By Jim Montague, Executive Editor
Getting ready for a trip usually takes longer the farther away you go, and the same rule is true for machine builders. When they sell, ship, install and maintain machines in other nations, regions and continents, machine builders face a variety of different technological specifications, safety and other regulations and endless unique local and application-specific needs.
Technical specifications usually arise from differing electrical voltages and frequencies in different countries and regions. The most basic example is that standard industrial voltages in the U.S. are 230 V or 460 V at 60 Hz, while Europe, Asia and parts of South America use 380 V or 415 V at 50 Hz. "These electrical issues can cause mechanical differences because a 60 Hz motor will typically run at 1,800 rpm, while a 50 Hz motor will usually run at 1,500 rpm, and so ac synchronous motors could be needed," says Mike Litten, controls engineering manager at Cincinnati Milacron (www.milacron.com), Batavia, Ohio, which makes plastic molding machines, extruders and other machines.
To make certain its machines' electrical systems will work properly in other countries, Schneider Packaging Equipment (www.schneiderequip.com) in Brewerton, N.Y., installed a generator at its plant to better check equipment operating voltages and frequencies before shipping. "We previously had a 50 Hz problem with a machine going to Europe, so we decided to do more testing and verification," says Pete Squires, Schneider's vice president.
Sorting Out Safety
Though some national and international regulatory authorities are beginning to harmonize their rules, the most difficult hurdle for machine builders trying to deploy their equipment in other countries remains dealing with safety standards. The largest differences in these standards persist between the U.S. and Europe. Most other international regions seem to be falling in line with Europe's more stringent regulations, and even U.S. builders are pulled in that direction by end-user demands and their own legal departments.
"The biggest issue is getting CE approval," says Milacron's Litten. "CE is part of the European Union (EU), and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is U.S.-centric. They don't recognize each other, and so there's still no common safety standard. For injection molding, we follow ANSI B151.1 in the U.S. and EN 201 in Europe. There are many similarities and crossover between these standards, but they still aren't the same."
Litten adds that UL and CE are philosophically different organizations because CE is part of the EU goverment, while UL isn't a government entity. As a result, he says, EN 201 spells out which rules builders need to follow and documents other standards that apply, but B151.1 doesn't go that far.
"We just shipped several servo-based case packers to the Middle East, and the client asked for CE compliance," says Robert Hattin, president of Edson Packaging Machinery (www.edson.com) in Hamilton, Ontario. "So, we followed CE's self-certification process, which included reviewing drawings, implementing wiring standards, following hardware requirements, adding guarding and doing it all with CE-mark equipment. The self-certification begins with a risk assessment (RA), in which we identify safety issues, and rate ourselves in each area.”
Likewise, Erema North America (www.erema.net) brings its 906T plastic repelletizers to the U.S. from home base in Austria, where it complies with CE rules. The 906T is controlled by a Siemens PLC and touchscreen PC and also uses Pilz safety switches.
"We already comply with CE, so we mainly had to redo 906T's electrical system to use the 480 V, 60 Hz power in the U.S. and then add the right motors and drives and update some of the Siemens Simatic controls," says Tim Hanrahan, Erema's CEO. "The old version had discrete indicators and gauges, but now our repelletizer has one touchscreen that's like turning the pages of a book. This makes it easy for users to access recipes and archives and dial in temperature and other changes. This means a lot fewer headaches for end users, regardless of where they're located, and the PC's modem allows us to dial in to clients' operations and help solve problems."