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Machines greater than the sum of their parts

Machines greater than the sum of their parts

Pharmaceutical packaging machine projects can vary massively from one to the next. German company Mediseal is reaping the benefits individually tested software modules, giving the company greater agility to deliver new solutions with minimal cost and risk.

In the pharmaceutical industry, product quality and system reliability are absolute priorities. This can present challenges for machine builders where substantial variations in customer requirements mean that up to 30% of each machine is either modified or newly developed.

One such machine builder is Mediseal. R&D manager Ulf Leineke argues that maintaining a single software project that incorporates multiple machine series and all of their options would not be a viable option. "Considering the number of custom modifications that we deal with, an all-inclusive project would quickly balloon to unmanageable proportions. It would also result in us carrying a unnecessary load of disabled modules in every project or having to decouple parts of the main development line."

Leineke also believes that customer acceptance would be problematic. "Our users in the pharmaceutical industry expect state-of-the-art custom solutions and updates, but they don't want to have to test and validate the entire project after every modification." Mediseal's solution is to draw from a pool of software modules with clearly defined interfaces to create the bulk of each new machine. "Since this part is not modified in any way, only the newly added components and any interdependencies require testing and validation. This saves a great deal of time and effort for both us and our customers," says Leineke.

Mediseal achieves this paradigm of tested software modules buy using Automation Studio development software from B&R. "Encapsulating the software in reusable modules accompanied by corresponding libraries is a very simple matter," says Leineke. "Plus the projects are available as ASCII text, not just binary files."

Leineke considers this to be one of the most important factors, as it allows efficient use of a source control tool to manage the various software modules. Once a version has been tested and released, it can be frozen and reused over and over.

Mediseal was an early adopter of Automation Studio. "Whenever we see a new technology take a significant innovative leap, we're quick to implement it to our own advantage and to the advantage of our customers," reports Leineke.
It is important to him that he is never forced to change products, but rather is free to choose whichever time is most convenient. He appreciates that his development team is able to continue using earlier versions of Automation Studio with B&R providing updates long into the future. "Another huge advantage is that we hardly ever have any issues with firmware incompatibility," says Leineke, noting that Mediseal can rest assured when it comes to product availability as well. "Even B&R's oldest products are generally still available."

Mediseal has relied on B&R automation technology as standard equipment on all of its machines for over seventeen years now, having originally switched to B&R in order to implement an innovative machine architecture based on distributed drive technology and flexible motion control. "B&R had a control solution with integrated servo technology that allowed us to change cam profiles at runtime as well as unifying PLC and motion functionality in a single system," recalls Leineke. "These factors, plus the openness of the solution and their readiness to accommodate our special requests, were the foundation of our decision to work with B&R as our automation partner."

This kicked off a long series of innovative machine developments, as demonstrated by the CP600. This was the first Mediseal blister packaging machine to be equipped with digital servo drives, and with an output of 600 blisters per minute it is among the fastest on the market.

Direct drives replace mechanical moving parts and reduce the time for format changeovers between PVC/ALU and ALU/ALU blisters to under 35 minutes. The modular construction and clearly delineated zones make it easy to implement optional function modules. For example, the full performance of the CP600 can be best utilised by pairing it with a Mediseal cartoning machine.

Each machine in a Mediseal line is controlled by a CPU module from B&R's X20 system. "This decentralisation makes it easier for us to develop the software in parallel and commission a line's machines independently, which is much more efficient than dealing with a single centralised controller," says Leineke. "We're currently evaluating Automation Studio 4, which would allow us to work concurrently on a single controller. If that pans out, it's possible that we may soon move to an architecture with a central controller." This step would also eliminate the need for cross-communication between the line's controllers - a welcome side effect.

Communication between the controllers and the distributed servo drives, as well as networking of the local and remote I/O stations from B&R's X20 system, is all provided by Powerlink.

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