Converter-friendly flexible control systems: road to efficiency

27 June 2018

Having detailed, robust control systems in place is vital for all converters. Dave Howell assesses how flexible control can ensure production is uninterrupted and meets the high standards that brand-owners now demand.

The key for converters and their brand partners is to move away from being reactive, to developing well-defined roadmaps for change and innovation that includes how the control of their process systems is developed. The adage to ‘work smarter’ clearly resonates here.

Indeed, according to McKinsey, the consumer goods industry is only 35% digitised. This includes the entire production chain from brand through to the control and production systems that converters have in place. Clearly, the introduction of more integrated control systems would vastly increase this number. For converters, more advanced process control is a win-win. Close integration with their brand partner assets and efficiency will gain cost reductions.

This is certainly the case with the new web inspection technology from Baldwin Vision Systems, which recently showed a new vision system at INFOFLEX. Acquiring QuadTech and PC Industries, Vision Systems is a new business from Baldwin.

ICON – the company’s new inspection system – should enable print converters to maintain high quality throughout their operations. This is ideal for converters in the flexible packaging sector in particular.

“The flexible packaging industry faces growing demands for colour perfection and defect-free production from brand-owners and printers alike,” says Karl Fritchen, president of Baldwin Vision Systems. “Our aim is to simplify workflows and help printers easily manage increasingly complex requirements. At the same time, our technology provides a fast return on investment and will make a major impact on printers’ bottom lines.”

Platforms and processes

For converters to have true control over their production systems, the platforms they use can’t be seen in isolation. Brands have complete control of their brand assets, which feed into each packaging project. Increasingly, converters are being expected to use these digital assets across their production processes.

The ecosystems that are now in use can be complex and multifaceted. Often, they will integrate with enterprise resource planning, product life-cycle management and product information management to ensure brand values are communicated across any given packaging form factor. Converters can’t operate their systems in isolation.

A good example here is Packaging Personified, which has purchased EFI’s Packaging Suite that features Radius ERP software as its core ERP technology. The system offers end-to-end workflow control from data collected from the production line to business intelligent analysis.

General manager Joe Imburgia says, “We believe that implementing the EFI suite into Packaging Personified will allow us to improve our various workflows, as well as the speed and accuracy of information. Enhancing the communication of our work centres to each other is expected to improve the experience of working with Packaging Personified for our customers, as well as team members.”

Ultimately, any operator on a factory floor wants streamlined data collection and facilitates with accurate analysis of efficiency. Having digital and technologically driven systems gives manufacturers this complete control.

– Mattias Johansson, Tetra Pak

Another converter reaping the benefits is Founders Brewing Company, which uses the Botec F1 control system supplied by Krones. As the cans, supplied by Ball, enter the canning process, the computerised system removes the manual manipulation of the packaging process.

Partnerships that result in improved technologies for converters are typified with the recent announcement that X-Rite and the Flint Group’s Paper and Board will be collaborating to create a colour control solution that leverages X-Rite’s eXact and NetProfiler.

Stuart Duffy, Flint Group director, professional services paper and board, says, “Following rigorous beta testing at a number of corrugated sites, our initial expectations have been surpassed. The sites conducted hundreds of searches from VIVO ColourCloud, with every download achieving 100% ‘right first time’.

“This level of performance can only be delivered through a consistent and managed digital workflow along with the support of X-Rite’s eXact spectrophotometer. This results in an effective end-to-end colour management process that fits the needs of prepress, printing and packaging companies of all sizes, while reducing variability. I have no doubt VIVO Colour Solutions, in combination with X-Rite equipment, can become an industry benchmark.”

Inside knowledge

“Tetra Pak PlantMaster is a great example of an end-to-end solution that provides oversight across a manufacturer’s entire factory or operating plant,” explains Mattias Johansson, director of automation services at Tetra Pak.

“We help our customers embrace and implement this data management system, which includes the Tetra Pak PlantMaster MES Suite, a new software programme that Tetra Pak has specifically designed for the food and beverage industry. The libraries are built on automation software and hardware from Siemens, Rockwell and Schneider.”

Johansson says control technologies help the business better service its customers. “In the food and beverage industry, manufacturers often have equipment from different suppliers in one plant, using separate information systems,” he says.

“Some of these machines even require manual data collection. Ultimately, any operator on a factory floor wants streamlined data collection and facilitates with accurate analysis of efficiency. Having digital and technologically driven systems gives manufacturers this complete control.

“Tetra Pak can offer an integration of these separate systems taking you from operations around raw materials to the finalised products. These systems have also been useful for distributing products to the consumer efficiently.

“Other advances we are seeing include remote monitoring, control, and alerts using cloud storage and processing; data storage and application processing on secure cloud servers; mobile and augmented reality devices to process real-time information; material handled by autonomous vehicles and intelligent transport; and smart, autonomous machine maintenance, aided by predictive algorithms and remote assistance support.”

Converters should be aware of pitfalls when sourcing control systems. “Modern food production increasingly relies on automated processing systems for running the plants. Furthermore, business systems and enterprise resource planning systems need to connect to the real-time automation applications on the factory floor,” he says.

“In order to get a good return on investment, food producers must find solutions that connect their different systems. Integrating planning, raw material handling, inventories and reporting are crucial for correct and effective business analysis.”

Johansson also said the internet of things (IoT) and industry 4.0 had a profound impact on control systems for converters. “IoT will have a great impact on operations in the food and beverage industry. Take, for instance, MES systems in Tetra Pak’s PlantMaster. They impact the control systems by reducing downtime and waste, cutting operational costs, and allowing consistent product quality and food safety,” he says.

“It’s all about making the systems communicate with each other. The real-time processing and production systems need to communicate in a matter of seconds with the manufacturers databases and interact with the business systems that handle planning for months and years ahead.”

As packaging form factors have become increasingly complex, so the production processes have evolved to meet the demand of brand-owners. For converters, it has become critical to their businesses to have detailed, reliable and, above all, flexible control over their production processes and the systems that control them.

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