Affordable Linear-Motion Solutions for Packaging Operations

Affordable Linear-Motion Solutions for Packaging Operations

An electromechanical actuator coupled to a servo or stepper motor with an encoder and a toothed belt or ball-screw drive train is a common definition of linear motion. A programmable logic controller (PLC) or drive and motion controller is in charge of this electromechanical system. Cartesian gantry systems and linear motion control are undoubtedly more cost-effective due to economies of scale and technological advancements. There are many benefits to these solutions.

An electromechanical solution can be the best choice if your application would benefit from enhanced dynamics, throughput, flexibility, and fine motion control. The least expensive electromechanical methods combine linear actuators with low-voltage steppers and servos.

Payload, acceleration, speed, torque, throughput, and cycle rate are some of the variables that affect system size. The size increases as these elements rise, and the size falls as they fall.

By switching from a ball screw to a toothed-belt mechanical actuator, throughput can be increased. A toothed-belt mechanism produces noticeably higher acceleration and velocity. Due to systemic play, there will be some loss of precision. In toothed-belt and ball-screw actuators, the trade-offs between throughput, velocity, acceleration, quality, and precision are made evident at the project's specification stage.

We advise clients to size their applications suitably after fully comprehending the force, load, speed, acceleration, throughput, lifespan, and cycle times.

Some important applications for linear motion beyond palletizing and portal applications are stretch wrapping, major and minor flap closing, constructing cases, 90° conveyor transfers, extending nose conveyors, picking and placing in top or side load case applications, and overpressurization for glue.

Six-axis robots are popular among businesses because of their flexibility. A Cartesian robot might be a preferable choice if the application only requires three or four axes of motion. It offers a more condensed work envelope, is less expensive, and is equally flexible within those axes. Additionally, a Cartesian robot maintains 100% accuracy inside the work envelope, but Delta and six-axis robots lose accuracy outside of it.

High-resolution encoders on servo motors, which have features like torque control and position feedback, are used in the majority of linear systems. To increase process efficiency, fault and alarm data can be forwarded to an edge device for cloud analysis. Similarly, the end user may keep an eye on the average speed and cycle rates of specified motion profiles thanks to servo drives, which provide easily accessible parameters and process data. Profiles that are not up to par indicate impending issues.

With linear systems, accessories can be employed to reduce the possibility of unscheduled shutdowns. For instance, linear encoders might show trends exceeding normal bounds in precision and repeatability. Vibration sensors can identify issues before they get serious.

Compared to a robot, which needs to be guarded and has a wide swing radius, linear motion has a smaller footprint. When working over conveyors that move in cardinal directions, linear gantries are the best option because they can readily optimize the pick sites inside a rectangular workspace.

Saving on space using linear motion

The capacity to supply front- and end-of-line applications with rapid, precise linear motion control is still growing. Although there are low-profile micro systems available for applications requiring lesser loads, linear devices can offer higher capacity for heavier loads. Low-profile linear systems are typically inexpensive, small-space compatible, and capable of handling loads under 20 lbs.

Gains in cycle times may initially require trade-offs, but with improvements in screw actuator sizes and magnet technology, the possibilities are virtually endless. Systems with direct drives typically have very high operating efficiency. They are cleaner because they don't need fluids. They take less time to assemble because they are smaller. The quality, precision, and throughput offer the biggest benefits. Through programming adjustments, linear systems provide multiple point positioning and enable fast product reversal and rotation. Their placement accuracy is incredibly precise.

Although linear motion often requires a significantly smaller footprint, it is also a good option for retrofitting already-existing equipment. The standard design questions to think about are load, uptime, ambient operating conditions, and communication needs. The best course of action is to examine the current system to identify its shortcomings and suggest improvements.

One of their advantages is the availability of intelligent components. There are four primary components of a linear motion system: motors, actuators, linear bearings, and controls. Actuators with intelligent communication capabilities are widely available in the market. The linear bearing requires no maintenance. Direct-drive linear motors are available with intelligent communication. The controls facilitate communication between the machine and outside entities, as well as continuous feedback with the system.

Once more, linear motion is most noticeable in the machinery footprint. Consider the conventional method of operating conveyors, which involves massive motors, large ac drives, gearboxes, racks, bearings, ball screws, pinions, belts, and chains. The typical design not only has a greater footprint, but it also needs a lot of upkeep. Imagine that there are three shifts working seven days a week. Lubricating the machinery is necessary. It's disorganized. The equipment uses a lot of electricity. Linear motion is more efficient in all cases. By itself, the space savings can reach 50%.

Better control and consistent accuracy 

Palletizing and gateways can be handled in a variety of ways. Certain electric actuators can be utilized for portals because of their parallel construction, which reduces the size of the solution. The fact that these solutions are made for a wide range of applications helps keep costs down as more industries switch to linear motion and more reasonably priced goods become available. They can also incorporate feedback options to facilitate monitoring. All of this adds up to less downtime and more production, not to mention the bonus of no maintenance.

One trend we're seeing in palletizing is the combination of a vertical lifting system and collaborative robots. These solutions aid operators by lowering strain and health issues caused by repetitive lifting of the boxes. They also boost process speed and can run continuously, leading to greater production. Better movement control and cycle time optimization are made possible by these linear-motion systems' precision and repetition.

Generally speaking, push/pull or lift movements can be implemented anywhere linear-motion solutions can be used. Currently, certain actuators come equipped with built-in monitoring that gathers and sends force, speed, position feedback, and temperature data to a controller for analysis. Peak force detection is a feature that allows all of these metrics to identify anomalies in the actuator's behavior and communicate them to the PLC or controller. By doing so, downtime can be decreased and predictive maintenance can be defined more precisely.

In terms of spatial constraints, a single product might serve several purposes. It is possible to write multiple programs ahead of time for the various items that might travel through the same line. This can minimize the amount of machinery needed because it can be used for several purposes without requiring the duplication of lines, helping to optimize line consumption.

Three typical actuator types

Three popular actuator types can be used to achieve linear motion when trying to implement it. While linear motors are motors that operate linearly by nature, ball-screw and belt actuators translate rotary action to linear motion.

The most economical method of obtaining linear motion is to convert rotary motion to linear motion, however this comes with a trade-off in terms of force, precision, and speed.

When converting rotary motion to linear motion, ball-screw actuators provide a strong mechanical advantage. They are an excellent type of linear motion actuator. You may maintain good speeds and have good force for the load's acceleration and deceleration by choosing the best pitch screw for the job.

Belt actuators have excellent positional precision and can operate at faster speeds than ball screws. It is possible to achieve high acceleration and deceleration with adequate force. If extremely high accuracy is required, then there are some minor mechanical errors that should be examined.

When it comes to capacities, linear motors are the best. They can reach the highest speeds, the fastest acceleration and deceleration, and the highest precision. They are also more expensive than the other two choices.

Although each of these three options requires some room, using linear motors has the benefit of being built right into the machine. The magnet track and the coil that travels down it are the two major parts of a linear motor, however there are numerous others. In order to save space, some manufacturers will provide these two parts and let the machine builder incorporate them into the machine frame. Aligning the magnet track and coil along the selected linear rails by the machine builder does require some planning.

In conclusion, the integration of linear-motion technology presents a significant opportunity for enhancing efficiency, precision, and throughput in packaging operations. Electromechanical actuators, combined with advanced control systems, offer versatile solutions for various applications, from palletizing to stretch wrapping and conveyor transfers. Despite concerns about cost and size, recent advancements have made linear-motion systems more affordable and space-efficient than ever before.

As a leading provider of automation solutions, Automation Distribution stands ready to assist businesses in optimizing their operations with tailored linear-motion solutions. With a comprehensive understanding of force dynamics, load requirements, and operational conditions, our experts can recommend the most suitable linear components to meet specific application needs.

Furthermore, our commitment to innovation ensures access to intelligent linear-motion components equipped with real-time performance optimization and predictive analytics capabilities. By leveraging these technologies, businesses can minimize downtime, enhance process control, and maximize productivity.

Whether you're seeking to streamline existing equipment or implement cutting-edge linear-motion solutions, Automation Distribution offers expertise and support every step of the way. Contact us today to explore how we can elevate your packaging operation with efficient and space-saving linear-motion solutions.

Mar 28th 2024

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