The so-called “off year” Pack Expo event, held in Las Vegas Sept. 26-28, featured many automation suppliers. This is not really a show automation vendors target for new product releases—although there were a few—but all featured way in which their products and solutions fit the packaging machinery industry. This is especially appropriate given the large contingent of packaging machinery manufacturers who also exhibit at the show.

In “The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same” department, once again I went from booth to booth of automation and controls suppliers who predicted the imminent demise of Rockwell Automation as the dominant North American supplier to packaging machinery manufacturers.

If you look purely from a product point of view, they have an argument—and they all made it forcefully. There is no doubt that such suppliers as Beckhoff and B&R Automation not to mention Bosch Rexroth and Schneider Electric have capable products. The question is more one of sales and marketing. How do they convert perennial grumbling about Rockwell’s pricing or products into actual sales? To date, I have not seen much movement. But…you never know. This might be the year where someone puts a dent in the market share.

The main disappointing thing to me (since I am a proponent of fierce competition) is that Bosch Rexroth and Schneider Electric spokespeople talked to me about automation, but I bet that their PR machines go quiet on the subject again just as they have for many years. They just don’t make the concentrated push that you’d expect from major companies with competitive products.

Looking at other automation technologies, the integration of motion and logic continues apace. Ethernet is everywhere. Mostly I saw EtherNet/IP (ODVA) and EtherCat (Beckhoff). In terms of suppliers adopting EtherCat, that technology appears to be gaining momentum. But the latest market figures I’ve been shown do not verify that observation. But B&R showed the power of Ethernet Powerlink and in other conversations, a spokesman for CC Link told me that technology had significant market in Asia and they expect growth in America.

OMAC Rises

OMAC, formed as an end-user organization promoting control interoperability and standardization and re-formed as a joint vendor/user organization promoting interoperability, was seemingly resurrected from the ashes at this event. Under vigorous leadership of Nestle engineers who foresee great benefits of suppliers and machine builders adopting the PackML series of specifications, several meetings were held, new committees were formed and the energy and enthusiasm of the new direction and leadership was evident to the few journalists who attended the press conference following. It sounded good. Hope they find their way.

New product roundup

<b<Beckhoff announced the release of EL7201 servo terminal for the EtherCat Terminal system. The EL7201 terminal integrates a complete servo drive for motors up to 200 W into a standard 12 mm I/O terminal housing. Integration into the EtherCAT I/O system considerably simplifies cabling and commissioning while reducing cabinet size requirements and costs.

Bosch Rexroth announced its open system solution IndraMotion for Packaging is now available in version 12 and comes with a series of additional functions allowing users to program robotics applications with the PLC in accordance with IEC 61131-3. Multi-Ethernet interfaces on controls and drives – including on the further developed motor-integrated IndraDrive Mi drives – reduce the costs for OEM having to adapt their solutions to end user requirements.

igus showed TwisterBand TB30 that makes rapid rotating movements possible up to 3,000 degrees and depends only on the belt length or design height in the axis of rotation. The smaller masses involved mean much lower centrifugal forces and possible rotary speeds up to 720 °/s. Thanks to the small installation size and compact design, this cable carrier system can be used safely in all installation positions: horizontal or vertical.

Lenze rolled out three new SMVector NEMA 1 models. The 40, 50 and 60 HP SMVector drives deliver, according to the press release, “ superior performance and design flexibility in a broad range of AC motor applications.” The drives include four modes of operation – V/Hz, Enhanced V/Hz, Vector Speed, and Torque – plus high starting torque, auto-tuning, advanced low-speed control, and dynamic speed regulation.

Siemens announced that its Sinamics S120 drive system has been enhanced to include Profinet, Ethernet TCP/IP and EtherNet/IP, thus providing flexibility for industrial Ethernet communication. Its standard networks are Profibus DP and Profinet, and its additional higher-level functions include Safety Integrated telegrams and synchronized mechanisms.

Here is a list of automation companies I saw at Pack Expo.
2020 Hindsight
Bosch Rexroth
Emerson Industrial
Emerson Micromotion
Plex Systems
Red Lion
Schneider Electric
Yaskawa / Motoman

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