapidly deploy innovative manufacturing technologies and develop more standardized business and manufacturing processes to meet the challenges facing the industry. He argued that this requires radical change and improvement, not incremental change.

Much of the CPG manufacturing industry have similar needs and expectations of their technology providers. “To be competitive in the world market, North American packaging OEMs must be receptive to change,” said Bruce Larson, vice president of sales and marketing at Goodman Packaging Equipment, “We must be more flexible and reactive to our customers’ needs. We must proactively seek out new technologies that we can utilize to strategic advantage for ourselves and our customers.”

ARC’s report argues it appears that “the door is opening to just such a scenario, in which OEMs are encouraged to select the automation supplier that can optimize their design, so long as it is on a short list of qualified, global suppliers exhibiting packaging domain expertise. Innovative machine builders are already making the leap.” The report reminds builders that single sourcing provides no incentive for competitive pricing and might hold a user “hostage” to its supplier. A second—often stated—reason to become more open is that machine builders say they often can’t get the same machine performance with the control products users specify.

Joe Wagner, manager of the controls engineering department for global operations engineering at Hershey Foods, speaking at the ARC Forum, said that about four years ago Hershey Foods opened up its controls standards to enable its OEMs to use the controls platforms they know best. As a result, he said, Hershey Foods is realizing reduced machine delivery times, cost savings, and performance guarantees that are in line with their corporate strategies.

The report argues that an ever-increasing need to improve manufacturing efficiency, flexibility, and response time, as well as reduce the total cost of technology ownership, is the driver behind new packaging machine and control design.

It’s been clear to many industry observers that machines frequently now require customized designs specific to a single user application, putting additional stress on machine builder resources and delivery capabilities. This, says the ARC report, “requires modular design of the functional components of machine hardware matched to modular design of the functional components of the control software. As a result, Relay Ladder Logic (RLL) no longer has the qualifications to serve the needs of the machine builder today, as software that leverages modularity and encapsulation simply is not supported in this software environment.”

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