iTRAK is revolutionising the design and build of trackbased solutions for packaging and materials handling. By combining linear and rotary motion, it delivers a flexible, fully integrated solution that helps machine designers achieve a new paradigm in packaging and handling efficiency and throughput.
As well as boasting a number of world firsts – coupled to its numerous European and US patents – Relco has just taken its next technological step in the design of a brand new direct-induction sealing machine, by deploying the innovative iTRAK® intelligent track system from Rockwell Automation.
Founded in 1969 in Watford, UK, Relco is a specialist designer and manufacturer of induction and high-frequency equipment. One of a few companies globally that makes induction sealing machines, it is a supplier to numerous leading food, beverage and pharmaceutical companies and is a world leader in the design, development and construction of direct/capless induction sealing technology.
Relco started looking at direct-induction sealing 15 years ago as a means for applying seals directly to containers; a process that could already be done – albeit very inefficiently – with a hot metal block. The development of directinduction technology was complicated due to the way in which the electromagnetic field is formed and controlled, coupled to the perceived inability to apply the process on anything without a circular or large-radius profile. Relco was able to overcome these limitations and perfect the technology and has since established itself as a world leader for direct-induction solutions. Its deployment of iTRAK is set to become a game changer in the market.
Relco chose iTRAK to address three primary requirements: the removal of the constant start/stop motion common in traditional fixed pitch, cam-based machines; the efficient delivery of the foil seals from the supply reel and their subsequent accurate positioning above the containers; and to achieve the optimal location and pressure of the weld by mobile weld heads.
The iTRAK system – which sits under an innovative rotating umbilical system that delivers induction, vacuum, pneumatic and feedback to each of the individual movers – is controlled by an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix™ programmable automation controller (PAC). Two Allen Bradley Kinetix® servo drives are used to drive screws to centralise the containers under the weld head. The safety solution comprises guard doors with Guardmaster® 440GLZ lockable safety switches and Guardmaster 440C CR30 programmable safety relays. An Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus HMI provides the means for operator interactions.
According to Mark Gill, Director at Relco: “We’d seen iTRAK as a concept and considered it as an option when it was being developed by Jacobs Automation. When we saw that Rockwell Automation had bought Jacobs, we had the confidence to really look into it. We particularly liked the operating concept, especially its flexibility coupled to its ability to offer continuous motion on one side of the machine and intermittent motion on the other. We wanted to build a machine that used iTRAK to prove that we could achieve our vision of faster and more efficient product placement and flow.
“A definite advantage we can see with iTRAK is that we can change the pitch on the HMI screen,” Gill explains. “During a machine’s development we often don’t know the pitch required until much later in the design process, but with iTRAK we don’t actually need to know it until we start the machine up. We can simply set it in the HMI and iTRAK will adjust the pitch automatically. If you were designing a cambased machine, the pitch would have to be your starting point.
“With regards to actual operational benefits,” Gill concludes, “we can offer higher speeds, much smoother production runs, meaning there is less chance of product spillage, and a smaller footprint than machines based on older design principles.”
Allen-Bradley, CompactLogix, Guardmaster, iTRAK, Kinetix, LISTEN. THINK. SOLVE. PanelView Plus and Rockwell Automation are trademarks of Rockwell Automation, Inc. Trademarks not belonging to Rockwell Automation are property of their respective companies.