Digitalization Digest: Automation at the Facilities of a Condiments Manufacturer


Success in private label manufacturing depends on the ability to produce accurately and effectively across a potential host of end clients and their stock-keeping units (SKUs).  Feeding the “effective” side of the equation includes both accurate production and skillful arrangement of orders, and the ability for the machinery to move efficiently from one SKU to the next.

A major Midwest-based condiment manufacturer has learned those lessons well in their century-plus of manufacturing.  That experience led them to recently scale up operations with the purchase of several high-speed, turnkey lines from Krones.  These lines included container conveyors, container labeling machines, modular system fillers, non-returnable packers, bulk conveyors, and palletizers.  They also included accumulation in strategic locations which aid in the lines’ continual operation but can also complicate operations from changeover and cleanout functions.

Krones’ client reviewed an off-the-shelf order management solution.  They determined that, while that solution may have provided what the client wanted at the machine and operator interface level, it would not meet their desired performance for complete line operations.  Moreover, the client hoped to preserve their investment in their legacy order management system.  Fortunately for them, Krones has an extremely effective solution in their portfolio for clients in North America in the form of CSIA-certified systems integrator Process and Data Automation (PDA).

PDA brings Krones’ clients the best of several worlds in that they are tied in with Krones’ machine manufacturing division. They have unique insight into how to integrate the standard functions of Krones machines, whether a single new piece or an entire high-speed line.  They also have deep expertise in the implementation of Krones’ solutions for various management, collection, and analysis functions.  Perhaps most importantly, as leveraged in this case, they have the experience and skill to identify and manage situations where no off-the-shelf solution will fit perfectly.  They can design custom middleware to connect existing business systems to manufacturing operations – and that was exactly what this situation called for.

The solution for this client included middleware software as deployed via an overall line management PLC.  This solution tied in seamlessly to the client’s order management system, thus preserving the investment that was made there through the years.  Transfer via the line management CompactLogix PLC allows seamless flow of information from the order management system, parsing, and delivery of the exact information required by each machine.  Custom order management screens were added to the machine level Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), which provide rich, accurate information to the line operators.  The simplicity of the design also allows qualified personnel to see the entire information flow happen very effectively in real-time.  Because the entire solution was delivered by the Network of Krones, PDA included, the customer can rest assured that all systems function harmoniously and that all equipment warranties remain intact.

No matter how large or small, orders are fulfilled with accurate bottle fills and accurate package counts per SKU.  Labels are applied and quickly spliced for continuous operation and changeover, and all critical validation is verified by Check Mat camera systems which communicate back through to the inventory management system to ensure a proper match on each.  Orders are separated by automatically dropping acrylic separator cases and bottles in the lanes so the production orders flow with minimal space, and more importantly time, in cleanout required.

In the end, the lines function exactly as intended by Krones but with the added dimension of high-speed changeover as desired by the end client.  All of this helped the customer to achieve what they wanted in the implementation of these lines – a quantum leap in terms of manufacturing speed and flexibility, minimal changes to existing business systems, and minor adaptations to their new machinery that don’t impair the ability for standard technicians to maintain the equipment.

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Digitalization Digest: The Addition of Line Management

An energy drink manufacturer recognized the need for integrating features of a manufacturing execution system into its new production line.  After careful consideration Process and Data Automation (PDA) was hired to configure SitePilot Line Management (LM) to the new production line.  LM centralizes the coordination of the entire filling and packaging process – from the definition of the production route based on the order to the labeling of the pallets.  LM provides a continuous flow of information, from production planning right through to the order for the line and individual machine.  This addition adds a level of automation to the production line so that all the processes, for instance, entering orders online or printing services, are automated instead of having to be manual.  The addition would also effectively integrate the company’s business system and the new, fast canning line.  Furthermore, this addition would allow the alignment of orders dispatched from their ERP system to be produced on the new line, as well as assisting operators with transitioning through orders, correctly tagging the finished product, and relaying information back to the ERP system to maintain warehouse inventory.

While implementing LM, PDA found that communications between the line network and the internal network of the company, allowing movement of information back and forth, resulted in issues with the network traffic.  Other issues that confronted PDA arose with the printing, OEMs, and integration of printing and coding devices onto the line.  The company was integrating information from the mixing systems into the packaging line, and it became necessary for PDA to develop methods of reviewing expiration data.  This development allowed the identification of expired products and the operators were notified so that the production line could be stopped.  PDA was unaware of the methodology being followed by the company for this occurrence so that some interaction was developed by PDA.

The addition of Line Management also allowed items to be tracked through the production line.  PDA integrated into LM two other pieces of equipment that were on the production line.  Similar improvements to the existing production line were consistently undertaken by PDA.  For example, two features were introduced to provide more data for reporting the timing of batches and lot association.  It is felt by PDA that this activity demonstrated its capability to deliver above and beyond the original scope of the project.

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