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Simple is better

In an increasingly global market, food processors packaging their products in bags, pouches and other flexible packages for fresh and frozen vegetables, quick-frozen boneless poultry, rice, beans, and other dried foods, voiced a desire for an affordable and reliable, easy-to-operate and maintain, automated, high-speed case-packing system. BluePrint Automation, Inc., (www.blueprintautomation.com), which designs and produces a wide array of automated case-packing equipment, teamed with Sew-Eurodrive USA (www.seweurodrive.com), a company devoted to drive systems design and production, to address this need of the food industry.

The challenge was to mechanically and electrically integrate an economical, standalone, gravity-fed machine that can handle up to 300 bags/min in a small, adaptable footprint for any location. Historically, gravity-fed machines tend to run much slower than 300 bags/min. The goal of the collaboration between Blueprint Automation and SEW-Eurodrive was to produce a durable and dependable unit that could be successfully operated in foreign and domestic markets without the necessity of highly skilled or trained on-site operators, controls technicians or programmers. The machine had to be mechanically simple, but sound, with an uncomplicated, easy-to-understand and operate control system. Finally, the unit had to be affordable and cost-effective for the food industry. To justify the automation, a substantial cost savings directly related to a decrease in labor and maintenance costs to the customer had to be exhibited.

With the help of SEW-Eurodrive, Blueprint Automation produced the Rotary Gate Packer Model RP, a case-packing system with minimal electrical and mechanical components. The RP gravity-packs a wide variety of packaged products directly into a secondary container at the speeds noted. Product enters the RP on a conveyer belt and, for slow speeds and single bag drops, transfers directly to the rotary gates. For higher speeds, with multiple bags per drop, an indexing gate forms groups of product, which enter the rotary gates as a single group. The gates then rotate, dropping the row/layer of product directly into the case. If needed, case shifting for multiple-row patterns or high case rates, can be provided.

SEW-Eurodrive's controls experience and drive designs provided Blueprint Automation with the opportunity to design a case-packing system without having to use an expensive PLC or coordinated motion controller. The automated actions of the machine, instead employ technologies ranging from uncomplicated variable-frequency drives to high-performance, closed-loop, AC brushless servos.

The SEW-Eurodrive family of mechanical and electronic products provided a single-source responsibility along with a common programming platform. The RP's drive systems include Movitrac 07 senseless vector, Movidrive Compact, AC brushless servo and Movidrive Compact AC closed-loop vector drives. The control consists of a brick-style, DeviceNet-compatible PLC and a single SEW-Eurodrive UFD11A DeviceNet gateway fieldbus interface for communications, which can control up to eight SEW-Eurodrive devices. The motion control was handled in IOPS-plus software, with template-style application modules integrated in a Movidrive processor.

The results are outstanding. The use of a fieldbus interface with matched electronic and mechanical components from SEW-Eurodrive not only reduced the component cost, but dramatically reduced time for wiring, drive tuning and program development. Also, the application-module software ensures that the program structure is the same between all machines.

Today, the companies say that the RP is widely sold in North American markets, where simplicity and low maintenance are important, for example, with frozen vegetables, boned chicken, cookies and potato chips. The RP is highly compact and is said to provide an easily adaptable configuration that works with virtually any packaging operation layout.

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