Packing up the house - packaging systems in the construction industry
Adrian Meacham, Managing Director of Lingl UK, equipment provider for the field of ceramics, based in Congleton, outlines the factors that affect the choice of pack designs and packaging systems used in the construction industry.
There are many considerations when designing a modern packaging line, both from a customer and supplier perspective. Here is a snapshot of the key points of a modern clay brick packaging machine highlighting some of the basic design concepts and considerations and giving an example of the tools that are available to the modern designer in achieving the best possible outcome for both the machine supplier and end user.
For the layout and machine concept, the brick type and required packaging format (transport pack) will be supplied at the initial project stage to enable the designer to understand their shape, dimensions and weight, allowing the correct handling equipment to be selected.
Many solutions are available to the designer. One of the key choices at an early stage is designing bespoke handling grippers or whether the use of third party robots should be implemented.
Robots are industry proven, robust and extremely efficient. They are also extremely versatile for changes in operation via alternate tooling and programming. Inhouse maintenance is possible with the aid of specialist training courses, however annual or cycle time specific maintenance agreements with third party companies is often the favoured route with end users. The weight limitations of robots can be an issue, however, this has improved in recent years, with many manufacturers offering units in excess of 600kg.
Layout, guarding and access
Manpower is also a key consideration in any project. The payback in terms of a reduction in personnel is a key driver in an investment plan. However, even the most advanced machines still require an element of human interface, especially in terms of maintenance.
Installing a high-tech machine in a previously high labour dependant operation can also require a re-evaluation of the existing maintenance staff and their training requirements.
It is also critical at the early stages that customers are fully involved with the layout and design concepts, for example, although raising a machine off the floor gives a higher initial investment cost, the ease of maintenance and cleaning will ensure the machine is kept running at its optimum efficiency for the duration of its life.
Guarding and zoning is another area that requires thought and discussion with the end users at an early stage. If the safety zones of the machine are pre-planned and discussed in detail, the operation and usability of the machine can be greatly improved. Take a typical infeed/outfeed machine – it could be said that the overall efficiency could be planned at 80%, however, poor planning of safety zones and lack of storage buffers between the two halves of the machine could lead to each part being too interdependent, resulting in one stoppage immediately affecting another part of the machine, therefore the initial 80% planned efficiency could result in the following – 80% at Infeed x 80% at Outfeed = 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.64. Connected = 64% overall efficiency.
Good zoning, storage buffers and general sound design practices can ensure that the planned efficiency is realised.
The virtual world
For many years machine designers have employed computer aided design (CAD), initially 2D and, over the last few years, 3D systems. This gives the designer and the machine builder the advantage of visualising pack concepts and checking for design errors or limitations before the machine goes to manufacture.
3D visualisation is also a key tool for any machine supplier in providing an initial concept to the customer at the early stages of a project. The machine supplier can normally produce a detailed 3D image of the machine and its surroundings and create a simulation.
The latest tool available to designers is ‘virtual commissioning’. Commissioning a new machine is costly both in terms of personnel costs and possible downtime. This is especially true when new machines are installed into existing production facilities during a shutdown. Any possible way of reducing this time is a clear advantage to both the machine supplier and the end-user.
The first stage in virtual commissioning is the creation of a Kinematic model from the existing 3D design data geometry. Following the creation of the Kinematics simulation, behaviour simulation software is programmed to interface between the visualisation and the real control device (PLC), thus allowing the software engineer to create and test his PLC software in a virtual environment.
The application of simulation models is particularly useful in the design of brick packaging machines, and the possibility to automatically blend the bricks in the final transport pack gives a clear advantage to the customer. If automatic blending is not achieved in the packaging machine, the builder is required to build a wall from at least three open packs to ensure the natural colour variations do not occur in a specific area and are rather mixed within a particular wall. Virtual commissioning gives the designer the ability to simulate the flow of bricks from the input end of the machine through to the final transport pack.
It is critical to every successful project that a formal operator and maintenance training scheme is put into effect. In addition, the implementation of a planned preventative maintenance scheme is an essential ingredient to long term efficiency of any machine. This can be done by either installing an in-house regime or by contracting to a service provider either the original equipment manufacturer or a dedicated service provider. The machine should be delivered with detailed technical documentation including maintenance and lubrication instructions, this is a pre-requisite of the CE regulations. Also, where possible install a modem connection to enable the service provider/original equipment manufacturer to dial in and give online diagnosis and support ensuring any stoppage is resolved in the minimum amount of time. And most importantly, choose the right supplier.