Dan Rossek, Marketing Manager Omron UK, talks about different ways of integrating Industry 4.0 in packaging lines and the benefits this could bring. 

Adopting Industry 4.0 into your packaging line can bring many benefits from better data management to improved efficiency. But while the benefits may be clear, replacing a complete production line may not be an option for packaging companies operating on already tight margins. While moving to a modern, flexible and smart line brings the most benefits, even small changes to existing facilities can deliver significant boosts to efficiency.

It’s all about the data


Smart packaging lines can improve traceability, uptime, and quality, while reducing running costs and total cost of ownership. Most of the benefits come from having an integrated component and control platform which allows seamless exchange of data between devices and the control system. Having access to this component level data is one of the key enabling factors to realise the benefits of an Industry 4.0 system.

Especially on older equipment, even if some data is available, it is typically just a very binary on/off indication. Either the machine is working or not, the sensor can detect something or not. There is often no granular information that could for example indicate that a machine is operating at less than full capacity because of increasing wear on the motor bearings or that an optical sensor is getting dirty instead of just stopped working.

So, capturing that data electronically is a good first step. This might require changing working process to make sure that the data is logged correctly and not just scribbled illegibly in a paper form. Or in the case that the data is already being captured by the equipment, connecting the machine to higher level IT domain or analytical software. This might require some small technical upgrades to the equipment to add additional sensors to capture operating data, convert existing analog information into a digital format or add a data communications module to provide remote data capture and control. 

Once the basic data capture process is place, it is then possible to start analyzing the data to see how efficient the line is running and, often, to identify potential bottlenecks in the process that would allow further improvements to efficiency. It will also be possible to monitor device condition, permitting preventative maintenance type functionality.

For example, imagine that the labelling machine on your line has a small fault. The operators know that it needs to be adjusted every now and then to keep it running smoothly. It only takes a minute or two to fix, so they do not even track it anymore. But over time that could account for a significant impact on the line’s efficiency.  One step at a timeHaving a good understanding of how well your packaging line is running, can let you focus investment on the parts that are least efficient. This also allows you to develop a strategy for migrating your lines to enable smart, flexible production. 

In today’s fast-moving markets, product runs tend to be shorter and more diverse. Lines that were set up for a single product or that take a long time to changeover to a different product can be significant causes of inefficiency. Retooling a line to allow it to support different types of product or automating the changeover can bring significant benefits by keeping existing lines running longer and reduce the time lost when switching between products.Speaking the same languageWhether you are upgrading part of an existing line, or building a new one, it is critical that all the machines communicate using standard protocols and common data sets. Even a new line will likely have components from different manufacturers, so making sure they all talk the same language is critical.

For example, OPC UA is an open and secure communications standard that is widely used for Industry 4.0 applications. OPC UA is a cross-platform development of OPC (OLE for Process Control) that was first defined by a number of players in automation together with Microsoft in 1995. OPC UA builds on the success of OPC, offering a platform independent solution that also includes model-based data handling.

In addition to communicating with each other, equipment on the line also needs to provide standard interfaces for operators. Standards such as PackML define a series of modes and states to ensure a common HMI look and feel, as well as providing a common method of conveying important data between machines.

Smarter decision making

By having the data available in a common and easy-to-understand format, operators and production controllers can make more informed decisions about the status of a packaging line. Issues can be identified more quickly and fixed faster. More importantly, smart systems can even detect potential issues before they occur, allowing preventive maintenance to be scheduled to ensure the line stay running.