The CP-30 case packer developed by U.S.machine builder R.A Jones is an excellent example of custom machine design. It is a high-performance case packer for a large, multinational manufacturer of coffee products.

In the application, high-volume products are fed in at such high speeds that a high level of automation was crucial for continuous operation. This could be implemented using EtherCAT and PC-based control and drive technology from Beckhoff.

While best known for a vast array of standard packaging machines for aerosols, cup filling, chub packaging, multipacking, pouching, case packing and cartoning, R.A Jones also offers completely custom machinery.

Part of the Italy-based Coesia Group of packaging machine builders, R.A Jones serves many of the world’s biggest brands in consumer products with highly automated primary and secondary packaging machines.

They are used to package food and beverage products, over-the-counter medications and other high-volume consumer products. R.A Jones leans on its over 100 years of packaging industry experience to back up the support given to every installation in the field.

Highly automated packaging of high-volume products

When R.A Jones was contracted by a manufacturer of coffee products to develop a case packing machine, the sheer volume of custom equipment was a tall order, with 12 machines to manufacture in a tight timeframe, but so was the high level of automation required by the end user.

“With coffee products coming in as fast as 1,200 per minute, the machines had to run continuously, even in the event of a jam,” said Bob Burkhardt, Product Portfolio Manager for Cartoning, Robotics & Pouching, R.A Jones.

“So we sought a machine control platform that could automatically diagnose and correct machine stoppage without an operator’s manual adjustments. This eliminates the burden on workers to stop production and pull reject boxes, which is crucial in such a fast-paced production environment.”

The resulting CP-30 machine automates all aspects of case packing, including jam clearance and packaging changeovers via over 70 dynamically controlled servo axes

It can automatically eject cases that don’t open correctly under the magazine without stopping the packaging process. The machines feature a case feed robot inside to move flat corrugated cardboard into the case erecting segment.

“We worked with Beckhoff application engineers to create custom kinematics software for this specialized robot,” Bob Burkhardt said. “While similar to a SCARA, this robot is completely custom to provide a high degree of rotation for the pick head as it pulls cardboard out of the magazine.”

If the case fails to open, sensors will automatically detect this, and the pick head will reject the case. Afterward, the case feed robot will pick a new case. While the automated reject handling is a key benefit for the end user, so is the notably high throughput and flexibility in carton handling.

Automation from a single source

“The processing power we get from PC-based control is impressive,” Nick Werner, Custom Controls Group, R.A Jones, said. “Practically speaking, this means the difference between implementing one Beckhoff controller and having to juggle multiple controllers from a traditional PLC vendor to handle machine automation.”

A Beckhoff C6030 Industrial PC (IPC) with Intel® Core™ i7 processor provides ample power for all the computationally intensive functions in case packing.

“One of the biggest things we observed with the Beckhoff IPC was impressively low scan times – around 1 millisecond scan time for more than 70 servo axes,” said Austin Rismiller, Electrical Project Engineer, Research & Development/Innovation, R.A Jones.

Another enabler of low scan times is the fast communication over the EtherCAT protocol connecting all drives and I/O on the CP-30. “EtherCAT provides an outstanding level of speed in our machine communications,” Nick Werner added.

“And the ease of setup when automatically scanning devices into the network greatly helped with startup, commissioning and troubleshooting.

This and built-in EtherCAT diagnostics make it easy to quickly localize and correct any wiring mistakes or breaks that may have happened down to the exact I/O terminal.”

The EtherCAT I/O system also provides direct connectivity to other industrial networks, such as IO-Link, and thus to various third-party devices, such as RFID readers, programmable stack lights and smart photo eyes.

With the servomotor terminals in the EL72xx series, R.A Jones also uses compact drive technology from Beckhoff for space-saving control of the AM8100 series servomotors. EL9576 terminals add brake chopper functionality in the same 12 mm wide format.

“Beckhoff directly addressed the small motor and drive sizes required for CP-30, which is a major benefit,” said Paul Schuster, Product Portfolio Manager, Coesia Digital & Aerosol, R.A Jones. “Combining the power and feedback cables into one line using One Cable Technology (OCT) added to our space and wiring savings.”

The machine’s footprint is smaller than comparable case packers and its electrical cabinets even fold down, so the entire machine can be shipped in a normal semitruck.

Machine safety is integrated into the standard control platform and EtherCAT network via the TwinSAFE system. TwinSAFE I/O terminals connect to guard doors and e-stops throughout the machine and safety data is sent via Safety over EtherCAT (FSoE).

The servo drives in the application also communicate via FSoE to provide a variety of safe motion functions.

The system is broken up into two safety zones with dedicated TwinSAFE logic in each

A cartoner side zone is on the operator side, where the case feed robot picks all the cases.

A second zone is on the transfer side where the cartons come in from the infeed and go to the upstacker.

This provides the ability to stop the appropriate zone during safety events instead of stopping the entire machine.

Modern PLC programming standards

On the programming side, TwinCAT 3 as an engineering environment and runtime for machine control also demonstrated major advantages.

The universal TwinCAT platform handles all aspects of machine control, including PLC, safety, motion control and more. “I’m a fan of how TwinCAT XAE is presented in a standard Microsoft Visual Studio shell,” Austin Rismiller said.

“That’s refreshing compared to traditional PLC vendors’ software offerings. TwinCAT 3 integrates all computer science standards in programming, like C++ and Python which meshes into my programming knowledge from college.

“Providing these options in addition to PLC programming standards such as structured text is a key benefit.”

As part of the project, R.A Jones used the existing Coesia Automation Framework Library (AFL) in TwinCAT. “TwinCAT offers the ability to protect Coesia and R.A Jones software and function blocks as intellectual property,” Nick Werner said.

“Even better, end users never have to trouble themselves with the PLC code for troubleshooting and maintenance since these interactions are handled via the HMI.”

Assisting in this user-friendly approach is a CP3918 Control Panel in 18-inch widescreen format with multiple push buttons selected for machine control functions – all designed right into the panel.

The timeline for critical electrical design and installation of the CP-30 machines was compressed into a rigorous six-month period to stay on schedule for the end user’s plant upgrade.

This required close and constant teamwork among engineers at R.A Jones and Beckhoff to meet a tight delivery window.

“Our effective collaboration and local support resources were up to the challenge of these development milestones,” said Mark Ruberg, Packaging Industry Manager at Beckhoff USA.

For the changeover of the future

The flexibility of the machine is boosted by the Acc-U-Change Plus™ solution from R.A Jones that allows users to handle changeovers with the push of a button, ensuring a vertical start-up and high case quality during production.

The removable components are RFID-enabled, so operators can verify that the right equipment is installed in the right place for all case sizes and patterns.

“Where changeover times to a different sized case often take 20 to 30 minutes in other case packers, we’ve been able to bring changeover time to around five minutes or even less on the CP-30,” Nick Werner said.

“Using automation from Beckhoff, we’ve taken 19 manual moves out of the equation — with one touch on the HMI and the automated changeover can move from largest size to the smallest size and vice versa.”

After these positive experiences, R.A Jones has at least two new machine projects in development that will have Beckhoff as the standard machine control platform to similarly boost throughput, reduce machine footprint and shorten changeover times.


Beckhoff Automation
Tel. +27 11 795 2898

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