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10 reasons to consider electric drives

Festo Electric Drive. Festo Electric Drive.

Does the path to greater factory efficiency lie in electric drive technology? Festo’s Business Development Manager, Russell Schwulst lays out the advantages of using electric drives in food and beverage manufacturing.

Did you know that the sales of electric drives in the food and beverage industry are expected to reach EUR313.14m  in 2017? This is according to Frost & Sullivan’s report, Strategic Analysis of Electric Drives Market in European Food and Beverage Industry With those kinds of numbers, it’s worth exploring just what it is that makes them so attractive to food and beverage manufacturers.

What are electric drives and why are they so important? 

An electric drive is defined as a basket of components consisting of a mechanical axis, motor and motor controller. Historically, they have been more cost-prohibitive than pneumatic drives, but recent innovations have made these much more affordable.

There is a growing debate about which is better: pneumatics or electric drive technology. The answer is neither; the most suitable technology depends entirely on the application. Electric drives and pneumatics can be used alongside each other in an automated system. 

When used intelligently in conjunction with pneumatic drives, they can deliver three key advantages: synchronisation, precision and flexibility. There are a host of other benefits to introducing electric drives as a supplement to your existing pneumatic drives. Here are some of the most prominent: 

  • Adapt or die 

Food and beverage manufacturers must adapt their product ranges continuously to meet shifting market needs. Electric drives have intelligence controls built in, which allow operators to change parameters and settings on the fly so that machines can run multiple products and variations. Most conventional automation technologies do not have this level of intelligence and, as a result, lack the ability to change parameters effortlessly.

  • It’s all in the packaging

Quality of packaging is an important concern for manufacturers. Using electric drives alongside vision systems provides more accuracy in capping and labelling applications, leading to perfectly oriented packaging.

  • In sync 

Traditionally, manufacturers have relied on mechanical camming to synchronise motion. Electric motor controllers come with e-camming functionality that outperforms mechanical methods and makes synchronising motion simple.

  • The fast and the furious 

It’s tricky to get consistent speed out of a system, as outside parameters such as mechanical wear and tear can affect the speed of machine. A speed setting on a VSD today, for example, may not result in the same output on a belt tomorrow. Stepper and servo motor, which are the more common types of motors used in the electric drive basket are able to provide a constant output speed, thanks to closed loop control functionality.

  • Again and again 

Maintaining a high product yield is essential if food and beverage manufacturers are to remain competitive. In repetitive and fast throughput machines, such as those used to label and package products, the use of electric drives can achieve a consistent product at a constant rate. This accuracy and repeatability is due to the sophisticated control of their motors and respective controllers

  • We appreciate feedback 

Smarter drives mean more adaptable and flexible production machines that deliver repeatable quality and allow for changes to be made on demand. It all comes down to the closed-loop control and built-in intelligence that delivers ongoing feedback to the motor controller. Traditionally, stepper motor systems did not use closed-loop control. Now, with ServoLite from Festo, similar control as was traditionally available in servo motor control is also available for stepper motors.

  • All we need is torque 

Older mechanical friction clutch systems often lose accuracy as time goes by, a problem in applications such as bottle cap tightening. Electric drives ensure that precise torque is applied to your products, enabling consistent results.

  • Taking control 

Whether it’s pushing products into containers or pressing snap-on lids, precise control of force exerted is of vital importance in many food and beverage manufacturing applications. Good thing electric drives perform the task effortlessly then, with force control as a selectable mode option. 

  • Precision, precision 

Need your machines perform delicate, fine control applications such as applying stickers on bottles? It’s no problem with electric drives as their closed loop controls and on-board intelligence ensure precise and controlled movement every time. 

  • Safe from harm 

Every factory owner knows the importance of creating a safe environment for workers and operators. Electric drives allow for machines to be stopped in a fraction of a second, which means they contribute to workplace safety. 

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