Gen3 innovation goes modular

Jack Mans, Plant Operations Editor

January 29, 2014

8 Min Read
Gen3 innovation goes modular

Harro Höfliger is a company that has survived and thrived by constantly adapting to the marketplace through a combination of skill and the sheer will to turn on a dime...or a pfennig, if you prefer. When economic and geopolitical changes resulting from the end of the Cold War threatened its very existence as a leading producer of standard packaging machinery, the company turned its business model 180 degrees. It now produces some of the most specialized machines in the world. And while technology companies around the world have sacrificed engineering head count to please financial analysts, this company has accelerated its investment in engineering. In fact, 35 percent of its employees in the development center are mechanical and electrical engineers.

Motion and logic on Gen3 machines are integrated in one program, running on one processor, in a standardized language.

Harro Höfliger is a world-leading designer and manufacturer of wound dressing and transdermal medical patch machines. In addition, the company has also become adept at the critical tasks of dosing everything from powders to gels, of encapsulating three-dimensional objects such as eye cups and pads onto a range of substrates, and integrating assembly, testing and packaging systems into production machinery for everything from parenterals to inhalers to complete drug delivery kits. Since the 1980s, the company has held core competencies in pouching, cartoning, turnkey lines and blister-forming fundamentals.

A major contributor to Harro Höfliger's success is its commitment to modular machinery design with all of its strategic advantages. The company interprets customer specifications intuitively, integrating requirements into clever modules of functionality on three conceptual planes: control; supply; and production. Elau has been an essential part of all of these developments. In fact, Harro Höfliger sees Elau not as a supplier, but as a vital development partner in the application of automation technology. This relationship, stretching back a decade to the first continuous transdermal patch machines, has contributed a modular approach to automation software that enables Harro Höfliger's modular mechanical design.

"We have standardized on Elau systems for all of our machines, and they supply about ninety-five percent of our servo drives," says Volker Scheub, Harro H?fliger's electrical and electronics division manager. "Other companies are serving a wide range of markets, but Elau has focused on packaging machines, and we feel that their systems are the best available for these applications. And they give us excellent support."

In 1998, Elau introduced its PacDrive™ system, which replaces mechanical drive trains and conventional PLCs with a fully integrated automation controller, digital servo drives, intelligent motors and human machine interfaces (HMIs). It integrates motion, logic, programmable limit switches, temperature control and even robotic kinematics in software. There are no performance-degrading add-on hardware modules, backplanes or software handshaking. Centralized control assures the fastest-possible response times and highest servo axis counts. With this system, machine modules don't require their own control hardware. Modularity is achieved by activating the appropriate software modules in the centralized, Pentium-based controller.

The TopLoader T2060 vertical cartoner is characterized by its exceptional flexibility and modularity.

The PacDrive family of controllers covers a wide range of performance, from the basic C400, with its 16 servos and logic, to the extremely powerful automation controller, the C600, which incorporates 99 servos and logic. When you want to run control and HMI on the same platform, the P600 includes 22 servos, logic and a PC. "We started with Elau's previous generation systems, but now we're using the C600 and P600 controllers," says Scheub. "Elau integrated motion and control into one processor with one language to program both tasks, and it has motion libraries ready to use, which is a big advantage. Also, Elau brought this to the market very early, so we could put it on our equipment."

The Elau automation system integrates all control applications in an IEC 61131-3-compliant program on one processor. This facilitates fast system response, well-structured software development and simplified validation, commissioning and service. For example, applications performed by separate PLC and motion control hardware typically spend 30 percent of the code interfacing the two controllers. Utilizing Elau software libraries, a properly implemented IEC 61131-3 program can perform the same motions in 200 lines of code that would require 800 lines of ladder logic. And, unlike conventional PLCs, PacDrive can readily open, read, analyze and execute files, allowing it to dynamically interact with management systems such as MES.

A modular design enables functional modules to be moved in and out of the machine and connected to the main control system easily and quickly.

Complementing the system solution, Elau offers a range of HMI panels. Embedded panels provide economical and self-contained functionality for use with PacDrive C-series automation systems. PC panels provide full Windows™ CE and XP functionality, so no separate PC is required. Graphic panels are for use with PacDrive P-series automation, which integrate PC-based HMI functionality with control. All of these HMIs incorporate diagnostic capabilities, including the generation of error messages when problems arise, so technicians can easily diagnose and correct problems. Machines also are equipped with modems that enable Harro Höfliger technicians to look at machines from their home office to make corrections and even change machine functions.

This ability to make changes can present problems, says Scheub. "Eighty percent of our machines are in the pharmaceutical industry, and it can be risky to make remote changes, because machines are documented by FDA, and an undocumented change could cause problems. To prevent this problem, a new provision from Elau allows companies to lock operating parameters so they cannot be changed without permission."

Modularity is a recurring theme at Harro Höfliger, because this culture of modular thinking translates to exceptional speed to market for specialized machines. Base module designs are adapted to the characteristics of new materials. Using Elau's servo technology, Harro Höfliger engineers may integrate web infeed modules of four, five, six or more materials into a process. Product changes on the multifunctional machine may involve switching from infeed modules of one, two and four, to the materials coming from infeeds one, five and six. Servo-driven production units, such as rotary die stations, are programmable for a wide range of lengths and speeds. A flying knife for patches, for example, may need to accommodate cutoff lengths from 3 to 50 cm. The combination of Elau software and Harro Höfliger engineering allows this flexibility with minimal changeparts, mostly by setting new parameters at the HMI.

Variable servo engineering combined with electronic machine control creates the ideal prerequisites for the manufacture of phamaceutical-compliant wound dressing and healling patches on PMK machines.

This provides the ultimate in flexibility. Instead of changing recipes at the end of a run, each cycle can be a separate recipe.

You can get infinite variability from a continuously operating process. Thus, different package formats can run side by side. You can fill to order, in sequence. You can run package promotions, such as a dispenser and refill, in-line.

This built-in flexibility is important to end users because they can maximize machinery utilization through frequent format changes only if low-volume runs are cost-efficient. It's important to Harro Höfliger's business model because it is faster and more productive to build specialized functions if you can start with standardized, modular mechanical and software building blocks.

More information is available:
Modular control system: Elau, 847/490-4270.

Pharmaceutical machinery: Harro Höfliger, 215/345-4994.

The TopLoader T 2060 - Meeting the challenges of new packaging technologies

The TopLoader T 2060 vertical cartoner, which was jointly developed by Uhlmann and Harro Höfliger, is a perfect example of modular philosophy. Characterized by its exceptional flexibility and modularity, the flexible cartoner's modular structure gives the user absolute flexibility in choosing the kind and number of products to be packed. The TopLoader's modular control software and hardware structure enable the machine's mechanical modularity, resulting in a true Gen3 design. Each software module integrates logic, motion control and automation functionalities pertaining to the target mechanical module.The development of this machine began when Uhlmann and Harro Höfliger met with representatives from several pharmaceutical companies to discuss trends and look into the future of the pharmaceutical market. The machine manufacturers challenged their best people to develop a machine, the likes of which had never been seen before. The goal was to come up with a system that could tackle the variety of new marketing-influenced packaging these companies were presenting. These include therapy-related pharmaceutical packaging, treatment-specific combi-packages, packages comprised of bottles, swabs, syringes, needles and brochures, sample packages and many more. All of these packages required almost unlimited flexibility for a fast change between designs and dimensions of the packaging units.The TopLoader T 2060 cartoning machine meets all of the pharmaceutical requirements: uncompromising design; short changeover times; handling; system variety; suitability for process networking; and high efficiency. A glance is enough to see what is different: You can set up your individual TopLoader module-by-module to meet today's packaging tasks, and if the requirements are different tomorrow, the machine can be reconfigured just as quickly as your process changes. The T 2060 grows, shrinks, becomes longer, or more versatile, just as you need it. And this is with or without supporting feeding units, standalone or linked to thermoformers and end-of-line packers. To think that the smallest carton to be processed fits into the largest carton 150 times.

About the Author(s)

Jack Mans

Plant Operations Editor

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