Power Segments Boost Line Assembly

Standardized, Modular Cabling Helps Builders, Users Install Custom Material Handling, Packaging Lines

By Jim Montague

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Get it on the shelf, now. Sorry, I meant yesterday.

These typical retailer demands are why consumer goods manufacturers constantly seek new ways to streamline their processes, reduce time-to-market, and improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of their products. Can Lines Engineering builds and installs the material handling systems that help them do it, and so it too must continuously improve its own products and services.

Established in 1960, Can Lines designs, develops, and integrates packaging lines and conveying systems, mostly for users in the food and beverage industries. Most of its lines are custom-engineered and tailored to fit each customer's individual spacing and functional specifications. Located in Downey, Calif., the firm has engineering facilities in Greenville, Wis., and a manufacturing plant in Los Angeles.

The equipment that Can Lines fabricates and assembles includes can, bottle, case and pallet conveyor systems, palletizers and depalletizers, operator control platforms, and line-control integration systems. The company started out building its equipment and mechanical systems, and initially relied on other firms to design and install these material handling systems into specific applications, but gradually took over those tasks as the years progressed.

Today, its services consist of packaging line audits, material handling and packaging system design, equipment installation, construction and project management. The company's clients include many globally recognized companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing, Coors, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Con Agra Foods, Del Monte, Frito-Lay, General Mills, Nestle, Pepsi-Cola, Pillsbury and Unilever.

Streamlining by Standardizing

To help these clients save time, implementation, and maintenance costs, Brian Wedin, Can Lines' lead electrical engineer, says his company recently sought new ways to streamline assembly, installation, and commissioning of its tailor-made systems. Can Lines also was seeking to standardize some of its parts, power, and network assembly process to save more time.

Because each plant's processing and/or packaging configuration is somewhat unique, Can Lines' installation team often found itself reinventing the wheel with every installation. Assembling, installing, and hardwiring smaller projects could take days, and larger projects could take weeks. This was due to the difficulty of working around obstacles when routing conduit and electrical wiring for powering a conveyor' and its related systems from a main power source.

"Installing the same 50 drives takes time, but installing 50 different drives takes more time, especially when there are different plant circumstances, platforms, and connections," says Wedin. "In many cases, the challenge was determining on-site how best to power the conveyor system without incurring excessive professional electrical time and labor costs. Our goal was to find a solution that would allow us to standardize machine power distribution in a way that would facilitate faster, easier, plug-and-play installation."

Historically, most conveyors were powered from one or a few centrally located panels, which then sent wiring and conduit into the field. However, many material handling systems now use drives that are mounted on the conveyors. For example, Can Lines uses Allen-Bradley Armor Start drives. "It's logical that connecting cable is easier than bending pipe and pulling cable, but having an electrical contractor run shielded cable to each device costs a lot, too. So, we also needed to reduce the complexity of the work being done. Usually, installing a couple hundred drives means you're putting in a couple hundred conveyor sections, as well as all the fillers, labelers, and packers in between."

Moving to Modular

While researching installation streamlining and component standardization, Can Lines found several solutions that could achieve sensor and device connectivity and communications. Though there weren't many modular, pre-wired solutions for cabling machinery requiring 480 V power, one of Can Lines' local vendors recommended BradPower, a modular power distribution system from Woodhead Industries, a division of Molex. The vendor said a major automotive OEM had installed a BradPower connection system in its automotive material assembly equipment. "Once we heard that, we knew it had to be a robust, reliable product," says Wedin. "In high-volume automotive manufacturing, production downtime just isn't an option because of the costs of delaying or halting the assembly line."

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