The practice is not widespread but is higher on the agenda than before and there is more of a shift towards integration of production lines, the firm said.
Through its own product stream with industry partners and agency agreements with manufacturers, Multivac UK can offer almost every element of a packaging line, as a turnkey solution.
Other industries, such as pharmaceutical and medical have taken up line integration faster due to the importance of knowing where something is at every point in the process and regulatory pressures.
Total line solutions
Ed Williams, business unit manager systems and line integration, at Multivac UK, told FoodProductionDaily.com that integration means different things to different people.
“We have long spoken to our customers in terms of “total line solutions”; incorporating process and packaging machines that are well integrated and professionally project managed.
“The objective for Multivac is to deliver a system that works seamlessly, with all elements working together as a whole – the concept is about the sum of the parts, rather than individual elements working in isolation.”
He said in general customers have responsible engineering skills but have just got by for many years at an efficiency of around 40-50% which is normal and well-accepted where an efficiency of 80% is possible measured on available uptime.
“It is important be clear on what the machines and the system as a whole is trying to achieve, summarised in a User Requirement Specification that is unambiguous,” he said.
“Having clear objectives is the first step in designing a turnkey packaging system that meets the needs of the customer.”
The levels of integration
Generally there are two levels, said Williams, total integration – where machines can be controlled from a central HMI. All devices connected in full and complete synchronisation, with shared diagnostics and recipe management.
The other is low level integration - where machines linked via I/O for basic start/stop control, to mitigate product over-accumulation during error/stop and product damage.
Multivac modules can be connected under the principle of total integration, so the individual machine modules can be centrally controlled from a single HMI (though more than one may be required in production areas where there are different classes for primary and secondary packing).
“A great benefit of this is, for example, that when a recipe is selected on the Thermoformer machine (which tends to be the central point around which integration/line control is built), it will automatically load recipes on, say, the labeller, the converging system, inspection and vision systems, thus ensuring that errors are avoided.
“There is also the possibility to automatically populate coding systems (TT/IJC) with appropriate batch codes/date codes, driven from the customer MRP/ERP.”
Differing things to think through
He added that it was critical that mechanical interfaces are thought through to ensure an optimised line.
“Transfer points from conveyor to conveyor, drops in height, transfer speeds – all of these details need to be reviewed in full and appropriate calculations made to mitigate risk.
“The most common mistakes relate to oversights in mechanical and electrical interfaces. This can mean transfers from one machine/module to another do not adequately align, causing inefficient handling or damage to packs.”
Multivac UK has worked on a number of projects such as project scoping, definition, procurement, testing and delivery, right through to the final commissioning/startup and handover phase.
“It is not uncommon for packaging companies to buy individual modules from a range of different suppliers and carry out integration of their own. In fact, it is precisely this situation – especially in the protein industry – that prompted Multivac to enhance its integration capability.
“As well as supplying packaging lines that are almost entirely made up of Multivac modules, we also are happy to integrate third party products of a customers choosing, and have built a successful OEM partnership structure that facilitates this process.”