Modular machine automation

Jack Mans, Plant Operations Editor

March 11, 2015

9 Min Read
Modular machine automation

A steady shift from traditional can, bottle and carton packaging to standup pouch containers has been taking place on the shelves of the local grocery store for more than a decade. Drinks, food and nonfood items packaged in attractively printed, standup pouches are becoming commonplace rather than the exception. KHS Flexible Packaging, an international manufacturer of filling and packaging systems for the beverage, food, and nonfood industries, is a leader in the standup pouch trend, with the development of its servo-driven Innopouch K-Series pouching machine with electronically integrated pneumatics.

Filling a demand for versatile and easy-to-configure packaging machinery, KHS developed a modular, flexible pouching machine with fast setup and changeover times and the ability to quickly expand its functionality as needed. The company achieved these goals using a versatile, integrated motor and drive platform, pneumatics and a control package from drive and control specialist Bosch Rexroth Corp. (

The Innopouch K-Series form/fill/seal machine can process pouches from traditional film roll stock or by using premade pouches. With four different models in the series, each machine is highly flexible due to the use of leading-edge servo and pneumatic control technology. The machines can process fin-seal and standup pouches ranging in size from 80 x 80 to 350 x 360-mm wide. Pouches are handled by a linear, double-gripper system, and the machine is configurable with multiple tandem-filling stations. In addition, with its open, hygienic design, each model is simple and easy to clean using a low-pressure washer, KHS says.

Depending on the desired functionality, an Innopouch K-Series may use from eight to 16 axes of motion per machine, for actions such as forming seals, indexing pouch material, cutting and opening the pouches, gripping, pouch puckering, top sealing and pouch pickoff. With the Rexroth servo and pneumatic system, KHS was able to build in better flexibility and the ability to make changes on the fly, link functions together and provide quicker setup and reduced changeover time. Previously, it might take two to four hours to change from one pouch size to another. With the Rexroth components, the same task now takes only seconds.

Modularity and performance

An early adopter of servo technology, KHS turned to Bosch Rexroth for the latest in servo technology to fulfill the modularity needed for the new machine; Rexroth's IndraDrive Mi integrated servo motor and drive combination that is controlled by a high-performance Rexroth PPC-R controller with built-in motion, logic and robotic capability.

“The benefit to using a servo platform that is modular in itself is that it allows us to put that modularity throughout the machine without sacrificing performance,” explains Randy Uebler, general manager of KHS Bartelt. “Rexroth's IndraDrive Mi mimics a lot of the design features we wanted to put in the Innopouch K. The combined motor and drive makes it very easy to configure our pouch machine in different ways.”

The Rexroth IndraDrive Mi combines a traditional servo motor and drive amplifier into a compact, but highly functional drive unit. This unique design reduces the size by more than 50 percent compared to traditional servo drives consisting of a separate motor and converter. As a result, this drastically cuts down the size of the control cabinet, making it easier to expand functionality.

A notable feature that appealed to KHS is the IndraDrive Mi's innovative cabling design, which significantly reduces the need for cable connections. Only a single combination cable containing both power and communication is needed, so the drives are easy to connect without a lot of wiring. “This daisy-chain approach to wiring helps with the modular aspect we wanted, as well as adding to the clean design of the machine,” says Uebler. “With the IndraDrive Mi, we were able to reduce our wiring needs by about 30 percent. And, we can add features down the road without making drastic changes to the wiring. If a customer wants us to add a new module to the machine, the daisy-chain platform makes it very easy to do. The motors also provide localized I/O, which simplifies the setup.”

Pneumatics bridge the gap

Uebler says Rexroth pneumatics play a vital role with the Innopouch K. Air control is critical for accurate positioning of the pouches, so KHS is using a Rexroth modular HF03-LG pneumatic-valve manifold-system that provides high flow in a compact package with low power consumption. “The pneumatics really helped us bridge the gap to modularity,” says Uebler. “Instead of valves mounted all over the machine, we have one valve bank that can distribute air throughout, which makes it cleaner, reduces wiring and is expandable, so we can add valves if we want a bigger machine. We chose Rexroth because they offered a more comprehensive line and a different style of valves with better tech support.”

An additional benefit for KHS was a reduction in noise. “Worldwide legislation involves varying guidelines regarding the noise decibel level,” says Uebler, “We found we could minimize noise using Rexroth pneumatics. And, by working with one supplier for both servos and pneumatics, there is no conflict of competing technologies.” The modularity KHS was able to achieve using Rexroth technology reflects a commitment from both companies to developing innovative, cutting-edge processes and systems. As a result, the standup pouch has become a standard packaging option.

As a leading global supplier of filling and packaging equipment for the beverage, food and non-food industries, the KHS Group has tried to remain true to its philosophy of remaining young, while striving for innovation and high-class workmanship. With more than 1,300 patents, KHS offers packaging systems of the highest quality and maximum efficiency. From its inception in the 1800s, the company has been an industry leader and innovator. In more recent times, Bosch Rexroth, a global machine and factory automation supplier, has become a valued automation partner, teaming up with KHS to develop high-tech, modern machinery. More than 10 years ago, KHS turned to Rexroth to help develop its packaging machinery.

Collaborative mindset

“We have many mutual customers, and the Rexroth name is well known among them, so they know our machines have the best available technology on the market,” explains Uebler. “Rexroth has never let us down in terms of support, training, personnel, etc. Whenever we need something, they're always able to produce it for us in terms of hardware, software and, especially, people. Whether it's on the phone or in person, they are always ready to help,” he says.

Uebler adds that Rexroth's advanced technical support and software-programming expertise provides a huge advantage to go with their collaborative mindset. “We can go to them with ideas and collaborate to overcome limits of commercially available technology,” he says. “They seem genuinely interested in things that we want to accomplish.”

KHS and Rexroth also have developed a co-marketing partnership that pays dividends for both companies. In addition to promotional help, Rexroth provides support and resources to help the KHS sales team understand new automation technology, so they are equipped to work with their tech-savvy customers. “A lot of customers want to make sure that what they're buying is the best available equipment on the market,” says Uebler. “Our customers are very knowledgeable, so Rexroth helps our sales team become fully versed on the newest technology.”

Rexroth provides a clear-cut advantage to KHS on inside knowledge of new developments. KHS has goals and ideas of what they may want to accomplish, but often stretches the limit on existing technology. Rexroth helps KHS take full advantage on what's available. “When we get an idea of what we want to do, having an expert in the field, like Rexroth, is extremely beneficial. Whether its servo, pneumatics or other technology, its experts may recommend something different than what we were thinking, and they can offer alternatives that may work better,” explains Uebler.

In return, KHS contributes to product development on the Bosch Rexroth side. When Rexroth is offering something new that KHS could use in an application, the packaging company provides practical, real-life experience and testing to determine if the design is feasible. KHS and Bosch Rexroth have established a partnership that has been successful for more than a decade. Because of the success they've experienced, the companies are certain to continue their collaboration. As each organization continues to be innovative and develop new products and technologies, this mutually beneficial relationship will continue to flourish.

More information is available:

Bosch Rexroth Corp., 847/645-3600.

About the Author(s)

Jack Mans

Plant Operations Editor

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