Unwrapping the enigma06 September 2019

At this year’s Siemens Digital Talks conference, TrakRap CEO Martin Leeming told the story of how the SME is disrupting the packaging industry– one sheet of plastic at a time

TrakRap aims to ‘use less of everything’. Less plastic, less energy, less money. Its TrakRap Packaging System produces secondary packaging solutions – intended to protect product and primary packaging (the packaging most visible to the consumer) – for food and drink manufacturers.

The orbital wrapping machine feeds end-of-line product through the machine, stops, wraps plastic film around the product in a revolving motion (just like how the Earth orbits the sun), then sends it further along the line to be shipped. Whether you have uncollated packs, trays, tins, or boxes, to name a few, TrakRap says it “has the technology”.

Leeming said: “What we do on the production line is stretch the film out and put it around the product. As it is only elastic that holds it together, we can use much thinner films [seven microns thick]. But it’s not as simple as that – just imagine the different forces involved. For instance, we’ve got a linear feed, a rotating turret, and you want it to go very fast. It’s quite technical and it’s quite difficult. Through the digitalisation process, we were able to establish exactly what forces were currently being applied to the pack in order to hold it together.”

Without knowing the force and speed of the plastic, or how far it would stretch, the product would fall from the production line. It wouldn’t just be spilt milk that people would be crying over. So TrakRap, with the help of Bradford University and Coventry’s Manufacturing Technology Centre, went through the stages of virtual machine modelling, on to using Siemens NX mechatronics concept designer, defining the operations, and finally, running the simulations.

The orbital wrapping machines are designed, tested and built at the company’s engineering facility in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. TrakRap used the help of a digital twin to optimise the machine’s process, eliminating the waste from the hundreds of tests that would have been carried out, and the enormous cost of it. TrakRap operate on a ‘pay-per-wrap’ basis, or the customer can use a rental fleet of machines. The twin allows the firm to optimise the wrapping of any customer.

Leeming explained how using the digital twin has reduced development time by 40% and reduced development costs by around 30%. “The first thing we can do is take our digital twin and start using it to drive our servitisation model,” he explained. “Whereas the old way was to sell the machine, train the staff on how to use it and then, when it broke down, they would either fix it or pull us out. Now we’ve got the digital twin in the MindSphere.”

MindSphere, a cloud-based, open Internet of Things (IoT) operating system by Siemens (www.is.gd/exayos), gets fed real-time operational data from existing applications for comparison with data generated simultaneously by the twin.

“As we go forward, every element of our machine, from the sensors and drives to the vibration monitoring, can now be monitored remotely,” Leeming added.

Of course, the machine and digital twin also provide benefits for TrakRap’s customers: Leeming said it reduces downtime by 72%. “We can use our digital twin map to simulate fast flexible production lines so that they’ve got miles more productivity than the existing lines. And we can demonstrate that digitally before we actually make them out on the ground,” he concluded.

Amy Best

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