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Constant focus on quality: SICK in the packaging industry

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article image The TriSpector1000 is an affordable 3D inspection solution, which is ideal for quality control

“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” 

John Ruskin, the 19th century English art critic and socio-economist, was a passionate and pioneering promoter of quality. In the 21st century, this effort is often afforded by our technology, which is itself becoming more and more “intelligent”. In highly complex industrial environments, humans need to rely more and more on artificial intelligence to meet increasingly strict quality standards. Quality is the yardstick for compliance with all requirements relating to products, goods, and services, but also – in a broader sense – for procedures and processes. These requirements are particularly high in the packaging industry. The quality of the packaging represents the quality of the contents, and it can often sway the decision at the point of sale. Nothing less than perfect primary, secondary, and final packaging will do, and the demanding requirements in industrial workflows also need to be taken into account. The packaging industry needs intelligent systems and devices to provide the requisite quality.

SICK is equal to this challenge, providing a broad range of intelligent sensors and sensor systems that are tailored to complex, frequently changing tasks, while meeting the increasingly challenging standards for trademark protection, safety, and documentability.

Reliable quality with high cycle times

In all areas of the packaging industry – whether it is pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food and drink, household goods, or hygiene – reliable quality is one of the key corporate targets. The consistently high throughput speeds and cycle times of the systems and packaging machines enable high levels of productivity, but they can only be achieved if continuous quality control is ensured. For this reason, downtimes must be minimised and it must be possible to record process data for all kinds of automation tasks, particularly given the high expectations that arise in the context of Industry 4.0.

SICK offers intelligent sensor solutions, ranging from compact devices that are easy to integrate with configurable standalone solutions, and right the way up to programmable high-speed cameras. It also has a number of new solutions, consisting of SICK's modules and integrable functions from image processing libraries, which provide the packaging industry with intelligent support in the fields of quality control, traceability, object data acquisition, and preventative maintenance.

Challenging primary packaging

Packaging automation solutions need to perform an almost unimaginable number of tasks with the help of smart sensor technology. The process chain begins with the primary packaging. In the consumer goods industry, this packaging carries the brand concepts. Turning these concepts into successful product ideas requires systems, which ensure complete, stable, hygienic and brand-appropriate primary packaging. High system speeds place high demands on the reliability and ruggedness of the sensor technology. Photoelectric sensors in the container inlet and outlet are specifically designed to detect transparent objects such as glass or PET bottles and can reliably monitor presence, position, speed, and contours. When it comes to sealing the containers, energetic photoelectric proximity sensors regulate the fill level in vibration conveyors and photoelectric retro-reflective sensors then monitor the closure feed. Information about the fill level, pressure, flow, or temperature in the storage tank is provided by capacitive proximity sensors or sensors with guided microwave technology (LFP INOX).

Lid checking with the TriSpector1000 3D vision sensor

The TriSpector1000 configurable standalone sensor is responsible for establishing whether the final step in the primary packaging process, i.e., sealing the containers, has been carried out successfully. This is an affordable 3D inspection solution, which is ideal for quality control in the consumer goods industry. It can check, for example, whether the lids are fitted securely to jam jars and whether the jars have an airtight seal. Faulty goods are ejected to ensure the requisite quality.

If the primary packaging is made from composite cartons – as is the case in filling plants for dairy products, for example – camera solutions are the most popular choice: 2D and 3D cameras check that the spout openings are stamped out correctly from the carton blank or verify that the cover tab is correctly positioned over the spout. Encoders are used to determine the precise speed.

Perfect secondary packaging

The stringent quality requirements for primary packaging apply equally to the secondary packaging. Dealers and consumers have high standards and expect nothing less than perfection when it comes to assembling and picking the products and placing them in boxes, containers, and displays.

The Inline Code Matcher quality control system ensures that the right packaging is used for the right product by reading a code on the packaging. As an easy-to-integrate standalone solution comprising of networked Lector 62x code readers in a modular structure, the system is especially suited for retrofitting into existing plants.

The trend towards more and more complex and unusual labels in the packaging industry poses a particular challenge. With the innovative PS30 pattern sensor, however, they can be handled easily and flexibly. Distinctive taught-in patterns in an image are used as a reference for the subsequent reliable detection and positioning of objects; special reference marks are not necessary. Increased design freedom, reduced material consumption, and effective process control are the advantages.

In cartoning machines, a huge number of photoelectric sensors are used to cope with the complexity of the packaging process. IO-Link, SICK's innovative interface, ensures maximum efficiency throughout the process and enables format changes to be carried out quickly and easily. When items are packaged in cartons or shrink film, the completeness of the container is the top priority regarding quality. The TriSpector1000 3D vision sensor comes into play once again here. It detects whether the carton is full. With the Blob Locator tool, it locates objects within a user-defined size range, even if the objects – such as chocolates in a box – have different shapes.

Lector62x for zero error tolerance in the pharmaceutical industry

Code printers apply Data Matrix codes to the secondary packaging and, in many industries these must be checked continuously in order to ensure the success of the quality process. The KTX/KTS print detector is used in cases where the first step is to check whether the printing process has been successful and the printing quality is sufficient. The pharmaceutical industry is subject to zero error tolerance, with special requirements regarding assembly reliability and documentability. Protecting against brand piracy is also a particular priority. The Lector62x image-based code reader is an intelligent sensor for automated, stationary decoding of codes on mobile or stationary objects, and is an ideal solution for the pharmaceutical industry.

Final packaging: ensuring that customers receive only the best

Once the quality of the primary and secondary packaging has been ascertained, the next step is the final packaging. All final packaging plants must be able to perform a wide variety of tasks, from shipping box packaging to palletising robots and film-wrapping machines. Dealing with different sizes and shapes of packaging, handling packaging materials, and protecting hazardous points are not the only challenges. The material flow must also be ensured, and the different reading distances for ID carriers must be managed. The most important quality requirement is making sure that the goods are in perfect condition when they are delivered to the customer. SICK offers a wide range of photoelectric sensor, scanner, and sensor systems for this purpose, all from a single source.

More reliable processes and machines for better quality

SICK provides a huge number of protective devices, ranging from reliable light grids, photoelectric sensors, safety laser scanners, safety switches, and reliable controls to complete services. SICK developed the certified Safeguard Detector safety system as a means of ensuring flexibility when changing blank carton formats and providing protective safety technology at the same time. The new safety system for packaging machines ensures reliable contact protection on carton magazines.

SICK provides comprehensive expertise for the packaging industry, with a focus on quality assurance at every stage – from the first tube, bottle, or spray, from the first blister pack, bag, or carton to the sale packaging for the supermarket, to the complete container for shipping. Whether it is standard sensor technology, complete systems, or services, SICK offers intelligent, state-of-the-art sensor, safety, and auto-identification systems for all areas of the packaging industry. After all, quality is never an accident.

Written by Matthias Mezger, Head of Industry Cluster Consumer Goods, SICK AG, Waldkirch

Interview with Matthias Mezger

Smart sensors for Industry 4.0

How will Industry 4.0 improve quality control in the packaging industry?
Matthias Mezger:
Smart sensors already support dynamic, real-time-optimised, and self-organised industry processes. The industrial future, however, will be shaped by much more interconnected production and control processes in complex machine environments. High-quality standards will always require sensor communication based on high-quality data.

What are the key prerequisites in this area?
Matthias Mezger:
SICK relies on “enhanced sensing”, i.e., only very reliable object detection and recording of measured values with smart sensors can guarantee reliable detection and measurement results. This has direct consequences for the system throughput.

How can companies in the packaging industry benefit from the immense accumulation of system data?
Matthias Mezger:
The ever-increasing quantity of data needs to be analysed intelligently. Data needs to be prepared in such a way that it means something to users. This requires efficient communication between the sensor and the control so that only the data that is relevant to the user is transferred. Up-to-date data, for example, is transmitted in real time via the integrated IO-Link interface. This enables flexible production down to a batch size of 1. If a device is defective, the most recently used parameter set can be automatically transferred to the replacement sensor via IO-Link.

Does this mean it will be possible to predict faults in the future?
Matthias Mezger:
Smart sensors with a diagnostic option will already send a notification of their own accord if safe operation is at risk. Preventative maintenance with flexible, need-based maintenance plans minimises machine downtimes and, of course, servicing costs. Intelligent additional functions in the sensor and the option of linking multiple sensors directly boost the efficiency of the process. Smart tasks provide the system process with the right information at the right time, directly from the sensor.

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