Motion control in packaging was a revolutionary technology when it first emerged. These systems enable robotic tools to adapt to new conditions, letting manufacturers package multiple products or varying configurations with the same machine. Now, as packaging needs continue to rise and grow increasingly varied, new technologies are taking motion control further.

    Competing in a fast-paced industry means capitalizing on such innovations. Here are a few of the most significant advances in motion control technology packaging plants should know about.

    Flexible Programming

    Motion control in packaging is supposed to make automation more flexible, so heavily manual, time-consuming tasks like reprogramming limit its potential in many cases. Flexible, low-code programming tools can assuage this concern.

    In a conventional packaging automation system, you must write new code for the machine to adjust to a new workflow or package size. Even if you only have to do that once, then switch between codes, that can be a time-consuming process. More than half of surveyed organizations agree robotic systems take more time to support than other IT systems, so shortening these manual workflows is crucial.

    Newer motion control systems offer low-code programming. They can run different code on the same controller, letting them reuse existing code. This reuse means you only have to change or insert a few new lines of programming to reprogram the machine instead of writing a new program from scratch.

    Modular Hardware

    Packaging automation hardware is taking a similar path toward modularity. Modular robotic systems enable you to run multiple motion control rigs on a single large machine. As a result, you can automate an entire packaging line while only programming one robot, significantly reducing implementation and adjustment time.

    Similarly, more motion control robots today feature interchangeable parts. This modularity lets a single machine meet multiple packaging needs, even if those requirements are more than just a matter of size or shape. It also enables you to tailor robotic solutions to your specific needs and adjust them to changing conditions as you adopt new packaging configurations.

    Human-Machine Interfaces

    Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) are another important innovation for motion control in packaging. Without an HMI, IT teams must write a robot’s programming on a separate device, then plug it into the machine to install it. HMIs let you code the motion control program on the machine itself, saving time and complexity.

    Previously, HMIs came as optional add-ons to existing motion control systems, requiring more investment and implementation complexity to integrate. Considering that 42% of Industry 4.0 professionals cite large investments and uncertain ROIs as their customers’ leading challenge, that made these technologies unviable for many facilities.

    Now, more motion control robots are coming with built-in HMIs. As this becomes the standard, more facilities will be able to capitalize on these time-saving, user-friendly features.

    Predictive Maintenance

    Some broader manufacturing trends have significant consequences for packaging motion control systems, too. Predictive maintenance solutions are a prime example. These systems use artificial intelligence (AI) to determine when a machine is likely to fail in the future, alerting workers to fix it before breakdowns occur.

    Because AI outperforms humans at spotting correlations in data, predictive maintenance is more effective than technicians at predicting these failures. Consequently, facilities that employ it can achieve higher uptime and lower maintenance costs, improving the ROIs of their motion control systems.

    Motion control robots, by nature, involve many moving parts, making them prone to breakdowns over time. By employing predictive maintenance, you can avoid those breakdowns, ensuring these critical machines deliver peak performance for longer.

    Consolidated Development Environments

    Most facilities don’t use a single packaging automation system, leaving them with multiple machines to program and configure. Similarly, each system contains several aspects that need development, from drivers to motion control programs to safety stops. Programming each of these separately takes time, but newer platforms offer a single, consolidated development environment.

    Cloud computing technologies and modular systems lay the groundwork for all-in-one platforms where you can program every machine in your facility from one point of access. As a result, it’s far easier and faster to roll out updates or implement new motion control systems. Employees must only familiarize themselves with one platform, streamlining the onboarding process.

    Distributed Control Systems

    Decentralized architecture is another important innovation for motion control in packaging lines. Conventional control systems host all the servo drives in the control cabinet with the power supply and motion controller. More recent advances enable more distributed systems, where the drives sit next to the servo motors, away from the centralized control cabinet.

    This distributed control system (DCS) architecture provides more flexibility. Because there are fewer cables coming from the control cabinet, you can clear up more space on the facility floor and place servo motors in more configurations. Similarly, the control cabinet itself can be smaller and cost less to cool and maintain.

    Compact Form Factors

    As motion control technology advances, it’s also getting more compact. Servos, drives, control systems and more are getting smaller, helping you save factory space to improve airflow for cooling or implement other systems. Similarly, smaller form factors can take full advantage of DCS architecture, enabling a far wider range of orientations for different workflows.

    More compact components enable manufacturers to utilize automatic filling and packaging solutions, providing multiple features in one system. Additionally, machines have data storage with an expandable memory, allowing manufacturers to store more recipes for mixtures. This consolidation helps drive down costs and streamline automation in packaging lines.

    New Connectivity Standards

    New connectivity technologies can improve motion control in packaging, too. Adjusting motion control systems, especially in a multi-robot facility or distributed architecture, requires inter-device connectivity. New network standards like 5G and Wi-Fi 6 improve this connectivity.

    5G networks are up to 100 times faster than previous technologies and offer near-zero latency. As a result, running motion control systems on these networks ensures they respond to incoming changes faster and multiple systems can work as a cohesive unit without lag.

    5G and Wi-Fi 6 also offer far more bandwidth than their predecessors, hosting more devices on a single network. That will enable packaging facilities to implement more motion control systems to maximize their automation. Increased automation will boost throughput and mitigate labor shortages.

    Motion Control in Packaging Is Reaching New Heights

    Motion control has become an essential part of packaging automation. Consequently, advances in this technology have far-reaching implications for packaging facilities as a whole.

    These eight innovations highlight how motion control technology is changing for the better. Manufacturers that capitalize on these changes early could see significant improvements as a result, especially as demands and time constraints rise.

    Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.