RFID technology ensuring an accurate production sequence at paper company

It is clearly evident that digitalisation has left its mark on the paper
industry. Does Print Media face an uncertain future or will haptic page turning
hold its own? Both theories have their proponents. The digital age has long
been a reality in paper production. The company Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper
and its paper mill are impressive proof of this. They are showing no sign of
dark clouds on the ‘print horizon’, with workers manufacturing roll-upon-roll
of high-quality paper around the clock.

To maintain a strong overview of the multi-step
production process, Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper utilises an RFID-based
identification solution. This is
implemented by an integrated high-performance, wireless transmission system
with an interface as part of its own in-house IT system. This enables workers at Kabel to constantly
track and determine in any given paper batch, which production step is
currently being processed.

Since 1896, Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper has been
manufacturing for the biggest printing houses in Europe. The Hagen-based
company in Germany’s Westphalia region initially manufactured newspaper; now it
specialises in coated paper for high-quality catalogues and magazines.

Two giant paper machines and 540 workers operating in
a three-shift rotation, handle a total capacity of around 485,000 tons a year. Tens
of thousands of metres of paper are wound
onto rolls weighing many tons, and they are all made according to client
specifications before being delivered to customers in the requested widths.

Paper heavyweight

Anyone who sets foot on the factory floor in Hagen is
sure to find themselves in awe, with the impressively large and heavy rolls, which
traverse the long hall. Overhead cranes transport them from one processing step
to the next. Depending on the particular paper thickness, the rolls measuring
7.20 metres wide carry around 50,000 to 60,000 metres of product and weigh up
to 20 tons.

Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper produces each and every roll of paper, known as a ‘tambour’
in technical terms, in line with client specifications. The multi-stage paper
production process begins with the manufacturing of the base paper. At this stage, the paper is still very rough and is not
suitable for high-quality print products. That is why the paper is smoothed in the second stage by coating both
sides with chemical materials. Depending on the desired paper quality and
surface finish, the tambour is then run
through the calender machine, which uses
pressure to smooth the surface. The calender
machine removes unevenness in the paper so that the contours do not blur images
during printing. Before leaving the factory, the rolls are cut to the desired
individual width on the slitter rewinder to make processing easier for
customers.

The paper is wound onto metal cores so that the rolls
weighing several tons can be transported.
These ‘tambour cores’ made of robust metal are
hung by their ends and are also transported by the overhead cranes.
Around a hundred of these tambour cores
are in continual use in the Hagen factory.

Every roll in sight

Production faults in Hagen can mean tens of thousands
of metres of paper wasted. Therefore, to keep a close eye on the production of each individual roll, Kabel Premium Pulp &
Paper uses a custom-made RFID solution from system integrator Intelligent Data
Service (IDS) with 26 RFID reading devices provided by the sensor experts at
SICK.

“We required a solution to ensure the automatic
detection of tambour cores in the production flow,” explains Johannes Broer,
who is responsible for IT at Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper. “Our requirements
included, among other things, reliable system components and wireless data
transmission to our IT system. The components used are exposed to process-related contamination, dust, and heat. They
must be able to withstand contact with chemicals or machine oil. We had to rule
out optical detection-based solutions due to the risk of contamination. This was also the case for visual markings,
which do not stand up to contact with oil, for example.”

Additionally, a solution with very short read times was required since the tambours are constantly
in motion. “We mark our tambours with an eight-digit number, which comprises
both the date of production as well as the year. The tambour cores feature a
three-digit number. Apart from the fact that the reading stations can be hard
for our workers to reach, the long numbers can also result in manual input
errors. Automated detection allows us to ensure accurate tracking and relieve
some of the burdens on our workers,” adds
Broer.

This is why the tambour cores are marked with passive RFID tags, which are read at individual stations. When the tambour is rolled out for
the first time, the system records which tambour core the batch is assigned to, and from this point on, each
station will accurately read out the particular tambour core the paper is being
wound into and from, via RFID.

A total of 26 UHF-RFID reading devices from SICK are being used at the factory in Hagen to decipher the passive tags on the cores.
Depending on the reading distance, an RFU620
is used for a scanning range of up to one
metre and RFU630 for larger scanning
ranges. Passive RFID tags have no energy source of their own that would require
regular inspection and are more reliable than active tags when it comes to
processing. They are the ideal option for objects that come under heavy
mechanical strain such as tambour cores.

Digital system supplied on site

To optimally align systems to the individual
application, the application specialists from SICK always carefully inspect the
requirements at the factory. It goes without saying that they did this in Hagen
too. At Hagen there were a number of aspects that had to be observed including metal reflecting radio
waves, which can result in system faults. It is for this reason that the RFID
tags on the metal cores had to be strengthened to the point that close proximity to metal wouldn’t pose a
danger.

IDS integrated the SICK reading devices into its roll
online tracking system, known as ‘Rolf’, which IDS developed in-house. The
system collects all results directly from the RFID reading devices, visualises
them, and makes the data available for further processing. This means that all process data can easily be viewed in the production database at Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper and each
tambour is directly assigned.

“It was a tall order and
we are happy to have found the right partner in SICK,” explains Rainer
Marchewka, Managing Director of IDS. “We have been working with SICK for 15
years. We know that we can rely on them and also that long-term system support
is guaranteed.”

To keep installation outlay at the factory low, IDS
first built the entire system, including all RFID reading devices true to scale
at its own premises, where it tested and
optimised the system processes, and then finally delivered the pre-configured
system to Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper for installation.

RFID-based roll tracking has now been in operation for
over a year. “We are happy that we opted for this solution. In truth, we have
worked with RFID-based identification solutions previously, albeit with active
tags. These are indeed advantageous when it comes to reading range, but the
battery runtimes were too short and also the tags were too susceptible in this
environment. We are very pleased with this solution and the collaboration with
IDS and SICK,” says Johannes Broer.

Quite in keeping with the development of ‘Industry 4.0’,
Kabel Premium Pulp & Paper is laying the
foundations for the ‘intelligent’ factory of the future with the
RFID-based ‘Rolf’ system in Hagen. The company is a testament to how proven production machines and state-of-the-art
networking technology can be brought together harmoniously and efficiently with
the right system solution.

Written by Christian Heinemann, Field Sales, SICK Vertriebs-GmbH,
Düsseldorf

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