Focus on Energy Reduction
Founded in 1972 at the peak of an energy crisis, Lantech made an impact on the world as the inventors of stretch wrapping and started a packaging revolution.
Energy, in all forms, has always been a key Lantech focus. It was, in fact, a key element of the core packaging problem the company’s founders set out to address. They saw an opportunity to capitalize on an inexpensive and under-used resource – stretch film – to displace a high materials cost and energy intensive way of unitizing pallet loads of products – shrink bagging.
Today, the huge, energy intensive, gas-fired shrink ovens and expensive two-pound polyethylene bags of the 1970s have disappeared from the packaging landscape – replaced by armies of stretch wrapping machines unitizing the very same loads at a fraction of the energy, materials and labor costs.
Lantech Model C-2000 Case Erector
Increasing Customer Value
So it was only natural that the engineering team at the company’s corrugated case (cardboard box in layman’s terms) handling equipment plant in Cuijk, The Netherlands applied the core principle of energy reduction to improve the pneumatic efficiency of its machines.
Compressed air is expensive and case handling machines are notoriously air-hungry. Vacuum pulls corrugated cases or "blanks" from magazines. Venturis create the vacuum on our smaller machines. Pumps are used in higher speed applications or for large or complex cases. Pneumatic actuators are used to fold flaps and may perform other functions as well. Large air requirements require large replenishment capabilities so machines that used less air would yield major benefits.
Weight reduction is a basic efficiency improvement strategy – lighter systems require less energy to operate. Consequently, the team started by rationalizing the component materials on a basic case erecting machine. As they replaced cold rolled steel with aluminum and sized the bearings properly for the lighter workload, they turned to their pneumatic component suppliers to help identify current best practices as well as efficient components based on actual engineering requirements.
Consequently, every pneumatic component is now selected based on the actual engineering performance required. Pneumatic efficiency is viewed as so fundamental to machine value that Lantech has developed substantial in-house pneumatic expertise even though it continues to work closely with its component suppliers.
A good example of an innovative improvement project was the conversion to a new venturi. The team proposed a more efficient three-stage design that spills far less air than the previous version.
The team also improved efficiency by using gravity to manage the downward segments of pneumatically driven vertical movements. A flow-controlled air outlet manages the upward speed and downward motion is initiated by letting the system just “fall.” The fall speed is regulated with a flow-control valve. This saves about 40 percent of the air historically required for these movements.
Old: Up and down active pressure
New: Up active, down by gravity
Other design innovations include adding buffers to capture the exhaust from pneumatic cylinders. This air is used for the “blow off” which ensures that corrugated cases are fully released by the vacuum cups after they’re pulled from the magazine. The blow off cleans the cups as well. A “sleep mode” now hibernates electrical components and shuts off the main air supply valve when the machine’s not in use.
Saving Compressed Air
The net result was, that on the company’s basic case erector, operating pressure decreased from 88 psi (6 BAR) to 44 psi (3 BAR), a 50 percent improvement. Vacuum pressure increased from 11.6 pounds per square inch to 12.3 pound per square inch, a six percent improvement. And overall air usage decreased from .9 cfm to .57 cfm, an improvement of almost 37 percent. Similar improvements were realized across the entire case erector product line.
A byproduct of using air more efficiently is that machine operating noise attributed to pneumatics has decreased. As the European Union (and other regulatory bodies) imposes stricter factory wide noise limits (currently 75db), this is an important step to facilitate compliance without resorting to cumbersome and expensive enclosures.
All of these design improvements have the same goal: increasing customer value through more efficient energy use. All too often compressed air systems evolve into complex, irrational, leaky and inefficient monsters. Therefore it’s critical to reduce air consumption by ancillary equipment like case handling machines.
Continuous improvement is an ongoing process to do just that. But increasingly, Lantech finds customers paying more attention to managing their air supply, even to the point of requesting in-line detection and warnings for leaks. As industry continues to evaluate total energy costs and expand environmental initiatives, air efficiency continues to evolve as a promising area for improvement.
Founded in 1972, at the peak of an energy crisis, Lantech made an impact on the world by inventing stretch wrapping and sparking a packaging revolution that spread around the globe and changed the way pallets of products are unitized for shipment. Now, billions of pallet loads are stretch wrapped every year. Our passion to do things better, faster, safer and at lower costs led to a culture of innovation and generated 277 patented inventions to date that create enormous value for our customers by eliminating waste from their supply chains. We have sales and technical support offices in North America, Europe, Australia, and China as well as a global network of independent distributors, integrators and service technicians. Where our customers are, we are.
For more information contact Lantech at www.lantech.com or call tel: 502.815.9108.
To read similar End Use Compressed Air System Assessment articles, please visit www.airbestpractices.com/system-assessments/end-uses.