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Report: Innovative New Controls at PACK EXPO Connects

PMMI Media Group editors—covering a virtual event instead of an in-person exposition—divided and conquered to collectively take in as much of PACK EXPO Connects as possible. Here’s what they saw in the controls category.

Image #1 in the article text.
Image #1 in the article text.

NOTE: Controls wasn’t the only area of interest at PACK EXPO. Click the links that follow to read more about innovations in:

Machinery Materials Robotics Pharma

First introduced in Europe in 2018, Beckhoff’s XPlanar technology—which enables “flying motion” for materials handling—made its North American debut at PACK EXPO Connects. The XPlanar system (1) uses planar motor tiles as a base to levitate passive movers at speeds of four meters per second with acceleration rates up to 20 meters per sec2.

The XPlanar tiles levitate by use of traveling magnetic fields generated in the planar tiles to precisely move objects in any kind of pattern through different tracks, enabling batch-of-one applications and flexibility in product handling. The tiles can be programmed to move as needed for an application by automatically lifting, lowering, tilting, or rotating while traveling.

Because the material handling tiles of the XPlanar system float above the surface, Beckhoff said XPlanar offers maintenance-free motion control for complex packaging, inspection, and material handling applications.

Collision avoidance for the tiles is put into effect once the user programs the XPlanar using TwinCAT 3 software, said Jeff Johnson, Mechatronics Product Manager at Beckhoff. “The software includes all of the configuration tools, motion function blocks, and collision avoidance functionality. Because the movers travel on programed tracks, users can prioritize cross-over tracks,” he said.

A particularly interesting feature of the XPlanar system is its anti-sloshing functionality, based in the TwinCAT 3 software, for use in applications involving movement of liquids. According to Johnson, the XPlanar anti-sloshing ability is enabled by the six axes of coordinated motion used on each mover. “Beckhoff has developed motion algorithms that create very smooth acceleration and deceleration profiles,” he said. “Think of it as a very soft ‘S’ curve for acceleration/deceleration.”

Image #1 in the article text.Image #1 in the article text.Johnson added that XPlanar’s planar motor tiles can be coated with stainless steel, glass or any another surface to “ensure XPlanar is a sanitary, wash-down-capable solution.” He added that Beckhoff supplies the motor tiles and movers, while the machine builder is “responsible for building the machine base and the tile coverings. In some cases, coverings will be unnecessary, and in others they will be critical. This offers the machine builder and end user flexibility in the design and implementation of XPlanar to suit their specific application.”

In terms of how XPlanar coordinates or connects with other systems for placement and removal of materials on the tiles, Johnson explained that products can be loaded onto XPlanar tiles via pick-and-place robots, the eXtended Transport System (XTS) from Beckhoff, manually, or via any other system the user chooses to integrate with XPlanar. “Most robot manufacturers offer high-speed EtherCAT interfaces which enable very fast and synchronized communications between XPlanar and the robot,” he added. “This creates a faster cycle time versus using an asynchronous Ethernet protocol.”

Also featured by Beckhoff at its PACK EXPO Connects exhibit was the XTS Hygienic—a stainless steel, IP69K version of the XTS system featured at PACK EXPO 2019. This new hygienic version is designed for wash-down production environments in packaging, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage.

Beckhoff’s XTS material handling system combines rotary and linear drive principles into a linear transport system for packaging machines. The system features customizable motor modules, mechanical guide rails, wireless movers, power electronics, EtherCAT communication, and position measurement in a compact form factor that Beckhoff says reduces the machine footprint up to 50%. The XTS movers can move as fast as four meters per second and achieve acceleration exceeding 100 meters per second2. The XTS’s flexibility allows it to be designed in circles, clothoids, S-curves or in straight segments. The tracks can operate horizontally, vertically, or at angles, and can handle parts with single or multiple movers.

In the new XTS Hygienic version showcased at PACK EXPO Connects, the system’s new Track Management functionality was also highlighted. This allows individual movers to transfer between multiple XTS systems, enabling further customization, quality inspection, and automatic defect ejection.

Explaining which components of the XTS Hygienic version are stainless steel, Johnson said, “The motor modules and rails are stainless, while the movers have stainless and aluminum options. There is also a NiTuff coating option for the aluminum machine base. Since it is rated IP69K, we went to great lengths to design it for easy cleaning by including food-safe seals and ensuring that the surface can withstand harsh chemicals in washdown environments.”Image #2 in the article text.Image #2 in the article text.

The XTS also has the ability for its carriers to be tilted—like the tiles on the XPlanar system—even though the XTS has just one axis of linear motion.

Check out the many packaging and automation technologies featured by Beckhoff at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Data, analytics, and control in one device
Emerson Automation Solutions
is a company long known for the application of its technologies in the continuous processing industries. But with its acquisition of GE Intelligent Platforms in 2018, the company now supplies a much broader array of automation technologies, allowing it to extend into the discrete manufacturing industries such as packaging machinery OEMs and batch manufacturing industries including things like consumer packaged goods and food and beverage.

Derek Thomas, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Emerson’s machine automation solutions, said, “What we’re highlighting this year at PACK EXPO Connects is our ability to deliver scalable machine architectures, whether that’s micro control systems, compact systems, large systems or high availability systems (where PLCs need to keep running while software updates are made).”

More specifically, Thomas noted Emerson’s focus on the concept of a supervisory edge controller (2). “Every packaging line has multiple PLCs,” he said. “You’ve got one for the filler, one for the labeler running at high speed, one for the case erector, etc. And on top of that, you usually have a supervisory PLC that’s synchronizing the line itself and is connected to the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system. The ability to have one platform that can span all of this—that could do the logic, the visualization, and the SCADA functionality on a single piece of hardware that made it a true supervisory controller with one set up, one configuration, and one device to maintain and upgrade—that’s what we’ve been doing with our control platform.”

This new controller development is an extension of Emerson’s PACEdge controller. Emerson is expanding this device with technologies gained via Emerson’s acquisition of Progea in October of 2020. Progea is a provider of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), plant analytics, human machine interface (HMI) and SCADA technologies. The addition of Progea’s Movicon software capabilities to Emerson’s PACEdge software enables Emerson’s control capabilities to extend beyond devices or machines to complete line control.

This soon-to-be-released controller, designed to create a comprehensive data, analytics, and control ecosystem, will be known as PACEdge IIoT. PACK EXPO Connects attendees were able to a preview this system at the event.

Emerson now has a standard package that can be used to do 3D machine visualization or full line visualization as well as OEE calculations and energy calculations, Thomas said. “Today, if you wanted to have a controller plus IoT plus OEE, you would have to have at least two different pieces of hardware and at least three different software packages from any company; we’re the only one that can now do it all in one.”

Sending a day’s worth of data from once piece of industrial equipment to the cloud is not only impractical, it’s incredibly expensive. “Especially when you consider that one piece of equipment can generate more data in one day than Twitter does in a full year,” said Rich Carpenter, General Manager, Product Management of Machine Automation Solutions at Emerson Automation Solutions.

This reality is what’s driving the focus on data aggregation and analysis to the edge.Image #3 in the article text.Image #3 in the article text.

“When you bring all that data down to the edge, you’re making it more accessible to the operator, and that’s how you’re going to realize OEE (overall equipment effectiveness),” said Carpenter. “By putting all this capability in one box, designed for industrial applications—from the hardware to the software—that makes a big difference. Other companies do this by using an industrial PC that they virtualize and run on a soft PLC on top of Windows. However, running your production’s critical applications this way means that you’re not doing it on a system that’s designed to have the reliability of a traditional deterministic control system.”

Carpenter explained that Emerson’s approach is to use a hypervisor on the controller to run the applications, the HMI, and the edge software so that users “keep the reliability of the deterministic engine running their production line—even if an app crashes.” (Editor’s note: a hypervisor is software that runs virtual machines separate from the system’s operating system and hardware resources).

With the addition of Progea’s Movicon software, Carpenter said one of the things about it that’s so attractive is how easily smartphones, tablets, and HoloLens can integrate with it. “Users can go out into the plant and still get all the information they need via a mobile device without having to go to the nearest terminal.”

Check out the many packaging and automation technologies featured by Emerson at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Cost-effective electric actuator and advanced I/O
showed a low cost and easy-to-use electric actuator (3) that is an alternative to pneumatic actuators that are typically less expensive and easier to maintain, but don’t provide the same level of benefits of electric automation.

At PACK EXPO Connects, Festo introduced its Simplified Motion Series (SMS) of electric drives equipped with Digital I/O and IO-Link connectivity to enable the intelligent communication associated with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).  For those machines and lab instrumentation where compressed air for pneumatics is simply not feasible, SMS provides a cost effective, easy to apply, and well-featured electric option.

The actuators are built for simple motion between two mechanical end positions or for pressing and clamping tasks, just like pneumatic actuators. But according to Festo, the SMS all-in-one design including actuator and integrated motor and drive, are easy-to-install by simply mounting the axis to the machine and connecting two cables. In addition, the drives offer optimized motion characteristics including gentle cushioning while advancing and retracting into the end positions and pressing and clamping functionality. The parameters for advancing and retracting speed, as well as pressing and clamping force, are set directly on the drive. End position, cushioning path, and manual operation are also set on the drive.

Units in the initial release include toothed belt axis, spindle and toothed belt axis, mini slide, electric cylinder, and rotary drive. The drives are plug-and-play for fast startup and no additional software or specific know-how is required.

Festo also introduced its next generation distributed I/O, which makes it quick and easy to scale machine parts and capabilities. The new remote I/O system CPX-AP-I, which improves the performance of mixed valve terminals and I/O systems, is compatible with most communication protocols, including EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, and EtherCAT. These rugged, compact, and lightweight modules can be mounted directly on machines in IP65/IP67 rated environments.

CPX-AP-I enables valve terminals to be moved closer to pneumatic cylinders, which reduces pressurization time and increases the machine’s overall performance. Process data in and out of each bus module is as much as two kilobytes. Scan cycles for a mix of both valve terminals and I/O are below one millisecond and are expected to approach microseconds. Latency is virtually nonexistent. Image #4 in the article text.Image #4 in the article text.

Another important feature is that communication and voltage supply are via two separate connecting cables that are also galvanically isolated, eliminating the potential for stray currents. Two separate wires enable the creation of voltage zones that provide reliable control for a host of machine processes.

Check out the many packaging and automation technologies featured by Festo at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

IIoT-enabled packaging with multi-purpose servo
One of the clearest trends in modern automation technology is flexibility—the built-in capability of a device to perform more than one function or be used in more than one way. And flexibility of application is evident in Lenze’s new i950 servo drive (4). In its demo at PACK EXPO Connects, Lenze highlighted a key aspect of the i950’s flexibility via its three modes.

Dan Barrera, Applications Engineering Manager at Lenze, explained the i950’s drive-based motion, which includes two of the servo drive’s modes. Those modes are: 1) drive parameterization using Lenze’s pre-configured FAST software application, which allows personnel who are not engineers or programmers to commission the drive and its application; and 2) custom configuration of the FAST applications, enabling OEMs and system integrators to access the code behind the applications using IEC 61131-3 programming languages to customize the pre-developed FAST software code for unique uses. Fieldbus protocols, like Profinet, EtherCAT, and EtherNet/IP, can be used to connect a Lenze controller or any third-party controller to the i950 in these two servo drive modes.

The i950’s third mode is control-based motion. “Using control-based motion, the i950 can be set up in CiA402 mode to receive commands from a main control motion system,” Barrera said. He noted that, for motion-centric applications, any third-party controller used with the i950 drive should support motion over EtherCAT.

The i950 can be used in packaging machinery for registration and synchronization, table positioning, camming, electrical gearing, and winding applications. With respect to the drive’s IIoT enablement, Barrera pointed out the i950 supports MQTT communications to deliver the drive’s operational data to plant and enterprise systems.

The compact i950 servo is available with a power spectrum ranging from 0.55 kW–110 kW and features modular interfaces for fieldbus and feedback connections. In addition to its operation and programming characteristics, six technology applications have been implemented in the i950 to save OEMs time and money when developing machine tasks. These applications are:

• Speed control, which can operate with and without feedback, to deliver high control performance with speed stability for conveyor and traveling drives. It also includes start-up and deceleration profiles, as well as process and torque control.

• Electronic gearbox to enable precise speed- and position-synchronized drives in a network for the continuous transport of continuous materials such as paper, films, or textiles.

• Table positioning enables management of profile data sets and sequence profile control for discontinuously running conveying, lifting, and handling drives. This application provides profile generation and position at target and has an override function.

• Synchronism with mark correction for the transport of continuous and arch-shaped materials or piece goods.

• Winder with dancer control and winder with tension control enable speed-controlled drives for the storage or dispensing of continuous materials such as paper, film, or textiles and tension-controlled (open loop) drives for the storage or dispensing of continuous materials such as paper, film, or textiles, respectively.Image #5 in the article text.Image #5 in the article text.

Check out the many packaging and automation technologies featured by Lenze at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

IronGrip lagging system
A lagging system adds material to a drum motor to improve the grip between the motor and the belt. The most common form is rubber lagging that has been vulcanized and hardened over a steel shell.

During a demonstration at PACK EXPO Connects, drum motor manufacturer Van der Graaf  (VDG) described how a lagging system works with the belt traction around the motor, which includes a tight side and a slack side, as well as an adhesion zone and a sliding zone. By increasing slack side tension, more products can be pulled on a belt. But the second way to improve traction is to change the materials touching the belt.

That’s where VDG’s IronGrip Lagging System comes in. Composed of steel bar reinforcements welded onto the drive shell with sectional rubber lagging inserts, this patented design transfers load forces more efficiently than standard rubber lagging. With up to 40% more traction than standard rubber lagging, the IronGrip allows for less pre-tensioning while providing higher belt-pull, the company said.

The difference between standard rubber lagging vs. IronGrip lagging comes down to how the forces are distributed between sections of the drum motor. Common problem areas include shear force at contact points that cause delamination, belt mis-tracking off the center of the conveyor, and wear on external components. IronGrip mitigates these issues by distributing forces with high grip and less tension.

Check out the many packaging solutions featured by Van der Graaf at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

I-O Link added to positioning drives
showcased its positioning drives at PACK EXPO Connects, which for the first time are outfitted with an IO-Link interface (5).

When formats are changed on packaging machines, labelers, textile machines, etc., precise positioning is always crucial, as is optimizing machine setup times.  Fully automated positioning drives can prevent incorrect settings, which in turn prevents waste and damage. SIKO positioning drives can do all this by design, but are now available with an IO-Link interface

One, for example, is the AG03/1, a high-performance compact actuator for complex positioning jobs. Used to replace manual spindle adjustments by automatic options like push button format changeover, the compact design can fit into very tight mounting situations. Components like gear set, motor, absolute positioning sensor, drive electronic, and now, the IO-Link interface are integrated into the design.

The standard IO-Link communication allows direct integration into the IO-Link master which has a direct link to the PLC. The AG03/1 positioning drive enables fast integration via a point-to-point connection using simple I/O technology. With the open, manufacturer-independent standard of the IO-Link interface, integration options are available for machine control systems from all leading providers.

IO-Link master components can be used to network multiple devices on a modular basis. This reduces complexity and cabling outlay as well as the costs involved in commissioning. The standardized wiring, combined with additional diagnostic features, improves serviceability and reduces downtimes in the event of errors. The IO-Link master allows parameter data to be read from a field device, stored, and loaded onto a new device of the same type when the old one is replaced—even while the process is still running.

SIKO positioning drives provide specific data via the IO-Link interface so that it can be used for tasks such as condition monitoring and predictive maintenance in centralized systems, which can be in the cloud. With the open IO-Link standard, a wide range of network components from various manufacturers are available so that seamless communication can be realized from the field level up to the cloud securely.

Check out the many packaging and automation technologies featured by SIKO at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Is AR a game changer?
Alexander Ouellet, Innovation Engineer at Harpak-ULMA Packaging, discussed the many “flavors” of augmented reality at a PACK EXPO Connects’ Innovation Stage presentation.

Ouellet said that for the packaging industry, AR can guide workers with performing product line changeovers, getting machines up and running, or, it can alert them to performance issues.

“For the first time,” he said, “AR is bringing computing and on-demand information to our front-line workforce. AR is making it possible to more quickly train or provide expert guidance to our workforce and provide them the information they need at the right time and with the correct context. That’s where most of the value is, especially as producers look for ways to further optimize production processes.”

Ouellet said that AR technologies are best understood as a spectrum of overlapping technologies, rather than distinct items, and that the defining trait of each is how the user is going to experience it. (Addressed here are AR technologies used in packaging manufacturing today. For a description of all AR technologies described by Ouellet, see the full presentation at Available through March 31, 2021.)

Assisted Reality projects an extra layer of information onto the user’s peripheral vision, such as Google Glasses. Ouellet said of assisted reality, “It differs from Augmented Reality in that it doesn’t change what the user is seeing nor is it aware of the geometry of the user’s environment.”

Augmented Reality (AR) is an overlay of computer-generated content onto the physical world that can superficially interact with the environment in real-time. With AR, the end-user uses headsets or mobile devices.

Mixed Reality (MR) is an overlay of synthetic content anchored to and interacting with real-world objects in real-time. Said Ouellet, “When implemented well, MR should be a perfect union of digital and physical content interacting seamlessly.”

Ouellet also said there are three distinct types, or flavors, of AR. The one most people are familiar with is Video See-Through (VST) technology, which allows the user to view through a tablet or phone screen. One example is the World Lens app, where the user holds up their phone and it translates signs and language.

The second type of AR is lens-based applications that employ Obstacle See-Through (OST) technology, such as the Microsoft HoloLens. Ouellet said in this technology, “AR information is projected in the lens and your brain puts two and two together and stitches it together to create an augmented view of reality.”

Thirdly is Projection AR, where a projected image creates a direct overlay onto a specially designed work surface. “A projection-based augmented reality system,” said Ouellet, “can provide user instructions or assistance in a variety of media. Projection AR reduces or eliminates the need for computer monitors and screens as the instructions appear directly in the task space. It can be useful for assembly, disassembly, inspections, kitting, tool changeovers, training, and more.”

Ouellet said that AR is an immature market, and “future AR deployment will be driven primarily by industrial applications because that’s where the biggest bang for the buck lies.”

Even as a developing market, however, the value proposition of AR is delivering substantial productivity gains to human labor – as much as 30% to 60% depending on the application.

One long-form study at Iowa State University found that AR made training faster for complex tasks, and “virtually eliminated human error in those processes,” said Ouellet.

He also cited a study at Lockheed, where AR was adopted as a guidance and instruction tool to attach fasteners to spacecraft and resulted in an 85% reduction in overall training time, a 90+% reduction in the time that it took front-line workers to comprehend tasks, and a 40% increase in overall productivity. “In the end,” said Ouellet, “Lockheed concluded that they saved $38 per fastener in a program that buys over 2 million fasteners every year; that’s a staggering value proposition.”

AR does come with deployment challenges, and Ouellet said, “I think it’s safe to say the majority of producers today would struggle with a do-it-yourself AR approach.” Infrastructure issues such as Wi-Fi and access to devices, good 3D data, and building out the AR experience in a way that is appealing to the user are some of the challenges mentioned by Ouellet.

Here are a few current use cases for augmented reality mentioned by Ouellet:
• AR for remote service

• Virtual Factory Acceptance Tests (vFATs)

• AR training solutions

• Service work instructions

• IoT service diagnostics

Ouellet sees a big picture payoff for AR in the area of predictive maintenance, and points to industries who are already using this technology, such as jet engines. “To accomplish this,” he said, “we’ll aggregate massive volumes of IoT data into cloud-based databases; that will enable us to benchmark any individual machine’s performance against the entire data-set, a useful analysis in its own, but it also means the data can be mined using a combination of machine learning and artificial intelligence to develop the predictive algorithms that will minimize unplanned machine downtime.”

Check out the many packaging and automation technologies featured by Harpak-Ulma at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Collaborating on the cloud
Esko is a graphic arts company out of Belgium that has long been at the cutting edge of prepress software and hardware used in the production of packaging. One of the things they featured at PACK EXPO Connects was WebCenter (6), a secure, cloud-based packaging management and collaboration platform. WebCenter manages all aspects of preproduction specification, approval, and project lifecycle to remove the bottlenecks that are most associated with the packaging design-to-production process. Image #6 in the article text.Image #6 in the article text.

Complex review and approval pathways are up to three times faster with revisions reduced by 60%. Errors due to multiple design modifications and project deadline pressures are minimized with up to 50% lead time reductions being achieved on packaging creation, said Esko. The digital, secure management of files and data with streamlined processes leaves team members free to concentrate on tasks that better utilize their expertise.

Check out the many packaging solutions featured by Esko at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Smart glasses ease troubleshooting communication
Elsewhere on the AR front, Beumer has added augmented reality to the tools available to its customers while servicing equipment, enabling faster, easier support. The OEM even used the smart glasses technology to commission and install new equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recognizing the value of embracing digitalization to improve customer service, Beumer has developed its first smart system for customer service. Using AR with smart glasses, the equipment maker aims to improve service quality and engagement while significantly reducing cost and downtime for the user.

During a demonstration at PACK EXPO Connects, Beumer highlighted the concept of its smart solution, the added value it delivers to customers, and how it can be implemented on-site.

To set the scene, Marvin Krampe, Sales Engineer for Beumer, described a customer situation that is undoubtedly all too familiar. The customer calls the hotline to describe an error, but it is difficult to make himself understood without ultimately sending pictures or videos by email, a process that delays results.

“When we are receiving customer calls on our hotline, we are often facing communication issues,” Krampe said. “These communication issues are mostly not related to the technical knowledge of the hotline engineer, no. They’re mostly related to language barriers, language issues. We’re using different terminologies around the globe.”

Customers and technicians are sending pictures back and forth through email, WhatsApp, or Skype just to try to make the situation clear. “We have a very uncontrolled information flow. We’re using different tools. A lot of information gets lost. A lot of information gets wrongly interpreted,” Krampe described. “Therefore, we need a significantly longer time to troubleshoot the system.”

In its move to overcome these communication issues, the OEM now offers Beumer Smart Glasses as an add-on service to its existing customer support service hotline and remote connection capabilities. With smart glasses, Beumer technicians are able to identify problems faster for clients, mitigating service costs as well. The glasses provide hands-free troubleshooting for the operator through voice activation. Working over the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, the glasses provide live two-way video and audio communication, where technical support is able to share key equipment drawings and documents with clients.

“The smart glasses are actually a very powerful tool that significantly improves the quality of our communication while we are supporting our customers on-site,” Krampe said. “The smart glasses allow us now to transfer a live video stream from the service technician on-site to the back office of Beumer Corp. We are also able to share additional information on the smart glasses display of the operator, such as guidelines, videos, documentations. We can share our desktop, we can draw some lines, we can pinpoint certain components of the machine, or even guide the operator through a sequence of operations while we are circling, for example, certain areas of the machine all on the HMI.”

Beumer has found its new service approach to be a highly efficient tool for troubleshooting, according to Krampe, who pointed to improved communication and real-time data transfer as key benefits. Not only is downtime reduced significantly in emergency cases, but there is no longer a need to have technical personnel travel to the customer site whenever there’s a problem. This has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, Krampe said.

An added benefit to all of this has been the training effect the smart glasses end up having on the operator. “Back in the day, we just sent some Beumer engineer on-site. He was troubleshooting the machine and the equipment, and got the machine back up and running. And if you asked the operator at the end of the shift what was the root cause and how they fixed it, he mostly didn’t know what happened because the Beumer engineer did it,” Krampe explained. “Now we’re only transferring the information. We give the glasses to the operator, and he’s actually executing the troubleshooting, which has a very significant training aspect to the entire operation. So it’s technically learning by doing.”

Not only has Beumer implemented the smart glasses for troubleshooting scenarios, but the equipment supplier was even able to use the technology during the pandemic to remotely install and commission a palletizer and stretch hood system with one of its clients in Europe. “We used the Beumer smart glasses to connect to our client on-site and supported him while they were installing physically the machine and commissioned the machine to get them up to speed,” Krampe said.

Check out the many packaging solutions featured by Beumer Group at its PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Remote access for hot melt equipment
The ProBlue Flex melter from Nordson incorporates intelligent technology that enables dispensing accuracy (7). It was launched during PACK EXPO last year, but during PACK EXPO Connects, Nordson unveiled its new BBconn Controls, which allows for remote operation, more visibility, real-time oversight, and the data and analytics needed for continuous improvement for the ProBlue Flex melter.Image #7 in the article text.Image #7 in the article text.

This dynamic new platform opens the door to complete machine integration, which means users can now operate all equipment from a single interface. The BBconn control system allows Nordson’s equipment to easily communicate with parent machines and other devices. The new platform’s connectivity options fully support IoT and Industry 4.0 needs, including Nordson’s new BBconn Cloud.

The new ProBlue Flex melter is designed for drop-in compatibility; this means the size and shape of the new ProBlue Flex melter will fit into the same space allotted for the current system. The compact footprint of the ProBlue Flex melter ensures easy physical integration and the connectivity gained with BBconn control system allows for remote operation. This combination of a thoughtful physical design and an intelligent control system greatly improves the overall user experience. Full integration is achieved by using an automated filling system, remote electronic pressure setting, and one of the many remote user interface options.

The ProBlue Flex melter meets the highest safety standards for a complete touch-safe experience, according to Ron Ramspeck, product manager at Nordson Corporation, who presented the new technology during the company’s PACK EXPO Connects live demo. The melter is fully covered, limiting exposure to hot surfaces, and offers optional lid-lock for additional protection. It features updated security elements, such as password protection, so the correct settings can be maintained without interference from individual operators. This ensures that safe pressure and heating settings are maintained whenever the melter is in operation. In addition, BBconn Controls, which allow for remote operation, eliminate the need to adjust settings on the melter itself. Almost all operations can be handled from the control panel on the parent machine or from a remote device. This limits direct interaction with the machine for the safest user experience yet.

Check out the many packaging solutions featured by Nordson at its PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

‘Sentient’ labeling machine
The new Nita  4.0 platform sentient labeling machine (8) debuted during PACK EXPO Connects. The self-diagnosing system identifies and advises when parts need changing or servicing and allows users to order those parts directly from the machine via built-in 3D drawings that scale down to the specific required part. In the Windows 10 IoT Enterprise Software-based PC control screen, users also get daily, weekly, and monthly preventative maintenance schedules and tutorials, a problem-solving high-resolution video library, an open-source SCADA platform that provides real-time OEE and performance reporting, and live video tech support. The support features are built right into screen of the labeling machine and users can also use the new NitaCare app, which comes at no extra charge.

“Sentient is a human term, which means to feel and perceive,” said Ken Hubscher, the vice president of sales and marketing at Nita Labeling Systems, during the company’s PACK EXPO Connects live demo. “We call these sentient labeling machines because we built in the ability for the machine to perceive and feel because these machines can self-diagnose.” Image #8 in the article text.Image #8 in the article text.

Other features of the sentient labeling machine include:
• 100% speed synchronized, all-servo technology engineered with off-the-shelf, non-proprietary electronics and software.

• Parts ordering directly from the machine via built-in 3D drawings that scale down to the specific required item.

• Daily Preventative Maintenance schedules and video tutorials with full trend reporting.

• A l SCADA platform that provides real-time OEE and other performance data.

• Total-replication product changeover system where all physical changeover points on the labeler are clearly identified by innovative alphanumeric, color-coded scales.

Check out the many packaging solutions featured by Nita at its PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

Wizard links printer controller with data base
At its PACK EXPO Connects demo, Foxjet launched a wizard for its Marksman Matrix™ high-resolution ink-jet printer controller (9) that allows users to link their existing ERP and product information databases directly to the controller, without the need for IT help, to speed message creation and eliminate coding errors.

“We had some capability in the past to link to databases, but the wizard makes it much easier,” shared Michael Sawyer, Global Distribution Sales Manager for FoxJet. “The wizard walks you through with a series of questions. It’s anywhere from a two- to three-minute process from the time you start with the database until you link with our system and get it ready for print.

“It’s a very quick process that can save a lot of time, and it obviously doesn’t require a lot of IT resources. Anyone familiar with a computer can do this very quickly.”

In the past, Sawyer explained, either FoxJet or its distributors would work with customers to set up their messages and make sure their databases were linked properly. With the wizard, a production supervisor or line supervisor, for example, can now perform this task on their own.

Once a database is linked, the software automatically updates whenever the customer switches messages, meaning they don’t have to create new messages for every product they create. “Rather, they would just start the product, and all of the information will drop into the message, because it’s been pre-formatted with the wizard,” Sawyer said. “So, it eliminates the need to have, let’s say, maybe thousands or tens of thousands of messages, one for each of the product SKUs. Rather, we link directly into the customer’s database that already has that product information in it.”Image #9 in the article text.Image #9 in the article text.

Databases can be very simple, such as just a SKU number and a description. Or they can include a product code, a line-one description, a line-two description, barcode formats, images, or other information. “In an ideal situation, the customer would have anything they printed on the side of the box in a variable inside of the database so we can drop all of that information into a template message that is really just a placeholder for those data pieces,” Sawyer said.

In addition to reducing the time it takes to create messages, the wizard also reduces and/or eliminates human interaction with the machine, greatly decreasing the potential for coding errors. “So, whether it’s mistakes made during the message editing, if you had to edit a message for each particular product, or even perhaps if a customer chose the wrong message to start with—all those things result in different messages on the box than are needed, thus causing all kinds of issues throughout the supply chain,” said Sawyer.

He added that one of the things that differentiates the Marksman Matrix wizard is that the controller uses Microsoft Windows 10, making it compatible with “hundreds” of database formats, including Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, SQL Server, SAP—“really all the big names in database formats,” he said. “Everything is ready to go, out of the box, at no additional charge to the customer,” he added.

Check out the many packaging solutions featured by FoxJet at their PACK EXPO Connects Virtual Showroom, found at

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