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Feeling the pressure of too much container damage on problematic production lines? There may be a unique solution to help you isolate and pinpoint the root causes. Technology originally intended for prosthetic applications and to measure golf grips has been redirected toward brewers and other packagers to help them get a better grasp of line pressure problems and, as a result, develop solutions to reduce waste and increase overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
The technology is the Quantifeel Drone from Smart Skin Technologies, which was founded by inventor and CEO Kumaran Thillainadarajah in 2009. The development came out of research done circa 2008 at the University of New Brunswick (Canada) where Thillainadarajah credits the university chair of nanotechnology and company co-founder Felipe Chibante, PhD. The company focused on using nano materials to create a strong, tougher skin material for prosthetics.
"We soon realized that prosthetics weren't the right market for us-we needed to find other applications and uses for this technology," he says.
Because of his background in computer engineering, Thillainadarajah's interest was more in the material's electrical properties than its mechanical properties: "This novel material had these amazing electrical properties that allowed it to be used as a sensor. We messed around a lot in the lab and by the end of the project we had a very interesting material that could be used in so many applications its utility was both a blessing and a curse."
To help him narrow down the options, Thillainadarajah connected with Wayd McNally, whose extensive background in sensor technology led him to join the company in mid- 2013 as vice president, packaging technologies.
PD: What is current state-of-the-art for the technology?
McNally: The current model is a 12-oz can shape with pressure sensing via more than 500-plus individual built-in sensor points with magnetometer and accelerometers that provide motion sensing, can rotation angle, speed and tilt angle. Every parameter is sampled 30 times a second in real time. We developed our own Bluetooth technology to provide the device with an unprecedented in-plant range of 200 feet.
We developed our sensor Drone based on bottle and can specifications so that a few different size sensor systems will accommodate a large range of container sizes and formats. We can customize the system to design specifications if the customer wants to do that. At this point, customers are more interested in solving 80 percent of their problems with the current model and then down the road go to a customized device to solve the other 20 percent.
Applications range from glass bottles to metal beer and aerosol cans to PET and thinned-walled plastic containers and even boxboard packaging.
A company recently told me that in focus group tests for package development they have people feel the prototype packaging to gain feedback. A pressure tool that mimics the actual container would provide data that could translate into design requirements.
What does your company provide and what options are available?
McNally: There are only three components: There's the sensor Drone itself, a laptop PC with high-speed processor bundled with our proprietary software and the Bluetooth dongle that allows the connection to the Drone.
We sell the hardware so the customer owns that and there's a yearly licensing fee for the use of the software, which includes updates. We offer a maintenance contract and calibration services within that contract; we developed our own calibration technology so that all 500-plus sensors read exactly the same.
Tell us about the commercial introduction for the technology.
McNally: With a working prototype, we connected with a large brand owner that provided access to its 40 packaging lines in the United States. We worked closely with their line optimization groups, engineering groups and line personnel in making adjustments to aim to reduce the amount of waste for non-returnable glass bottles. We went through a dozen different prototype iterations and about two dozen software changes to allow the technology to work as they wanted. After we evaluated the results, damage was reduced by almost 50 percent as determined by the amount of broken bottles. That success led to the commercial debut of the Quantifeel Drone technology (see www.packagingdigest.com/quantifeel) at Drinktec, Munich, Germany, in September 2013.
What led to that drastic reduction?
McNally: We found that line pressures at 60 to 65 psi were too high. Reducing that to near 30 psi was the sweet spot where the internal burst pressure increased so the bottles were not breaking as quickly or as much. The customer was able to maintain the same amount of bottles through the filler, but reduced the amount of pressure by changing the line velocities.
The customer stands behind the data and is planning to implement this technology across all U.S. plants and plans to impose those guidelines on their machinery OEMs. They're using the tech for cans now as well.
How was this assessment done before?
McNally: In many plants, you can see a lot of damage and broken bottles. What's been done in the past is to "band-aid" the issue by adding a waste bin for damaged product or change machinery or vendors. They have not looked to solve the problem because there's been no technology available before that can measure it.
We're providing a very simple tool at a fraction of the cost of capital expenditure equipment that will enable our customers to make bad equipment good, old equipment better and new equipment commissions faster. When you look at all the different parameters that feed into OEE, we can address every one of them.
Where is the Drone inserted into a line and how are tests run?
McNally: Generally we insert it right at the depalletizer. It can go anywhere on a line except into a pasteurizer due to the high heat.
For a test, personnel will map out the packaging line and break it into zones or sections as a primary step. They place the Drone into the packaging line, marking locations for future reference. Live data provides instant feedback that is translated into quantifiable data. Line control velocity, as an example, can be adjusted to reduce pressure and maintain smooth laminar flow pre- and post-filler. This maintains the optimum production curve and prevents stops due to downed bottles, bridging and failure and has a positive effect on OEE and Machine Efficiency (ME).
Where is this technology headed?
McNally: The next iteration of the Drone may include some other ways to measure these data parameters. For scuffing and abrasions in cans and bottles for example, we may be able to provide the location of these particular instances. We're developing location-based technology that will sense where the Drone is on the line and from that we'll be able to provide line speed as an additional parameter. And we'll be able to map the location that would tell them exactly that there's a problem. Another approach will allow us to measure labeling pressure and work in pasteurization systems.
Moving forward we want to get engaged with OEMs. We want to become part of the development road map for these equipment companies so that our system becomes standard protocol and the weekly determination of line optimization.
What's been the reception?
Thillainadarajah: From my perspective it has been beyond my expectations. Every single customer immediately understands the need for our product, understands the value for our product and they're eager to use it.
McNally: We launched it in September and we're already selling hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of product with the biggest brand owners, the biggest equipment companies, the biggest container manufacturers in the world on a nonexclusive basis. That really shows that we have something of value.
Smart Skin Technologies, 902-314-3114