Tension Control: Set it and Forget it?
Mark Breen has been marketing manager at Dover Flexo Electronics for 16 years. His insight could help you achieve better tension control.
Q: What kinds of trends/technologies is the tension control sector seeing?
A: In line with the drive towards manufacturing leaving a smaller carbon footprint in society, we see the trend toward thinner flexible substrates continuing. We also expect the efforts of materials processors, converters and printers to lower production waste to continue.
As a manufacturer of electronic controls, we are deploying rapidly advancing digital processing technology. Because of smaller integrated circuits (ICs) with larger processing density, we also see computing power concentrating into smaller packages just like in the consumer electronics world.
This CPU compression will translate into more features, smarter devices, and easier-to-use interfaces in upcoming generations of the sensing, display, measurement and control equipment that machine designers build into their web presses and converting machinery. So, newer, faster, waste-cutting production devices for the flexible packaging industry will be a continuing trend from the tension control manufacturers too.
Q: What are your customers requesting in terms of products or service?
A: Although tension measurement and control equipment plays a vital role in the production quality aspect of flexible packaging converting and web printing, it’s a process variable that our customers want to work invisibly, without them having to worry about how or why it’s working. The greatest compliment we can hear from customers is that they’re not even aware that their tension control equipment is doing anything. They mount it to the machine; and it sits there and it works. That’s how it should be.
Technology-wise, customers are requesting more features in tension controllers. Features, such as adaptive tuning for applications with rapid accelerations or decelerations, digital calibration and color GUI displays, are now common and are appreciated by customers.
When a new tension controller with more advanced technology, a larger feature set and a smaller footprint becomes available on the market, and at a reasonable price, users can often justify the retirement of an older controller on a cost/benefit basis.
Also, certain segments of the industry, like the bag makers, would appreciate an unwind tension control system that doesn’t necessarily have to use direct tension-sensing technology. Some tension control companies are starting to address this need.
Q: Do you see anything missing in this portion of the flexible packaging industry?
A: One headache that maintenance technicians would like to eliminate with respect to tension measurement equipment is the frequent need to recalibrate the control electronics to the tension transducer outputs. A true auto-calibration feature has yet to be developed.
Another product that flexible packaging converters would appreciate would be a load cell or tension transducer with an infinite load range. This would allow the converter infinite flexibility in the range of tensions one might need to run on today’s multi-substrate presses and machines.
Q: What's new and exciting at the company?
A: One of the more exciting recent developments for us has been the SteadyWeb5 digital tension controller. What makes this particular controller popular with web converters and flexible packaging printers is that it is loaded with digital innovations and features, but it has kept some of the early user-interface attributes that made previous generations of this controller easy for machine operators to use.
Closed-loop controllers of any type that are active in a fast-moving production environment can seem complicated and may take the average machine operator a long time to master. However, the color, backlit, graphic LCD display and a large rotating knob on the front of the SteadyWeb5 make it less intimidating for operators to use than the more traditional soft-key buttons and text-only displays that are prevalent in digital tension controls in the industry.
Dover Flexo Electronics, Inc.