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Stepper motors with a can-do attitude

18 April 2022

Find out how stepper motors are being used to shrink the footprint of canning machines. 

Lancashire-based Micro Can provides canning machines for micro-breweries and other canning customers across Europe and America. Whether canning beer, wine, soft drinks or tomato juice, precision machines are required, which are able to place, fill and seal cans precisely and at speed.

The Micro Can CL5 is a five-head filling machine. It was once the mainstay of the business as the only machine it produced but some customers enquired about a smaller version. They wanted to save space but were not prepared to compromise on quality. 

The first design consideration was to keep the footprint of the machine small. Specifying a BLE2 series brushless DC motor – less than half the size of the standard AC induction motor – contributed to the necessary size reduction.

“Many customers don’t have the space for a large compressor and dryer, so, we made the decision to drive the seaming rollers with a stepper motor which also came with some advantages,” said Antony Lyons, design engineer at Micro Can.

Oriental Motor advised the use of its AZ series closed loop stepper motors and BLE2 series brushless DC motors. One AZ and one BLE2 motors was specified for each machine.  

One of the main advantages of using a stepper motor is that it doesn’t require as many mechanical adjustments, explained Lyons. “The seaming rollers need precise adjustment to produce a quality seam. This was done mechanically on the pneumatic seamer but it is now adjusted on the Human Machine Interface (HMI) thanks to the built-in absolute encoder”. 
The choice also reduced the number of components required ¬– such as seals, bearings, pneumatic speed controllers, airline, fittings and general hardware – further contributing to the reduction in size. Because monitoring the position of the seaming rollers is easy there is no need for the extra sensors and cables – which would be required in pneumatic systems – to ensure the seam has been completed.

The BLE2 rotates the cans at 800rpm, while the AZ accurately positions the seaming roller to seal the lids onto the cans.

Following a short design collaboration period of around two weeks, the IMP2 was operating. “The AZD-CD controller for the stepper motor was easily integrated into the machine as it has built in RS-485,” Lyons observed. “I found it very easy to set up”.

The standalone, two-head machine fills and seams up to 720 330ml cans per hour, depending on can size and beverage type. It has been designed to be operated by a single person either in a semi-automatic mode or to be end-to-end fully automatic with additional equipment that can be added at any time. 

 “Oriental Motor’s technical advice has been great, firstly with the recommendation of the DC motor for the replacement for the induction motor and then the sizing of the stepper motor. I chose the motor I wanted to use and knew the performance criteria that it needed then Oriental Motor checked it would be suitable for the application. After a few phone calls and some calculations by Oriental Motor, I knew the size of motor required. I felt confident that the motor had been sized correctly and the application checked thoroughly,” concluded Lyons. The Micro Can CL5 is able to fill and seam up to 2,000 cans per hour. 

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