Taking the wrinkles out of a production process

Many cosmetic products are designed to help users hide the years. Sometimes manufacturing equipment that’s showing its age needs technological help to remove wrinkles and make it run like it’s young again.


Unless you’re a Klingon or you have a shar-pei for your family dog, most people don’t like wrinkles and go to great lengths to avoid them as long as possible. Much of the cosmetic product industry is built on this understanding, but sometimes those manufacturers have to take their own advice.

Aging equipment in a manufacturing process can slow down productivity, ultimately affecting the bottom line. Merrid Controls helped smooth out some data transmission wrinkles for a major cosmetic and beauty product manufacturer’s production process in Poland.

The manufacturer had an existing packaging system built around an antiquated PC serving as an HMI and a small group of PLCs. The PLCs worked together to control the rotating filling process, whether it was perfume, wrinkle cream, or any other cosmetic product. “The machine is an important part of the production line, so they decided to modernize it,” said Piotr Pasierowski, a control system development engineer with systems integrator Merrid Controls. Calling the machine important is an understatement since it has no backup. “If it stops, all production has to be stopped. It’s the only rotating filler they have.”

Radiating cables, or leaky feeders, allow the signal to propagate through openings in the shielding. Courtesy ProSoft TechnologiesTo make matters worse, given the machine’s age, spare parts and customer service support from the original builder were scarce. Communication between the PLCs was done through the HMI using a slip-ring communication system. The PLCs need to be able to communicate with each other, exchanging values such as pumping speed, rotation speed, and how much product to put in each container. 

Merrid Controls proposed using a radiating cable, also known as leaky feeder, working with industrial wireless devices from ProSoft Technology to replace the slip-ring system. “Because it would be the first radiating cable application in Poland that ProSoft Technology sold, our customer had doubts as to whether it would work,” said Krzysztof Hajzyk, ProSoft’s regional sales manager. To overcome these doubts, Merrid built a prototype system to demonstrate that the radiating cable would work. While it passed with flying colors, the manufacturer was still uncertain that it would work on the plant floor. 

Merrid’s technicians installed the system placing the radiating cable inside the rotating table. They also included a new PanelView Plus so that it would work parallel to the old HMI, creating a redundant system. ProSoft Technology radios were used for communication via Ethernet between the fixed SLC500 5/05 and PanelView Plus on one side to a CompactLogix on the machine controlling measurements and fillers.

To keep the IT network and PLC communication from causing interference, Merrid selected a 5 GHz frequency. This approach has more channels which allow more networks, including the IT network, to coexist in the same area. Migrating to the wireless system was done in a few steps. First they had to migrate to an Ethernet-enabled PLC, remove the old 18-connection slip ring, and, at the end, install the radiating cable. The last part was the easiest since it did not need any mechanical changes on the machine.

Once the new systems were operating, the company quickly saw the benefits of having a solid platform and communications architecture. “They have the option to reprogram without stopping the machine,” Pasierowski explained. “Communication is done using only Ethernet so they could reprogram PLCs and the HMI wirelessly.”

“Our proposed solution meets all the functionality requirements,” said Pasierowski. The new wireless system requires less costly maintenance, no stops, full application documentation, and backup. It’s also possible to connect to a central SCADA system for machine performance measurements.

Victor Garcia is the marketing staff writer for ProSoft Technology.



Learn more about leaky feeder technology below.

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