A UK manufacturer of vertical form-fill-seal (VFFS) equipment has boosted machine speeds by 30% and ramped up efficiencies thanks to the latest drives and controls technologies. And now the company is about to launch a new continuous -motion range.
Nottinghamshire-based Line Equipment builds a range of equipment from horizontal FFS to volumetric dosing, flow wrappers and auxiliary systems. But the bulk of the 37 machines it constructed and sold last year, says managing director John Blashkiw, were VFFS bagging machines used by leading food brands.
In addition, Line Equipment carried out ten machine upgrades during 2014, retrofitting the latest control systems. For all of these machines, the company standardised on Omron control equipment. With a relationship that goes back ten years Omron is Line Equipment’s sole supplier of servo drives, PLCs and other control equipment.
‘’Sometimes customers ask us for the other brands’ control systems, and we have to say: ’Sorry, we only use Omron,’’’ says Blashkiw. ‘’The programme is bullet-proof; it ticks all the boxes in terms of efficiency, speed, high reliability and low maintenance.’’ He explains: ‘’The majority of our sales are into the food industry, packing everything from carrots and frozen veg to sweets spices or crisps. Customers will often ask about speeds before they ask about the cost. Over the past three years or so, with our all-servo machines, throughput has risen dramatically from 70 bags per minute (bpm) to 100bpm.’’
That leap in speed came largely thanks to the upgrade some 18 months ago from Omron’s CJ1 PLC to the faster, next-generation CP2 he adds.
Line efficiencies have also benefitted. ‘’We’ve had no problems since we’ve been using Omron components,’’ says Blashkiw. ‘’When we install a system, it will generally have to hit a least 98% efficiency. That’s pretty much the industry standard now.’’
Energy savings are another of the incentives for a move to the latest servo drives by Line Equipment. ‘’If you look at the energy requirements of a pneumatic machine, the jaw closing mechanism on the VFFS machine which is just one part of the cycle, needs 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of compressed air,’’ Blashkiw says. ‘’That’s a compressor continuously working away in the background.’’
The actual savings made will depend on the specifics of an installation, Blashkiw explains. The same is true for payback times. He adds that reliability is another key factor. ‘’Using the Omron’s control system, even on the coldest winter’s morning you’ve got an almost 100% guarantee that the equipment will start up.’’
As well as the PLC, G5 servo drive and SmartStep servo drives, Line Equipment integrates Omron’s NS8 human machine interface (HMI). ‘’As well as the speed, it reports the diagnostics and seven day production tables so you can see the number of filled and empty packs. It’s pretty in-depth,’’ says Blashkiw. ‘’Integrating heating controls into the HMI tidies up the design so that we don’t have to fit secondary sets of controls.’’
The partnership with Omron also allows Line Equipment customers to feel in control of their own equipment. ‘’The fact that we are using an off-the-shelf PLC and HMI is a selling tool for us,’’ says Blashkiw. ‘’The customers does not have to come back through us. It’s a quick fix in the event of a breakdown, for example.’’
Blashkiw explains that Omron’s drives and controls allow Line Equipment to offer systems which are low-cost as well as reliable. Nor is it only the electronics which are reliable. ‘’Omron’s backup and support is second-to-none,’’ he enthuses.
Now Omron is supporting Line Equipment in the development of its next generation of VFFS machines. ‘’We’re well on the way to developing our first continuous-motion machines, which will also use Omron controls,’’ Blashkiw says. ‘’With the support of our supplier, we hope to have a machine ready to show at the PPMA Show in September this year.’’