The 2021 SPE Thermoforming Conference takes place in Grand Rapids, Mich., Sept. 20 to 22. This year’s format will be hybrid, both virtually and in-person, and will focus on “Smart Manufacturing: Intelligently forming the future”.

Gregory Romanski, sales manager from WM Thermoforming Machines, will talk about the company’s work to incorporate automation and Industry 4.0 technologies into its thermoforming machines to improve operational efficiency.

Although WM’s machines have always produced information customers can use with Industry 4.0 software, the company is taking this a step further by collaborating with a third part to create an interface that links machine information with other technologies already in use.
“This type of integration will provide important insight into performance by revealing why the machine went down and for how long,” says Romanski. “Understanding the possible causes of idle time allows these problems to be addressed proactively.” Such integrated information can be used to optimize preventative maintenance schedules, for example. Real time information on what was run on a machine and how often the machine is down can be used to take variables such as tooling or materials into account and better define a preventive maintenance schedule.
“It’s not easy to create an interface for a thermoforming machine that may have been on the production floor for some time, and not all machine manufacturers allow access to their software,” says Romanski. “To overcome these challenges, the third party we’re working with is developing both the software and the hardware necessary to interconnect different interfaces.”
At the meeting, Romanski will present results from a customer with which WM Thermoforming is working to implement the OPC UA protocol. This international data exchange standard connects programmable logic controllers, human-machine interfaces, servers, clients, and other machinery to increase interconnectivity, and information flow. WM is developing an efficient way to collect, manage, and process data in real time so that the customer can concretely define machine efficiency.
In addition to an increased focus on machine performance, Romanski says that customers are seeking ways to improve product quality and handling. “With COVID-19, companies are looking at ways to use automation for hygienic part handling,” he says. “It’s also getting harder to find qualified technicians, and there are even higher levels of turnover because of the pandemic. We have always focused on making our machines easy to operate, but this is even more important with the workforce issues companies are facing today.”

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Plastics Engineering Magazine page 20