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Machinery makers emphasize speed, integration, automation

Issue: January 2017

Thermoforming machinery makers focused on automation, ease of maintenance, speed and integrating multiple functions into one full production cycle during the K show. These companies are innovating to keep up with customers whose production runs are getting smaller, which requires more tool changes and better preventive maintenance.

GN’s high-speed GN800 form-cut-stack machine

More automation is inevitable, said Jerome Romkey, business development manager for GN Thermoforming Equipment, Chester, Nova Scotia, during an interview at his company’s booth.

“Automation is going to be huge,” he said. “That is high on our list of to-do items we’re working on. It doesn’t seem to matter where at the moment. We are getting requests from Mexico, U.S., Middle East, Russia, everywhere they want to automate because it seems as though there are two big factors — labor costs are going up; and No. 2, if the labor is there, it’s finding the right labor. We are being pushed very heavily into automation. People want to go straight from the roll to the box.”

The company had on display its high-speed GN800 form-cut-stack machine. The machine is GN’s entrance into the form-cut-stack market and expands the company’s plug-assist machine offerings. The company previously had focused on the in-mold cut process with its plug-assist machines.

“It’s great, it’s a super process and every part is 100 percent identical,” Romkey said of the in-mold cut process. “But what it limited us at is, the cost of the tool for in-mold cut is higher than form-cut-stack — substantially higher — so the markets that we pick for the products and what the customer could pick had to be bigger-volume type products.”

This limited GN in certain markets. “If you didn’t have 30, 40 million pieces and you didn’t want them perfectly identical, then it wasn’t a choice: You had to buy the heavier tool, the more expensive tool,” he said. “In this case, they now have the option. This will allow us to get into the markets where they may have one relatively big run, but they can put relatively inexpensive tooling in it and run a multiple range of products. It just gives us a much wider range of customers we can talk to now.”

Further HMI advancements have been key to simplifying the operation, Romkey said, allowing machines to be operated by technical personnel rather than an engineer.

“We’ve made the machine a little more user-friendly,” he said. “We went out to a lot of existing customers and potential customers who are running form-cut-stack equipment and got feedback. Mainly, one of the big things that it always goes back to for an operating system is simplicity. We’ve built our HMI off the platform, certainly, of our other machines. It’s similar, but we also took a lot of feedback from customers and made it very simplistic. We’re moving that further along to where it is monitoring different things in the machine. That area, although it’s well developed, we’ve got a plan to get it much more developed in the next year or so.”

The graphics are better, for example, and diagnostics and feedback make the operator’s job easier. “If anything would happen within the machine, it makes it very user-friendly for the customer, and very easy for us to get online from anywhere in the world,” he said.

The machines are built in Canada, and the first two models of the GN800 are in operation in Europe. The display model at the K show was processing PET sheet from Octal at 48 cycles per minute. The machine was going to an open house at GN’s technical center in the Czech Republic after the show and then to a customer’s facility in Hungary.

Gabler unveils M100 with 40 percent more production capacity

Gabler Thermoform GmbH & Co. KG, Lübeck, Germany, took two years to design the machine it unveiled at the K show — the M100 — which is the latest model in its popular M Line series of trim-in-place, tilt-bed formers.

Gabler’s new M100 unit forms flange-seal PP cups with a diameter of 71mm on an 84-cavity tool.

The workhorse was in production at the show, forming flange-seal PP cups with a diameter of 71mm on an 84-cavity tool at 32 cycles per minute. The machine was roll-fed, although that won’t necessarily be the case in the factories where this model will go, said Gary Sowden, Gabler’s sales director for North America. The vast majority of customers will use direct extrusion. The system at the show was fully automated with the company’s Reverse Stacker — cups were picked up from the ejectors by applying vacuum with the use of mandrels, which are mounted on a suction plate. The suction plate turns 180 degrees and pushes the cups, bottom first, into the stacking accumulator. The accumulator is equipped with hinges to keep the cups in position. The stacker is unloaded horizontally and row by row, then the stacks are pushed onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt transports each stack to downstream automation or to an operator for packing. All motions on the Reverse Stacker are servo-driven.

Cycle times were unaffected, Sowden said, despite the size of the mold, which allowed the machine to produce 40 percent more cups per cycle compared to the previous design. 

 “This is a quantum leap,” he said of the tool that was made by Marbach, Heilbronn, Germany. The largest size for this technology had been 60 cavities. “In our mind, it was no good to go bigger and run slower. In our design brief, the machine was to be no slower than existing equipment. This is the fastest tilt-bed machine in our product lineup,” he said. In some cases, the production increase can be as much as 50 percent over existing machine models, depending on the product size and design.

The machine’s speed is due in part to its unique dual-drive system. Gabler’s tilt-bed M Series machines always have been dual-drive, with one servo for the vertical and cutting motion (lift table) and another for the rotating motion. But, previously, a cam system drove the lift table. In the M100, Gabler used a redesign with a crankshaft-drive mechanism.

“It is true that this time-tested approach of dual-drive is what enables us to build a tilt-bed this big,” he said. “With a single drive, it would be impossible to lift and rotate tooling this big and heavy at the required cycle rates.”

Because of the increased size of the mold and associated increase in forces, the M100 uses a linear bearing guidance system on the forming station for increased precision. The forming area is 44.49 by 21.65 inches for PP applications, with 110 tons of closing and cutting force. Use of linear bearing guidance enables Gabler to maintain accurate positioning for precise forming and cutting and ensures long life of the cutting components in the tool.

Gabler put significant effort into the development of the HMI. The Siemens Simatic HMI is extremely robust in providing feedback to an operator and easy to understand, with full illustrations of the equipment at each stage.

“It really shortens the time to train operators,” Sowden said. “We put a lot of effort to make this very intuitive.”

Smaller batch sizes affect automation needs, increase need for cleaning

Illig’s Klaus Wolf stacks PP containers that were in-mold labeled on Illig’s RDM 70Kc thermoformer.

Heilbronn-based machinery maker Illig Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG made a big splash at the K show with two systems. The first is the latest stage of development on its in-mold labeling in thermoforming production, known as IML-T, which was illustrated on an IC-RDM 70Kc roll-fed thermoformer with a compact IML unit marketed as RDML 70b. The machine was forming PP containers used in the dairy industry.

“You get a ready-made cup out of the line at the end with a brilliant decoration,” said Reiner Albrecht, Illig’s sales director. The 18-cavity tool produces 17,280 rectangular PP cups per hour; the material had an initial PP-foil thickness of 1.2mm and PP-label thickness of 60 microns. The label is dubbed a butterfly label, which allows for the decoration of the five side walls of the container. The IC-RDM 70k has a forming area of 680mm by 300mm. The RDML 70b removes printed labels from a magazine, then places them in the mold cavities. Each mold cavity also could be equipped with an individually printed label. For example, if a processor has a need for producing containers on one run that can be used for chocolate, banana or strawberry flavors in a dairy product, that is an option.

Illig has delivered three RDM 70Kc units with the RDML 70b label machine to customers in Europe. Two additional lines were delivered in December to customers in the Middle East. In the first quarter of this year, Illig will deliver two FSL 48 form-fill-seal lines with combined in-mold labeling to a customer in the Middle East. New lines are projected and Illig is in final discussions with customers in the U.S., South America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

In a separate demonstration, the company had its IC-RDK 54k automatic pressure forming machine married to a flexible PHF 80 stacking and packaging system. The IC-RDK was producing round and clear amorphous PET (APET) deli cups with a 12-up tool that had integrated band steel-cutting and producing at 50 cycles per minute. The hourly production translated to 36,000 cups. The integrated band knives cut the thermoformed cups.

Karl Schäuble, Illig’s managing director, said that the company’s focus for the future is to “increase the quality time of thermoformers with high batch sizes and strong automation.”

This means faster speeds and a higher number of containers coming off the lines in smaller batch sizes. Officials highlighted several trends: Production runs are getting smaller, and more companies are running more products in shorter runs on their equipment, which means shorter times for producing tooling and increased cleaning requirements.

Illig’s IC-RDK 54k automatic pressure forming machine and a flexible PHF 80 stacking and packaging system.

Illig completed a redesign of its IC-RDK 54 automatic pressure forming machine prior to K, giving it an 18 percent larger forming area of 22 by 19 inches. Mold width was enlarged by 3 inches, for a forming area of 23 by 20.3 inches. The line also employed innovations from Illig’s Cleantivity concept. Mold filling time has been reduced as well. This is due to the use of air-storage tanks for forming pressure and vacuum forming, and sophisticated valves. Albrecht said the valves, in combination with Illig’s machine programming and overlapping sequences, allow the fastest possible filling times on the molds. He could not disclose further details on the valves due to the proprietary nature of the information.

The PHF 80 stacking and packaging system is a modular unit with dimensions of about 13 feet by 10 feet by 8 feet. It is fully automated and features stack removal and offers ergonomic handling and packaging. It’s suited for products as big as 13.4 inches on each side, and currently is being used for lids, trays, hinged packs and cups.

Angie DeRosa, managing editor



Gabler North America, 
989-615-6365, www.gabler-thermoform.com

GN Thermoforming Equipment, 
902-275-3571, www.gnplastics.com

Illig LP, 
484-639-7124, www.illigusa.com