CONTROL DESIGN Innovator Awards 2006

The winners of our 1st Annual Innovator Awards all built machines that represent significant departures from the past, and their customers bear witness to how these innovations improve their applications.

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Innovator Awards 2006By Jim Montague, Executive Editor


THOMAS EDISON was correct as usual when he said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But without that 1%, you might as well be flipping burgers or X-raying bags at the airport. If it’s such a crucial catalyst, however, where does inspiration come from, and where can we get more?

Necessity is invention’s traditional mom, but fatigue is no doubt its dad. “A need or problem encourages creative efforts to meet the need or solve it,” states the dialogue in Plato’s Republic. After yet another long day’s labor, every wage slave eventually says “there’s got to be a better way,” though only a few actually seek it.

The fact is that good ideas can come from anywhere. In machine building and other endeavors, innovations logically grow from the experience of builders, integrators, and end users. They also come from repeatedly talking to customers, genuinely listening to what they have to say, and taking the too-rare step of acting on it. 

Innovations also come from technical professionals exploring areas they don’t usually work in, such as an IT person getting onto the plant floor, or vice versa, and occasionally blurting out an idea that everyone will soon say was obvious all along.     

Sometimes ideas just click in, seeming to appear from nowhere like that proverbial bolt from the blue. You might be looking at a component or device you’ve used for years, when suddenly you see something about it you hadn’t before. It’s as if a mythological muse whispers a new way to use it, or as if an occult hand points to a new solution. Other times, ideas are the culmination of a long process of preparing and waiting for technical, economic, or other conditions to allow a long-sought goal to become possible.

Whatever the spark, it burns brightly in the mind, and waits for all that well-known sweat to make it a reality. And whether you’re inventing the lever, Archimedes’ screw, chronometer, steam engine, lightbulb, semiconductor, nanotube-based circuit, or whatever comes after, that reality will be different and hopefully better as a result. Sure, agriculture’s hard, but it beats hunting and gathering. Certainly, my PC and the Internet might crash, but it’s better than buying typewriter ribbons and looking up Plato’s quotes at the library. In short, innovations large and small create organizational change, unlike offering the same old PLC in tropical colors!       

These are some of the attributes shared by the three winners of CONTROL DESIGN’s First Annual Innovator Awards. These companies and their machines represent significant departures from how their processes were done before, and their end users bear witnesses to how these innovations improve their applications.

So, check out their stories because, while nothing succeeds like success and you need money to make money, present innovations can fuel future inspiration. That’s good news because we’re going to need more nominees and winners next year.


  Sabel Engineering's TL-10 Case Packer


Sabel Engineering’s TL-10 robotic, top-load, case packer uses three conveyors to index bags of Mamacita’s empanada dough, simultaneously build cases, and pack 90 bags/min. with less errors, wiring, and repetitive motion.

Innovator Awards 2006     


Packer Treats
Dough with Care


SPEED AND gentleness don’t often go together willingly, especially in case-packing applications. Employees at Mamacita Inc. in Vineland, N.J., had used Sabel Engineering Corp.’s all-in-one case erecting, loading, and sealing machines to run plastic tubs of salsa, and recently wanted to use the same or similar equipment to pack 15 and 21 oz. bags of empanada dough in 24-bag cases. However, these 6-in. stacks of basically fluffy tortillas or pancakes were far more delicate, and would need a much lighter touch than the tubs, especially at Mamacita’s desired 90 bags per minute.

“We’d worked with Sabel before, and were very happy with their previous generation loader, but the new product couldn’t run on the usual technology,” says Jon Mangel, Mamacita’s vice president. “The dough needed to be handled carefully, but at high speed.” Coincidentally, Sonoma, Calif.-based Sabel was already working on a packer with a servo-driven positioning base and a robotic, vacuum pickhead, according to Noel Barbulesco, general manager, and Hitan Patel, controls and R&D manager.

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