Manufacturing News

Safely bringing modular machine concepts to life

More productivity at every stage

Manufacturers of FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) require modern production lines to provide flexibility and modularity. Complex production and packaging processes in particular are areas in which modular mechanical engineering is already commonly used – meaning state-of-the-art machine concepts consisting of various machine modules, some of which may even come from different manufacturers. To create a flexible production environment, the modules need to be changed and combined in different ways to accommodate the FMCG manufacturer’s needs. This presents a real challenge when it comes to implementing machine safety specifications.

Is it possible to be flexible and still highly productive? With consumers’ tastes changing at an increasingly rapid rate and the growing trend toward batch size 1, demands are being placed on the production process as a whole to provide more flexibility. Accommodating this need, however, still has to leave room for the entire system to continue delivering excellent efficiency, availability, and, therefore, productivity (overall equipment effectiveness, or OEE). Replacing individual machine modules, integrating new modules into the overall equipment setup, and combining new sets of modules all results in significant amounts of wiring and programming work for the operator – a fact that is true in both safe networking of machine elements and other activities besides.

Are higher-level safety controllers the only way to achieve networked safety?

In cases where safety functions in one machine module need to be available to other modules as well, the process logic of these overarching functions has to be networked. The latest point at which this can happen is when the individual machine modules are put together in the overall equipment network. If a fault occurs, it may be sufficient to shut down just one machine, depending on the nature of the problem and where it has arisen. However, cases requiring all upstream machine modules to be shut down too (continuous material transportation applications, for instance) have always required a higher-level safety controller in order to prevent damage or product losses. The controller transmits the relevant signals to the machine modules that are affected. Higher-level controllers entail a great deal of manual programming, especially if machines from different manufacturers are being used – and this goes beyond just the initial programming work they require. It is particularly felt in the amount of work required to carry out changes, and not only costs time and money, but also makes the system more complex. In turn, this results in longer downtimes and poorer OEE.

Now, flexibility and productivity can be combined

Flexi Line from SICK makes it possible to connect up to 32 Flexi Soft stations safely and link safety functions across multiple machines. Flexi Line is included as a standard function in the Flexi Soft main module – meaning no additional modules are required, and no programming for the function needs to be carried out in the higher-level controller. Another benefit is that the plant operator only has to define the required process map once before handing it over to the machine manufacturer. This allows the operator to create solutions for safety applications throughout the entire plant – opening up the possibility of even putting individual machine modules into operation in a sequence or integrating individual machine elements into the overall plant at a later stage. No addressing is required either: A straightforward teach-in function is used to remove or add Flexi Soft stations, and make changes to their order. This significantly reduces the amount of programming work. Particularly where modular mechanical engineering is concerned, Flexi Line therefore offers a number of benefits, providing a less complex, less error-prone way of creating safe networking. It means faster product changes in Fast Moving Consumer Goods environments and more productivity at every stage.


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