Torus and Festo design total handling solution for packaging testing station

See Festo at MachineBuilding.Live, 4 October 2023, on stand 27

Torus Technology Group has partnered with Festo to create a purpose-designed integrated handling solution for its new TQ-Lab modular plastics packaging testing station.

Torus offers a range of custom designed automated inspection and testing systems that enable customers to control high speed processes, reduce costs and maintain quality in demanding environments. TQ-Lab is a total quality testing station for plastics packaging such as bottles and jars, typically used for soft drinks, health supplements, cosmetics, and domestic cleaning products.

Festo’s in-house design expertise and online software tools played a critical role in helping Torus to develop the optimum solution for the complex handling requirements involved.

Expanding horizons

Plastics packaging requires precision measurement of aspects such as material thickness, outer body and neck physical dimensions, neck diameter and volume as well as load testing for crushing and pressure.

The TQ-Lab can undertake all the necessary tests on both empty and filled containers or preforms in a single system. Once batches of containers are placed onto the turnaround conveyor, the operator simply selects the relevant program and walks away. A bespoke vision system locates the position of the neck and an intelligent gripper and multi-axis pick and place system transfers the product from the conveyor between measurement modules. Customers can select the Torus test modules to suit their particular test requirements or budgets. Controlled via a single interface, TQ-Lab delivers reliable data to the network with no operator influence.

Accurate handling and repeatability were key to delivering customer benefits; such as reduced time and labour costs, the potential to collect a large amount of measurement data, and a reduced footprint.

Torus investigated the option of building the handling system themselves but identified issues with compatibility and reliability using multiple suppliers. It also considered using an ‘off-the-shelf’ robot solution, but this involved design modifications and specialist automation skills outside their core expertise. The company needed an automation expert to help them optimise the system design.

“Festo had been a valued supplier of automation components to Torus for many years, but this was the first time we decided to tap into their design support services,” says Brian Wilson, engineering director at Torus. “It was the best decision we could have made.”

Handling with care

TQ-Lab was developed over twelve months and Festo was involved from an early stage. Chandra Patel, business development manager at Festo, explains: “We reduced design lead-in times quite significantly using our extensive software tools and experience to identify the best components for the handling system specification. We also simplified the handling system into a single integrated solution and used the Festo ELCC cantilever axis to replace the original custom-built vertical module with a technically neat and commercially attractive single part.

“The highly technical specification and complexities of movement made it crucial to test that the design would work in principle before building out the handling system. Festo’s dedicated sizing and simulation software enabled them to test different configurations and prove to Torus that the final design would deliver the desired performance in terms of accuracy and repeatability.”

Mission accomplished

Festo’s automation expertise enabled Torus to reach a final design more quickly and delivered a fully optimised solution. Festo then built and delivered the complete handling solution for installation in the TQ-Lab.

The support does not stop at the point of delivery. Festo has also made it easier for Torus to order the handling system in future by assigning it a single order number, which automatically generates a comprehensive list of all the necessary components. This streamlines purchasing and stores, while still supporting any repair or replacement needs.

Wilson concludes: “Festo were there all the way, from early concept discussions, through component selection and system design, testing to commissioning, to fine-tuning and completion. With their support, we have delivered a unique automated testing solution at least six months earlier than predicted – giving us and our customers a real competitive advantage.”

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