Sealed Air reveals the secret to the success of its new shipment-protecting bubble wrap lines, including new small-footprint controls that help increase line speed by 50%.
Bubble wrap often serves as a fun, noise-making toy for those who open mailed packages, but making it is definitely not a game. Sealed Air, a major packaging manufacturer, was struggling to meet demand created by the boom in shipping driven in large part by Internet shoppers.
That changed when the Saddle Brook, New Jersey, supplier converted its production lines, incorporating new controls that helped provide a 50% increase in line speed while cutting the control cabinet’s footprint in half. On this project, the challenge involved improvement in the production speed of the Jiffy-Lite paper-sleeve, laminated bubble wrap mailers for a major online retail operation.
Once the new system became operational, Sealed Air saw production rates jump from 120 to 180 packages per minute, while the control cabinet shrank from a four-bay to a two-bay configuration. The transition was accomplished in just a few months, bringing those benefits without a huge disruption, much to the relief of many employees.
“This was a whole new platform of control for us, as we were migrating from an older control, motor and drive arrangement on our converting lines, in order to increase line production,” noted Tom Kimble, Sealed Air’s director of specialty equipment. “Our speeds needed to increase and that meant more horsepower, with all the attendant control and drive challenges. As expected, there was some resistance from our team to the idea of something new, but we worked with our automation partner, Axis Inc., who simply showed us a better way.”
Axis is a Somerville, NJ, industrial automation specialist and an authorized distributor for a number of motion control component and robotics suppliers. There were high stakes for all parties to this project, so Kimble tapped a longtime partner on many Sealed Air machine build projects: Axis.
Axis motion products manager Joe Pitera explains that “Sealed Air expressed the need to run faster, yet with a greater degree of accuracy and a smaller footprint on the machine, in response to some logistical materials handling and physical plant space availability challenges.”
While a number of previous converting lines featured a reliable motor, drive and motion control package, the new line required performance specifications not achievable with the previous generation of product and software solutions. Axis recommended a combination of motors, drives and integrated motion controllers that could fit in much less cabinet space than previous line designs.
Axis utilized a lot of Siemens equipment to make the transition. SINAMICS V20, SINAMICS S120 AC drives and SIMOTION motion controllers provided compact formats that met the performance goals set by Sealed Air. The Siemens TIA Portal, a programming and commissioning software platform, offered the easy integration of all data and connections to the configured motion controller. This interconnection offered substantial engineering upsides to Sealed Air.
“This customer is a leader in the market, precisely because they’ve always been open to new and better ideas for making their lines run faster, with great accuracy and production validation,” Pitera said. “With the TIA Portal, however, we were bringing them a totally new concept in the engineering and start-up of their equipment, as it offered a single station of HMI with option screens for design and subsequent runout on the devices used.”
Despite his team’s 25+ years of experience with PLC technology in the design and buildup of converting lines, Kimble knew there would be some pushback.
“To be frank, I fought this idea of a whole new engineering platform, as it was very different from our previous protocols and even very different from previous generations of Siemens products we’d used on existing, quite successful lines here at Sealed Air,” he said. “Joe showed us the demo, however, with the TIA Portal ability to pull everything together, run the HMI from a single touchscreen panel with a full library of option screens, interconnects, tagging and access tracking to every single run of cable in the line.”
To overcome these concerns, Pitera spent a full day each week for several months at Sealed Air. Among his efforts was showing the engineers how to copy and paste values for the entire temperature zone of the line. He converted Kimble and the rest of the staff.
“The TIA Portal is simply the fastest way we’ve seen to do programming, setup and commissioning, then be able to make changes on the fly and validate the decision very quickly,” he said.
Although some of the machines being built for this project were heading for other international facilities of Sealed Air, Kimble and his team were confident that this new platform would streamline company-wide engineering efficiency. Combining SINAMICS V20, SINAMICS S120 AC drives and SIMOTION motion controllers and utilizing the integration features of the TIA Portal from Siemens lets Sealed Air do complex operations with high reliability.
This solution controls 13 axes of servo motion with three simple-speed control variable frequency drives,16 temperature control heater zones with solid state control and automation comprising the HMI, zone controller with 64 digital and 32 analog signals, all circuit control, safety protection devices and terminal blocks. The TIA Portal used for line engineering and commissioning integrates all motion controllers, distributed I/O, HMI, drives and motor management in a single engineering environment.
The first project was such a success that a second full production line is planned. This system follows on the previous successful implementation of this hardware and software solution on a co-extrusion line located in the Sealed Air facility in Chicago that utilizes 43 axes of motion, 91 zones of heating, hundreds of I/O points and the full HMI and controller solution provided solely by Siemens. Sealed Air further utilizes this supplier’s motion control systems on its approximately 25 rotary knife perforators, both existing and planned for production in the near future.
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