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Harpak-ULMA’s Mission to Deliver Smart, Connected Machines

Together with Rockwell Automation and PTC, the packaging equipment provider is adding more intelligence, connectivity, IoT and augmented reality to its products.

Kevin Roach
Kevin Roach

With the words “smart manufacturing” on every industry executive’s mind, the question inevitably asked is: Where do you start? The answer is: at the machine. And Harpak-ULMA, a provider of packaging line equipment, is taking a lead in the digital transformation to smart, connected machines.

This week at PACK EXPO International in Chicago, Harpak-ULMA made a joint announcement with Rockwell Automation and PTC that marks a major shift in the functionality of the Harpak-ULMA packaging machines. It also representsa valuable opportunity for its manufacturing customers in the food, bakery, medical and industrial products segments by providing them with more tools that enable global competitiveness, as well as the ability to tackle workforce issues and to create effective total cost of ownership (TCO) on equipment.

The announcement, made by Harpak-ULMA’s new president and CEO, Kevin Roach, outlined a transformative technology approach as a result of Harpak-ULMA joining the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork program as an OEM machine builder. To that end, the company is adopting Rockwell control, measurement and analytics to provide machines that can monitor, alert and report on their own condition. Specifically, the company’s ULMA Thermoformer lines are now delivered with Rockwell Automation’s Integrated Architecture production control and information system. In addition, as a result of the recent Rockwell partnership with PTC, the company will incorporate PTC’s augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR)reality into its offerings.

“I’m here today to announce a game-changing set of relationships that will help our customers realize the full potential of digital transformation,” said Roach during a press conference. He emphasized that many companies across a variety of industries have not yet recognized the impact digital transformation will have on production, citing a study that indicated 40 percent are still considered laggards. This partnership can change that.“The packaging industry is ripe with new technology opportunities that will disrupt the status quo…Today’s automation and information technologies literally transform how, when and where value gets created in a packaging operation. They establish a digital foundation that allows packagers to compete more effectively today and into the future.”


Harpak-ULMA will also have access to PTC’s augmented reality app, Vuforia, to help with training employees via 3d step-by-step work instructions. “Our market leading AR/VR technology can deliver augmented digital work instructions, guidance and dashboards through phones, tablets and smart glasses, like Microsoft HoloLens, to workers doing production work or to technicians doing maintenance and service work,” said PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann, who joined the press conference via video. “This technology directly addresses the skills gap, it greatly accelerates the training of new workers and it can increase worker productivity by 30 to 50 percent.”

All of this data, too, can feed into Big Data, which, when combined with edge and remote analytics can identify out-of-spec operating conditions or predict maintenance needs before failures occur.The PTC Thingworx industrial connectivity and Internet of Things (IoT) platform can be leveraged to gather and organize data from all types of sensors and controls as well as IT systems in order to optimize production processes from monitoring OEE to predicting quality problems or downtime.

“It also supports emerging technologies, such as digital twins, that virtually replicate to the smallest detail real-time form and function of a machine, line or plant,” Roach said, noting that smart, connected machines are not meant to operate in isolation, but to be part of a greater whole—which is why Rockwell’s experience with manufacturers on the plant floor via its Connected Enterprise strategy is so valuable.

“Our entire strategy—everything we do—is about helping customers realize their own Connected Enterprise,” said Blake Moret, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, speaking at the press conference. “Our customers’ documented productivity increases are a living testament to the impact of integrating control and information on an enterprise scale.”

That statement was backed up by Lyno Advisors principal analyst, Julie Fraser, who said that companies leveraging new smart, connected capabilities are better positioned to offer innovative, sustainable and cost-effective packaging. “Our studies show that adopting converged automation and information technologies drives up to 10 percent improvement in key performance indicators.”

Asked how this may impact the price of a machine, Roach said that, while the acquisition cost may vary based on the equipment, the new technologies will reduce the total cost of ownership by making it easier to install, integrate, optimize and maintain any packaging line.

“In the end, this is about future-proofing our customers’ investments with us, helping to ensure our customers are at the top of their game,” Roach said.

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