Intelligent Control Paves the Way for Converting’s Future
Flexible Packaging recently caught up with Pedro Velasco of Roll-2-Roll Technologies LLC for a discussion about web inspection and detection in converting.
What’s new in the world of inspection and detection? Has R2R released any new products that help in this area?
A: The past three years have been exciting for the web inspection and detection area of converting. Simplicity in operation and installation, and the elimination of sensor calibration processes to handle material or environmental changes, have been some of innovations in the converting industry.
Roll-2-Roll Technologies brought to the market the first sensor/control system that allows converters to process any material without having to go through a calibration process when material or environmental characteristics change. This means that a converting process can change from a porous to a non-porous material or a clear to an opaque material, with the same sensor and without calibration of the controls. This has been a major breakthrough in the converting industry. This sensor technology also features applications such as thread counting, thread detection, thread monitoring, width measurement and width monitoring all with the same sensor and controller that is used for edge detection.
The second major breakthrough involves contrast sensing. We introduced to the market a contrast sensor that detects contrasts on a web for guiding and/or monitoring. The sensor-controller system provides multiple options that allow guiding or monitoring of difficult contrasts by locking into a constant feature on the surface of the web. This feature permits label manufacturers multiple ways of guiding materials in slitting processes. Coating operations also have the ability to monitor or guide their webs based on the position of the contrast created by the coating on the film.
Another important breakthrough is the widening of the sensing window in inspection sensors. Imagine one sensor capable of covering the entire surface of the web. With the appropriate control system it can be used as a feature or defect detection system with 100 percent coverage of the entire web. As of now our sensors and controllers can be used for certain inspection applications up to 17 inches in web width, but there will be wider widths before the end of the year.
In what ways do R2R’s sensors, web guides and controllers help with inspection throughout the converting process?
A: The sensors and controllers provide multiple applications that are available for inspection purposes. Converters can use our sensors for monitoring or measuring web width, detecting, counting or measuring threads, detecting marks that are either defects or purposely placed on the web, monitoring coating edge location and position of laminates over a substrate. With the communications option in our controllers, the inspection process can be accessed through a PLC or Ethernet communications. In general, there are multiple applications that our sensing system can be used for; most of these applications are found when a customer calls and asks “Can your system do this?”
In web guiding, we have developed a complete line of retrofit guiding systems that allow converters to keep the mechanical components of their installed web guide, and we retrofit their system with our controller, sensor and actuator. This allows the converter to incorporate the latest and most advanced sensor/control application for a fraction of the cost of replacing a complete web guide. Pneumo-hydraulic and electromechanical web guide systems are some of the systems that can be upgraded with our retrofit kits.
The main objective of web guiding is to keep the material aligned before a critical process. However, we have developed a data analytics system that can be incorporated into the web guide control system that allows for detection of certain anomalies in the converting line and identify the cause of the anomalies. KOIOS Data Analytics provides a process “Health Index” in numerical form to allow easy viewing of the converting line condition. With the fault and cause features, KOIOS Data Analytics provides a process monitoring system.
Sensors, web guides and controllers are likely thought of as accessories in converting, perhaps not necessities. Can you explain the importance of these components?
A: One of the main tenets in web handling is that webs and converting processes are not perfect. Converting lines are faster, and these imperfections are magnified with the increased speeds. Converting processes will always require devices to account for these imperfections. Rollers can be slightly misaligned. Materials can have variations in thickness across the width or along the entire length of the material, causing the material to move without control over rollers. Temperature and humidity can change in a production environment. There are so many variables in a converting process that will affect the way a web behaves that sensors, web guides and controllers are no longer an accessory.
One of the reasons the Web Handling Research Center at Oklahoma State University exists is because converting had no real knowledge as to how the web behaves in a dynamic system. Industry members of the center present its researchers with real industrial problems.
To piggyback off the last question, what might some of the consequences be if converters don’t consider the aforementioned seriously?
A: It’s simple, the converter will be losing money. Lack of precise and accurate detection of the web will result in lost production, and personnel time and materials. It’s amazing to find how much downtime and spoilage gets accumulated throughout a year of operation when there is inefficiency in a process. A faulty inspection process will lead to reprocessing of finished products, customer returns and, in many cases, complete rejection of a batch of finished or in-process products. If we address precision and accuracy in web detection and positioning, imagine 1 mm of material or coating wasted in an operation that runs 24 hours, 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year running material at 700 feet per minute. All because the guiding system in use cannot hold that precision, and the converting operation is not willing to invest a few thousand dollars to save tens of thousands in one year.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about R2R and/or inspection and detection?
A: The future of converting is in collecting and managing data from the converting system. This will allow converters to become highly efficient in their operations by having instant information to make informed decisions regarding their processes. Sometimes we think that the future is far away, and it is actually closer. We have an intelligent control system for our sensors and web guides. Our controllers can tell what sensor is plugged in. They can adapt to the changing conditions of the materials and environment. They can collect information from the process. We see that the future is not only in collecting information and processing it, but also in having machine components within a line talking to each other to adapt to changing process conditions.