By Dr. Michael Dattner
Germany-based BST eltromat’s quality assurance systems support the efforts of web-processing industries to promote sustainability in a number of ways. In the film and packaging sector in particular, the circular economy has been an increasingly important topic for several years now. This sector is experiencing a radical change that presents new challenges, also for quality assurance systems. As a globally leading manufacturer of these systems, BST eltromat is also at the forefront of helping to shape the transformation process toward a circular economy.
Web guiding, register control, web monitoring, 100-percent inspection and color measurement — quality assurance systems are minimizing material and energy consumption as well as waste, particularly in the manufacture of flexible packaging. The systems are simple and safe to operate and they shorten the setup processes and guarantee a constant level of production quality. And, for the purposes of Industry 4.0, they allow for cross-process integration with upstream and downstream production steps. Manufacturers thus enable different areas to share process data between their machines and solutions. This integration opens up additional, previously unknown options for increasing efficiency in web-processing industries — and thus increasing sustainability.
With all of this, quality assurance in the film and packaging industry leads to improved environmental footprints in production processes and products along the entire value chain. But other web-processing industries are also benefiting from the improved sustainability made possible by BST eltromat’s quality assurance systems. Examples include the nonwoven, battery and tire industries.
Legislative Decisions Are Propelling Change
In recent history, the improved sustainability of industrial production processes has been one of the main topics at nearly all of these industries’ exhibitions and conventions. Manufacturers of film and flexible packaging in particular have been under enormous pressure to substantially increase the environmental sustainability of their products. Across Europe, the EU Commission’s “A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy” from early 2018 and the “Directive (EU) 2018/852 Amending Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste” have been setting the agenda: packaging should be 100-percent recyclable, reusable or biodegradable. In Germany, this has resulted in the German Packaging Act (VerpackG) that came into force at the beginning of 2019.
There is also pressure coming from the branded goods industry. It is giving manufacturers of flexible packaging until 2025 to deliver novel packaging solutions that are 100-percent recyclable, reusable or biodegradable. At the plastics exhibition K 2019 in Düsseldorf, functional monopolymer materials were first presented as a replacement for multipolymer composite materials that generally have been used for flexible packaging up to now. In addition, major efforts are underway to manufacture packaging from recycled plastics. The special challenge in the development and manufacture of new packaging materials is that not only do they have to hold up to the performance and visual quality of the previous materials, but they must allow for the same level of efficiency in their production.
New Requirements For Quality Assurance
The new materials, including recyclates, have special characteristics that impose new quality assurance requirements — for example, on web guiding or on surface and print inspection. BST eltromat meets these requirements in part with adjusted web guiding systems, sensors and inspection systems. For example, when manufacturing new kinds of packaging materials, it may be necessary to collect experiences and process expertise in order to adjust the coatings on the web guiding rollers.
Another example are the Digimarc barcodes that are being used increasingly in the field of manufacturing packaging. In contrast to the previous one- and two-dimensional barcodes, the Digimarcs are components of the packaging design and thus are not immediately discernable to the human eye. They are usually integrated into the artwork on the packaging in several places. Digimarcs can be read from practically any angle and at the highest machine speeds. They also make it possible to automatically sort plastic packaging from recycling companies’ sorting units and send it directly to the recycling stage.
Digimarcs also create new challenges for quality assurance. BST eltromat is tackling these challenges with its iPQ-View for digital web monitoring and iPQ-Check for 100% inspection. Both solutions are modules of BST eltromat’s iPQ-Center, which includes four seamlessly integrated high-end modules for quality control and management in web printing, and whose functionality covers virtually all of the market’s current requirements.
Additionally, innovative sensor technology can contribute to minimizing material consumption in the manufacture of flexible packaging. BST eltromat will soon be presenting possibilities for how web guiding can save even more material than before, even at high machine speeds. BST eltromat is known on the global market for facing new challenges and working together with its customers to develop new solutions for individual requirements. Regardless of the direction in which new packaging materials develop, the company will continue providing flexible support to the market with its solutions.
Industry 4.0: The Key To Increased Sustainability Across Processes
The integration of the different process steps in the manufacture and further processing of flexible materials — from film extrusion to printing and packaging — presents various options for increasing sustainability. BST eltromat aspires to provide its customers with every possible option when networking its quality assurance systems. To this end, the company collaborates in working groups including the VDMA’s OPC UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture). This interface aims to standardize the networking of the different production systems.
At exhibitions and other events during 2019, Industry 4.0 was an important topic for BST eltromat. For example, at the VDMA’s Circular Economy Forum at the K 2019, in its presentation “Quality Assurance Customized for Products Made of Recyclates” during the session on “Recyclates in Products,” the company showed how integrated processes support the manufacture of innovative plastic materials.
In 2017, BST eltromat helped to found the Converting 4.0 network, initiated by the company KAMPF Schneid- und Wickeltechnik. At the K 2019, the two companies used a simulation to show the interaction of a CLS PRO 600 digital line and contrast sensor from BST eltromat with a ConSlitter-type slitting machine and Kampf Schneid- und Wickeltechnik’s the@vanced integrated platform. The integration allows the sensor technology and the motor-driven knife axle of the slitter to be set up automatically, which simplifies the cutting process and significantly shortens the setup times. Furthermore, it eliminates sources of error, thus preventing waste, which clearly shows how integrated processes support more sustainability in packaging production.
Artificial Intelligence In Error Classification
In mid-November 2019, BST eltromat took part in the fourth gathering of the Converting 4.0 network at Windmöller & Hölscher (W&H) in Lengerich. The event dealt with data communication across process boundaries. BST eltromat highlighted how bringing together quality data leads to greater efficiency and security as well as more convenience and sustainability, provided the information is available in synchronized form. For example, artificial intelligence can significantly benefit process analyses in terms of error classification. Currently, members of the Converting 4.0 network are developing scenarios that describe how more added value can be generated by taking additional process and material data into account. Here, too, the future promises to be exciting.
Industry 4.0 can contribute to increased sustainability in the manufacture of flexible packaging in many other ways. For example, in the framework of its cooperation with SeeOne Vision Technology, a manufacturer of surface inspection systems based in Florence, Italy, BST eltromat is linking information from film extrusion with quality data from the printing process. SeeOne’s systems detect surface defects in different materials such as films, metallized films, paper or cardboard, and use artificial intelligence to classify them as holes or inclusions, or as foreign matter such as insects or dirt. The findings gained from surface inspection can be used in various ways to optimize production processes.
If the quality protocoll feed into BST eltromat’s iPQ-Workflow, for instance, it becomes possible to interpret defects across process boundaries. One example of this: In film extrusion, if quality assurance detects anomalies in a specific linear meter of the film, this is recorded in the quality log. If undesired results appear in the same section of film later during the printing process, the cause can be identified as relating to the film extrusion process.
Additionally, BST eltromat is working with partners from the industry on possibilities for further minimizing waste in web printing.
Editors’ Note: Dr. Michael Dattner is an innovation manager at BST eltromat International, Germany.
June 25, 2020