Technological watch

Digitalization in film production: from data to value

Increase profitability. Produce less scrap. Have fewer claims. These are keywords for any manufacturing company, and at the juncture of the circular economy, where we seek increasingly efficient packaging, these challenges have a particular interest for blown film production plants.

Smart manufacturing, and specifically Industry 4.0 tools, is a great partner in achieving these desired results. The ability to translate through data what is compliant and what is not and the possibility of online alerting about any anomaly or problem in production is changing the game rules. It's as if we have been working with a blindfold on, and suddenly we can take it off.

Until now, production troubleshooting has been based entirely on the expertise of operators and production technicians. For example, when a bubble falls out, or when there are surface marks on the film, we start adjusting parameters on the machine. In the best of cases, we know what we are doing, but sometimes it is trial and error. And overcoming a problem costs many kilograms.

The 4.0 solutions propose to have complete instrumentation of the whole process. Imagine having a permanent electrocardiogram of the whole system. We can see if there is out of standard variable, or if we enter the parameters earlier than expected. These are the details where, step by step, the profitability and competitiveness of the transforming and converting companies will be defined. And it is undeniable that this is the future of our entire industry.

Also read: The future of plastics after Covid 19

An IoT tool to use informationGermany has traditionally been a leader in 4.0 solutions. One of the country's leading suppliers of blown film, W&H, has introduced the Ruby system, a platform that allows all products to be connected to a single central interface. The Ruby system is an IoT (Internet of Things) tool, which collects all the data available on the operating panel. The platform connects all the company's products in a single central interface: extrusion, printing, and converting.

“Ruby allows us to find a treasure in packaging production. The information is there tangible, and we are not using it fully.”.

Diego Amaya, W&H

"We collect information on production, process, materials, inks, resins, and information on customer production, sequences, orders, shifts, waste, weight per hour of products, temperatures in different zones, speeds and thickness variations," explains Diego Amaya, W&H's regional sales manager for the northern part of Latin America. With this, "We can offer a solution for the entire value chain using data in a simple, intuitive and user-friendly way to optimize processes and products".

There's an interesting fact: the data is already being captured. What this IoT platform does is use it. "It's not just about getting the information from the machines but also understanding where we can improve production. How can I get statistics that I can use, or even further, how our system can do the statistics and give the customer the solution" says Frederik Rickel, W&H sales and service director for East and South Europe.

Among many benefits of real-time production monitoring, it is possible to process trend data over a period and check the history of alarms on the machines. Rickel adds that the information already existed in the plants but was not being used. "If you just collect it and store it, there is no value." The idea of Ruby is not only to generate data but also to analyze it and optimize production.

Amaya goes further and associates the name Ruby with "finding a treasure in packaging production. The information is there tangible and we're not using it fully".

The platform has different extensions, and each one is adapted to a type of machine. For extruders, the extension used is Gain. And with it, as production takes place and data is collected, the system "learns" what values should be obtained to achieve good production. "Production can be expressed in data, in values that have meaning for the end customer," explains Rickel. This is particularly useful on complex machines where there are five or more extruders. "We're trying to give operators tools to work faster and better and give them productivity time to do other work."

And that is one of the great benefits of interconnectivity. Being able to have traceability throughout the chain. "We can offer a solution for the entire value chain using data in a simple, intuitive, and user-friendly way to optimize processes and products," says Amaya.

Also read: Mexican automotive parts industry, between crisis and opportunity

Publication date: 09/11/2021

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This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31