What’s new in the world of tension control/web guiding?
Breen: Most of the advancements in tension control are coming in the form of electronic features added to digital control software. For instance, a trend that we’ve seen in industrial electronics (which is mirroring the trend in consumer electronics) is the incorporation of smart user interfaces and touch screens into devices. Touch screens provide a more intuitive user experience and replace the need for separate navigation buttons and switches on controller overlays and front panels. Dover Flexo’s new SteadyWeb6 Tension Controller is the company’s second device to provide a full-color touch screen for all user inputs and display of control functions and status.
Also, for improved tension control and web process consistency, the SteadyWeb6 Tension Controller includes an easy-to-access P.I.D. tuning feature, TuneView, that allows the machine operator to view a time-lapse line graph of fluctuations in tension. The operator can change P.I.D. values and see a graphic of real-time output response. This allows fine tuning of the process to achieve a flatter system response.
Dover Flexo will launch the SteadyWeb6 Controller at the Labelexpo Americas 2018 exhibition at the end of September.
McCallum: Here at Double E, we encounter new applications frequently. The nature of our business is solving customers’ problems. This often requires innovative thinking and ideas. Our extensive experience in many industries allows us to think outside the box and deliver a cost effective, tailored solution to our customers’ needs. For instance, better pricing and increased use of tension-sensitive materials has boosted the use of servo-driven unwinds and rewinds. Previously, servo-driven unwinders were considered lavish and unnecessary. Today, there are materials and applications that require the servo-driven ability to deliver the material at a controlled, low-tension web. We have many options when it comes to servo driving unwinds intermediate and rewind zones.
Integration with customer existing automation on a machine or plant level has also become more popular. This integration increases the plant’s ability to gather pertinent information leading to predictive maintenance and increased productivity. Double E can interface with most popular PLC and machine logic components.
Henke: AccuWeb is now introducing the AccuNet web guide control featuring an intuitive touch screen interface and the ability to be easily networked with any field bus communication system. This powerful controller is designed to increase response speed and take advantage of the latest communication protocols. It’s also compatible with BST web guides.
What are some of the key trends that you’re seeing in the industry that could impact the future of tension control/web guiding product development?
Head: The industry has been trending toward smarter technology with the introduction of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. OEMs and end users need to be able to retrieve comprehensive data from their process lines in order to determine its overall health, while looking for any hurdles that may be preventing it from running more efficiently. This data also needs to be accessible in a multitude of ways from popular networking protocols, wireless communications and even to/from cloud-based storage. Maxcess is embracing this shift in data requisition by offering various products such as the D-MAXE Enhanced web guide controller, FIFE-500 web guide system with Wi-FIFE communications, as well as the DLCA-NET tension amplifier from MAGPOWR, which offers a vast amount of real-time data via a multitude of communication protocols including embedded Ethernet, Profinet, Ethercat and Wifi.
McCallum: Market research into shelf appeal drives new and more challenging production methods. More packaging incorporating windows to display the contents. Increasing use of digital printing for both short and long run jobs. New laminates and structures. More use of thinner, low tension structures.
Henke: More converters today are seeking to collect process and component data to help verify performance and ensure web quality parameters. For example, data showing a web guide working harder than normal might indicate a problem further upstream. Some companies are even using data feedback from web guides to send operators real-time e-mail alerts.
Breen: Product line segmentation for the consumer packaged goods manufacturers, and the necessity of differentiation, have forced increased demand for shorter print runs, faster time to market, more decorative aesthetics, longer shelf life and environmental-friendliness for packaging. Cost-containment and environmental conservation drivers have pushed the demand for thinner films, improved film barrier characteristics, embedded security technology and package size minimization.
Web machinery builders and press manufacturers have responded to the challenge by designing presses that yield faster turnarounds, greater process versatility, increasing sub-process and finishing capabilities, and the capability to print on a wider variety of substrates. Web printers and film converters are still seeking more economical methods for completing short print runs.
Tension control equipment manufacturers have likewise had to respond to the fast turnaround demands and substrate variety by developing control devices that are quick to install and setup, and easy to use. The tension sensors and electronics must operate over a wider substrate tension range, for a broader selection of web widths, in more challenging industrial environments, and with more input and output capability.
Also, The RoHS Directive from the European Commission is having a strong impact on design and manufacture of products for many electronics manufacturers as they scramble to meet the regulatory compliance to remove lead solder and other hazardous materials from their products and their manufacturing environments. Compliance with the current directive will not be optional for electronic device manufacturers selling into Europe.
What would you say is your company’s most popular product? Why has it been so embraced?
Henke: The patented WideArray Edge Detector with its dynamically compensated technology remains our most popular product – even 18 years after its introduction. It offers wide sensing ranges to accommodate variations in web width, allowing web widths to be changed on the fly. Using either infrared or ultrasonic sensing technology, the WideArray automatically compensates for dust, changes in humidity and temperature, as well as web flutter and passline variance.
Breen: Since our name is Dover Flexo Electronics, people might expect our most popular products to be the tension indicators and controllers that we design and manufacture. But our most popular and enduring product lines continue to be the Model C tension transducers and the Tension Roll transducers, which sense the running tension of the web in a converting machine or press. Without these sensing devices to directly measure tension, the tension control in a flexible packaging line would be less accurate. These tension transducers are embraced by the industry because they are relatively low-cost process sensors that are so robust they can be bolted onto a press and will run trouble-free and reliably for many years.
McCallum: Our ability to tailor fit to our customers’ needs is our most valuable product. While we do have the off the shelf products, our ability to customize to the application has gained Double E a solid customer base in flexible packaging and many other industries. We can quickly establish what the customer needs and quote accordingly. Due to extensive experience, we can build and deliver exactly what the customer and application require in a timely manner.
Head: The D-MAXE “Enhanced” web guide controller has been regarded as one of the most powerful and flexible web guide controllers in the industry. It features fully customizable software, “daisy-chain” capability to simplify installation, a smart DLR (Device Level Ring) fault tolerant network and the capability to control up to three separate guiding systems simultaneously from one controller. It’s definitely a game changer.
How do you communicate the value proposition of tension control/web guiding to current and/or prospective customers?
McCallum: Current manufacturing demands make cost justification of both products fairly easy. Most important to our customers is repeatability. Short run quantities are more and more common. Customers want to ensure production will deliver the same product no matter when or how often it is run. Tension control plays a big part in ensuring quality. Gone are the days of feeling the web to establish a tension. Accurate and easy-to-use tension control means are a must. The variety of materials and material properties in use today require automated tension control for predictable results. Also, with the trend towards a less experienced workforce, increased machine automation is necessary to produce quality results with minimal operator expertise. In the case of web guiding, the unit must be autonomous with no operator input required as well as be able to function on many materials without recalibration. Similarly, the tension control must be easy to operate, display pertinent information and be basically a “set and forget” control.
Breen: We try to talk to customers and prospective customers about the value of controlling web tension in terms of how much money and material they might be able to save if they could eliminate just a few meters of web substrate waste on each job that they run. This is an easy concept for production managers to grasp if their web substrate is high-value, but it’s less obvious when the customer is working with lower cost material (think newsprint rolls) in an inefficient manufacturing environment where the cost of material isn’t a driving factor to the profitability of the process.
Adding tension transducers and a controller to a web process is one of the least expensive and easy-to-implement improvements that a converter or film printer can make. Every tension control equipment customer places a different value on particular product features based on the application, the environment, and the people and resources that will be working with the new equipment. For instance, in a converting plant where there is a shortage of plant engineering talent to install and set up new auxiliary equipment on a press or machine line, then ease-of-installation becomes a top benefit. However, in a plant where the operators all speak English as a second language, ease-of-use of the equipment and an easy-to-learn user interface becomes paramount. In plants where humidity is high, then anti-corrosion of the components is more important. In a plant that is running its machines continuously and downtime is at a premium, then reliability and product lifespan may be the most treasured benefits.
Henke: Every roll shipped by a converter represents that company’s brand and reputation. Rolls that are poorly wound or out of spec in width can impact the customer’s quality and even result in lost productivity. With our solutions, there’s no reason for not producing perfectly wound rolls and maintaining one’s brand reputation. Web guiding is a key part of our family of quality assurance products.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about tension control?
Breen: Although tension measurement and control equipment plays a vital role in the production quality aspect of flexible packaging, converting and web printing, it’s a process variable that our customers want to work invisibly, without them having to worry about how or why it’s working. The greatest compliment we can hear from customers is that they’re not even aware that their tension control equipment is doing anything. They mount it to the machine, and it sits there and it works. That’s how it should be.
Head: OEMs and end users want to become more efficient with regards to the products they manufacture, as well as the equipment that is installed on their process lines. Maxcess recognizes this need and delivers products that can perform multiple tasks simultaneously, like wide-band proportional sensors that can be used for guiding your web while simultaneously providing web width data. This can be used to help control tension to reduce necking. As a one-stop-shop, Maxcess helps its customers maximize productivity through innovative products and services worldwide. By combining more than 340 years of global service and support across the storied brands of Fife, Tidland, MAGPOWR, Webex, Valley Roller, Menges Roller and Componex, Maxcess offers an unrivaled network of application experts.
Henke: Every component in an AccuWeb web guide system is made in the USA. With engineering and manufacturing centrally located in Madison, Wisconsin, we have control over parts and product delivery to promptly serve every customer. Our highly competent and knowledgeable service technicians can also offer expert advice or assistance by phone or onsite.