Constant focus on quality: SICK in the packaging industry

“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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