The future is modular
Since the markets – i.e. consumer preferences – are changing all the time, the machines have to be as quick and easy to adapt as possible, to help ensure a fast time-to-market. We are already pioneers in this field, says Urich, but we have to take modular design to a whole new level for the future if we are to remain successful.
Pilot projects pave the way for the modular design concept
That is exactly what Optima Nonwovens has done. The result is a modular design concept that leaves the choice up to the company’s customers. They decide how flexible their machine needs to be. However, first let’s take a look at the starting situation.
Until now, Optima Nonwovens has both put together preconfigured monoblock systems and built modular systems for its customers, depending on their requirements. It soon became clear that a modular design concept that went much further was needed. One of the first results was the pilot project OPTIMA ZERO, which the division presented at the Index and Interpack exhibitions in 2017. Here was a machine concept that enabled the format to be switched within a cycle, making a production run of 1 a reality for the first time.
This led on to a development project. The great thing about it is that the customer decides when they buy the machine how many modules they want to use. At this stage, the customer is making the fundamental decision about the extent to which their system will be able to respond to market developments.
That is a good thing, says Urich, because companies have very different philosophies about how long-term their investments should be, and markets also change at differing rates. “The additional attraction of this solution is that the modules can be moved into the best position for the process,” adds Urich. For example, if the product becomes smaller, the modules can be pushed closer together and the machine will achieve higher output speeds. If the products become larger, more space can be created, for example for opening bags. This is a distinct advantage over monoblock systems, which have to cater for all expected formats from the start, inevitably resulting in compromises.
In future, Optima Nonwovens customers will be able to decide at the ordering stage in an instant: What kind of product do I need my machine for? That leads to the initial choice of the modules which will make up a machine.
Quick upgrades with standardized modules
Optima customers can also make other choices when they order, just like configuring a car: Which extras do I need? If the output needs to be particularly high, then the “high-speed package” is the best choice. If the packs need to be compressed significantly, then go for the “volume-reduction package.” Finally, they just have to choose the relevant format package, which determines the final bag count.
Packaging machines based on the modular principle are now a reality
In short: If more modules are needed, they can be delivered in next to no time because they are all standardized and, of course, new innovations can also be incorporated. What’s more, there are considerable savings on the overall delivery time, unless any entirely new functionality is required.
“Our understanding of modularity is that the user receives a machine that they can adapt flexibly to meet market needs.”
Markus Urich, Key Account Manager at Optima Nonwovens
Single-serve: modular design is now standard
The aim of modular design at Optima Consumer is the same as at Optima Nonwovens. It is all about offering the customer future-proof investments, quick changeover and retrofitting options, and complete flexibility. The packaging and filling machines from Optima Consumer are modular in structure and can be extended at any time, depending on the customer’s needs.
“Especially in the ‘single-serve’ sector (single servings, i.e. portion packaging), our customers update their systems virtually every year,” reports Matthias Schaal, Director of Mechanical Design Engineering at Optima Consumer. This means that the standardized models they require need to be available quickly in order to meet rapidly changing market requirements fast.
Readjusting not retooling is the aim
The main focus in the cosmetics sector is on time-to-market, placing high demands on the flexibility of packaging and filling systems. Already, it is no longer a question of retooling but of the need to be able to readjust the equipment entirely automatically. Optima Consumer presented its proposals for doing this at Pack Expo 2018 in Chicago (see picture).
But how is modularity achieved technically? “By using a flexible grid system,” explains Matthias Schaal. Overlapping modules are positioned on this grid. This means that separate segments of the system can be extended or shortened, while merely being linked by the transport system. Mechanical and electrical components are already pre-installed in the segments and are networked by the machine’s central control system. In the past, a system of a certain size had to be purchased in the first place and space reserved for future expansion. Now any parts of the system can be flexibly swapped, added, or removed. This gives Optima Consumer customers the benefit of being able to expand their packaging and filling plant gradually as they need to. Optima Consumer is currently developing a new modular platform encompassing all the processing stages on a production line – from feeding in the raw material to the tertiary packaging. Using standardized modules significantly reduces throughput times so that Optima customers can respond even more flexibly to specific market demands. Modular design does not have to be confined to retooling and retrofitting, it is about thinking in processes and offering overall concepts that go much further than just being designed for expandability.
This enables Optima customers to respond to market demand within a very short time.
- Optima Nonwovens has developed a modular design concept that is available right now.
- If the need arises for new modules, these can be quickly delivered.
- In the longer term, the total delivery time for new systems will also fall.
- Optima Consumer has used modular systems for the “single-serve” sector for a long time.
- The cosmetics market needs to be able to respond more and more flexibly to specific market demands. Because of the rapidly increasing diversity of products, the packaging and filling systems have to be capable of producing smaller and smaller batches.
- The result is that the customers of both divisions will be able to respond to new market demands even faster in future.