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EXCLUSIVE Error-free detection of Pepsico's six packs

08 October 2012

The reliable detection of six-packs in PET foil is a real challenge because of the highly reflective and uneven surfaces. An innovative solution from Sick has successfully overcome the problem as demonstrated by an application at a PepsiCo soft drinks plant in Germany. Phil Dyas, Sick’s UK’s industrial sensor product specialist takes up the story.

The universal use of shrink wrapping as part of automated handling and palletising processes has delivered both impressive cost savings and additional benefits for more attractive branding and improved pack quality.

But this progress in packaging automation has created another problem, which – up until now – has proved perplexing to solve: How to achieve 100% efficiency in detection of automated bar code labels.

Detecting clear-shiny, dark-glossy or multi-reflective surfaces is a challenge especially where there are complex curved shapes or transparent outlines. Now a solution from Sick, the MultiPac sensor has eliminated the possibility of false or misleading signals and achieves highly-consistent detection in multi-product handling applications even when surfaces are shiny, clear or curved.

In a high-speed packaging and labelling operation at a bottling plant, un- or mislabelled packs have to be detected by the human eye or by additional scanners, removed, returned and re-labelled. In a competitive high-volume market where product cost is low and margins are squeezed, handling adds to costs.

To maximise the efficiency of the shrink wrap station, many bottling plants will feed through different products with a range of sizes and shapes. The requirement for versatility in shape detection can compound the problem as conventional proximity sensors may have to be constantly and individually adjusted.

The effectiveness of the Sick Multipac is demonstrated by the sensors in use on the labelling systems supplied to the PepsiCo filling plant by Logopak Systeme GmbH & Co. KG. The detection error rate was reduced to zero throughout a six month period, eliminating a significant cost for PepsiCo.

PepsiCo Deutschland GmbH operates two filling plants in Germany. Its plant at Nieder-Roden, south of Frankfurt, is responsible for the production of soft drinks, such as for the Pepsi, Punica, Lipton Ice Tea and Schwip Schwap brands.

An entirely new filling plant has been commissioned at this works. The full PET bottles are wrapped in foil at the end of the filling line and a label is attached to the six-pack. Logomatic 510 M90 tray-labelling systems from Logopak Systeme GmbH & Co ensure that every label is reliably positioned on the uneven pack structure and check that the foil is not damaged.

The Challenge
The labelling process is triggered by a photoelectric proximity switch whose detection task is very demanding: the sensor must reliably detect the pack in a particular position and must not ‘lose’ the light reflected back from the pack while the six-pack is in front of the proximity switch.

But, the shiny and uneven surface can lead to random and unmanageable reflections, which cause conventional standard proximity switches, with a single receiver system, to reach their limits very quickly because they lose ‘sight’ of the object due to a deflection of the transmitted light. This results in an interruption of the signal, prompting the labelling system control to initiate a second label for the same pack, or causing the label to get jammed on the stripper. Both can cause downtime and create unnecessary costs.

The solution
The Sick Multipac sensor provides reliability that would have previously been impossible. The sensor has two independent receiver systems. They can offset the brief deflections caused by the uneven pack surface because at least one of the two receivers always captures the reflected light. Additionally, a high-power LED emits high-intensity light so that even faint reflective surfaces are reliably detected.

Each receiver system comprises several elements which facilitate a differentiated signal assessment and deliver a more refined result to the common signal processor. Having just two receivers also facilitates SICK’s proprietary ASIC evaluation algorithm, otherwise much greater (and more costly) processing performance would be required to coordinate the two receiver systems.

To ensure sufficient light being reflected back to the receivers, the MultiPac benefits from Sick’s PinPoint LED. PinPoint produces a high power, tightly focused spot, without the central unlit portion that characterises earlier LED emitters. With this performance, sufficient light is received to detect a very wide range of different sizes of film wrapped bottle packs on the same packing line.

System Integration
It’s not just the Multipack’s detection capability that is convincing, but also its integration into for example a conveyor system, or as at PepsiCo, as part of the labelling system.

Thanks to a scanning distance of up to 500mm the Multipac enables maximum freedom in positioning and installation, and does not require a reflector. There is therefore no need to adjust the mounting height when different size packs are put on the shrink wrapping line.

An assessment of the performance of the MultiPac at PepsiCo Deutschland is positive. Since its commissioning late in 2011 there have been no problems in pack detection. The Multipac has achieved detection reliability that was previously impossible and PepsiCo has profited from a smooth process during pack transport to the palletizing station.

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