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PC-based control is an
January 29, 2014
6 Min Read
Major consumer-product manufacturers regularly tie in instant-win promotions with their products to boost excitement around the products and to strengthen brand loyalty. Whether the prize is a new car or a free bottle of soda, rapid customization, contest security and tight accuracy to ensure that prizes are properly awarded are critical to the success of prize-driven marketing campaigns.
The last thing a manufacturer wants to do is earn bad press for accidentally awarding two grand prizes, when they only budgeted for one, or to experience potential cases of internal fraud, where a company employee deliberately rigs a contest so friends or relatives win. In order to ensure that these potential powder-keg concerns never explode for its customers, Imaje USA (www.imaje.com) has developed a secure, PC-based printing system designed especially for this emerging promotions package-printing market.
Imaje is a dominant player in the package-printing industry, manufacturing equipment that handles rapidly changing or very specific package information, such as expiration dates, batch numbers, manufacturing locations, shipping labels and bar codes. In order to stay ahead in this demanding and rapidly evolving market, Imaje needs to react quickly to customer needs, usually with just a couple of months of leadtime, to deliver a final, customized product. Despite tight deadlines, Imaje's controls products need to deliver the high speed and accuracy the company's printing systems are known for.
Damon Schingeck, technical manager at Imaje USA, says, “Compared with most other package-printing niches, the promotions market is relatively new, and we made it a priority to develop a system very quickly after identifying the market as a lucrative opportunity.”
In autumn 2004, Imaje had a specific customer order for a promotions-printing application. The search was on to identify a secure and highly flexible system that could successfully manage instant-win contest data and print over consumer-goods packaging to properly award the prizes. After an initial broad search for PLC and PC suppliers via an online-engineering resource, Globalspec (www.globalspec.com), Schingeck identified PC controls from Beckhoff Automation, LLC (www.beckhoff.com) as the most promising match for the promotions-printer requirements.
With the system requirements appearing to have been met, Imaje launched into discussions with Beckhoff sales and support on how to best create a PC-based controls architecture for the very first time. In just three months—October to December 2004—Imaje went from the initial-design stages to the first installation of a finished pilot system. This was accomplished with an Imaje team of four. “Starting from zero prior experience with industrial PCs to finished product was a fairly seamless process,” Schingeck says. “The integration of the coding and protocols into the PC-based system was straightforward. After a few days of onsite, TwinCAT training from a Beckhoff support engineer, we were off and running.”
The project yielded the new podium-style system, now called the Imaje ProControl-I™. The ProControl-I system is highly adaptable to a wide range of packages, including cartons and bottles, as well as plastic containers and pouches. The system can support multiple printers running simultaneously. The Imaje printers utilize continuous ink-jet printing, which involves electrostatically charging droplets of ink and then deflecting the drops onto the packages. The printhead never directly touches the product.
For the controls, Imaje selected the Beckhoff CP6502 built-in panel PC, which serves as both the hardware human/machine interface and controller in a single unit. It has an integrated, 15-in. thin-film transistor display screen and a 2.4-GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor. The panel PC runs Beckhoff's TwinCAT PLC software as the control platform. This software features all the programming languages of the global standard, IEC 61131-3, and has a powerful, 32-bit development environment for programs with code size and data regions that exceed the capacities of conventional PLC systems. The TwinCAT PLC integrates four multitasking PLCs, each with four tasks in each PLC run-time system. Development and run-time systems are handled on one PC or via remote programming over transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP).
“The Beckhoff panel PC with TwinCAT allowed us to create a powerful, yet compact system, since it serves as both our display and our controller. The extremely small footprint has become a key selling feature for the ProControl-I,” Schingeck says. In addition, the design allows for the entire control system, including I/O connections, to be contained in the same housing as the display.
The ProControl-I system handles packages moving through conveyor systems. Once the packages are detected by a photoeye and an encoder, the ProControl-I downloads a specific code from a secure database, and uses the Imaje printers to mark each product. The system can download and assign prints for up to 22 products/sec. Via record cancellation after downloading and print-verification monitoring, these promotional messages are nonrepeatable, and the system is designed to be tamper-evident and error-free. A BK9000 I/O bus coupler is used to network the Beckhoff bus-terminal I/O used in the system over secured Ethernet TCP/IP. Ethernet was chosen as the fieldbus because of its connectivity to the promotions databases and for expandability into future designs.
The significantly short length of development time between idea and finished system certainly pleased Schingeck. “It isn't typical for a market segment that Imaje serves to emerge as quickly as the promotions market has,” he says. “Everything we do typically has short leadtime requirements, but the ProControl-I was on a different level. We usually have much more time to adapt to the other market segments. Despite all this, there were few, if any, obstacles in our sprint to the design finish line with the help of open and flexible PC-based controls and software.”
System orders for the ProControl-I show no sign of slowing as manufacturers' marketing budgets continue to shift toward point-of-purchase marketing, which lends itself well to instant-win promotions. By keeping its supply warehouse stocked with Beckhoff controls components, Imaje is now well positioned to keep up with this growing demand.
“Nobody knows exactly how big the promotions market will grow in the immediate future,” Schingeck says. “But with our rapid design and smooth application of secure PC-based controls from Beckhoff, we have been able to effectively meet the demand of the customers in this market segment, as of today. With the early success that we've had, Imaje has been able to assert the ProControl-I as the industry standard in this segment of the package-printing market.”
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