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Nestlé adopts common packaging machine interface

04 May 2011

Food giant Nestle has reviewed the way it approaches its packaging engineering activities, appointing a group of four preferred suppliers with whom it is currently implementing a common machine interface based on the OMAC PackML standard

Nestlé has historically concentrated its automation engineering expertise on the process control side of its business, developing innovative control strategies and proprietary systems with a select group of suppliers. The packaging automation side of the company’s operations, meanwhile, were left more or less open, the packaging engineering group mainly focusing on packaging materials and packaging design, rather than the packaging machinery itself.

More recently, Nestlé’s central engineering group determined that it could achieve efficiency improvements to its packaging facilities by taking a more active role in the company’s packaging plants. A dedicated engineering group was subsequently established to take care of this area of operations, and it wasted no time in identifying certain issues that needed to be addressed.

One of the Group’s first tasks was to move from a single supplier for packaging machine automation to a group of ‘preferred’ suppliers. Four were chosen: B&R Industrial Automation, ELAU, Rockwell Automation and Siemens Industry Automation & Drive Technologies. With less focus on one specific control provider for packaging equipment, Nestle was nonetheless determined to maintain its preferences for open technologies and the rigorous implementation of standards. A key decision for the packaging operation was to commit to the Organisation for Machine Automation and Control’s (OMAC’s) ‘PackML’ (Packaging Machine Language) to promote a common ‘look and feel’ across all its packing machines, regardless of the automation supplier.

Currently, Nestlé is undertaking a pilot implementation of PackML with the help of the preferred supplier team, as, Nestlé Corporate Engineering’s global head of automation and process control, Bryan Griffen explains:

“Using the PackML PackTags and the State Model in conjunction with a standard communication protocol, the Nestlé central packaging automation engineering team will provide a clear specification for packaging machine equipment. This specification will also provide a common setup for horizontal machine to machine communication.”

The goal is to exchange all necessary information, such as start-stop, halts, error handling and speed information, in order to support the integration of machines from various OEMs using different automation control equipment – all under one global standard. Using the PackML State Model guarantees a common engineering approach that is independent of the machine builder and/or control provider. The first stage of the pilot project is based on existing libraries for the OMAC PackML implementation of the preferred suppliers, which, being the basis for proof-of-concept, is already demonstrating many benefits. During the second stage of the project Nestlé will work on a more detailed specification document and, together with the technology providers, this specification will be reviewed, tested on real equipment and translated into standard, ready-to-use, libraries.

Working with different suppliers has also identified the need for a common safety technology standard. Each supplier would normally recommend its own safety protocol, based on a proprietary communication network. In order to guarantee that all applications are able to exchange safety related information based on one safety network, Nestlé has decided to support the openSAFETY standard, which will provide a single communication standard for safety application across the board of all technology suppliers.

Mr Griffen is confident that all these efforts will allow Nestlé to write one detailed specification for a packaging machine that can be easily integrated into the packaging line and the entire Nestlé environment, without being too dependent on proprietary control hardware.

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