Naples, Fla. — Auxiliary equipment is getting smarter, as the machines gain the ability to analyze process variables and make decisions, and even predict when maintenance should be done, officials from four auxiliary equipment makers said at the Plastics News Executive Forum.
Pieces of machinery in a plastics plant have been able to communicate with each other for several years, through industrywide standards like the SPI Communication Protocol. But the capabilities are increasing rapidly — and many of the results will be on display at auxiliary equipment booths at NPE2018.
Intelligent auxiliaries "can point out the corrections to be made and automatically make them," said William Goldfarb, president of Universal Dynamics Inc.
"Now we have machines talking to each other, for one. But also making logical production decisions and validations. So a molder may need to run a new part, but the system, which has knowledge of the raw materials, the blending, the conditions, the rates, the throughputs — it can tell the production manager," Goldfarb said.
Goldfarb participated in an auxiliary equipment panel discussion at the Executive Forum, held March 5-7 in Naples. Plastics News Group Publisher Brennan Lafferty moderated the wide-ranging panel discussion, which covered the economic outlook, issues like NAFTA, tax reform, and a brief look at NPE offerings.
The panelists, and their companies' NPE2018 booth numbers, were:
• Goldfarb of UnaDyn (Booth W1923).
• James Holbrook, president of ACS Group (Booth W2542).
• Timothy Noggle, senior vice president of sales for Novatec Inc. (Booth W3729).
• Sam Rajkovich, vice president of sales and marketing at Conair Group (Booths S14045 and W1845).
All four executives agreed that smart machines are the wave of the future.
Holbrook of ACS said remote diagnostics have grown rapidly, as have the use of more sensors.
The amount of data has increased greatly, and Conair's Rajkovich advised processors to make sure it all makes sense to improve their operations. "Is there an ROI that you're getting out of that data or are you just getting data for the sake of data?" he said.
Rajkovich said Conair's SmartServices can signal preventative maintenance, so maintenance crews are not just responding to alarms in the plant once problems have already happened. He said NPE2018 will mark the full release of SmartServices.
Novatec at NPE will feature its MachineSense sensors that can tell in advance if there will be problems with, for example, a blower or a heater on a dryer, Noggle said. Available on new equipment and as a retrofit item on existing equipment, the sensors measure things like vibrations, sound and temperature. Noggle compared it to all the sensors on modern cars, that tell you when oil changes and maintenance need to be done.
Plant infrastructure functions can also be outfitted with MachineSense, such as the air compressors and the building's air conditioning system, he said.
The machinery executives are bullish on the economy in this NPE year, although they expect some plastics sectors to do better than others. Several mentioned the U.S. tax reform package, including the immediate 100 percent expensing for capital investments.
"We're very optimistic for sales in 2018, both for us and for the economy," Holbrook said. "We think there's a nice tailwind that's going to come with the tax change. We're poised as an industry for a pretty good year."
Noggle said Novatec is "seeing a positive impact" from tax reform. He thinks the lower taxes and 100 percent depreciation will help processors that were "on the fence" make the decision to spend, and help draw the investment forward.
Rajkovich said Conair takes a segment-by-segment approach to analyzing the business.
"We're expecting automotive to level out a little bit in the next 18 months, potentially," he said. "We're very bullish on medical, as well as packaging."
Goldfarb said the outlook at UnaDyn is "very positive."
"There's a confidence throughout the industry on the OEM level," he said. Goldfarb cited strength in the recycling of PET — an area where Universal Dynamics offers a complete line of equipment for drying, blending and crystallizing.
"We're optimistic as well," said Noggle. "We think the year will continue to be good. The last several years have been very, very good."
Noggle said the cyclic ups and downs of the past have not happened in recent years, where business has been steady each year. He agreed that automotive business will level off this year.
"But packaging has been doing well the last year or two, both in extrusion and injection molding," he said, adding that this should continue.
Machinery officials are watching the NAFTA negotiations closely.
"A lot of the reshoring that has been happening, unfortunately it has not come back to the United States, but it has landed on the other side of the border in Mexico," Noggle said.
He said the tax reform, and the fate of NAFTA, have caused some manufacturers to pause in making investments as they wait to see how the North American trade issue plays out.
"We've seen a little bit of trepidation in decisions made of where capital goes," Noggle said. "Does it go there or come back across the border?"
Sustainability is another key issue. Holbrook said the industry has to educate people that plastics are part of a sustainable future.
Goldfarb said processors are looking for energy-efficient machinery. That's a key selling point for UnaDyn's dryers, he said.
"Most capital purchases now are not simply just a quote, but they're a quote, an energy analysis and a cash return-on-investment," Goldfarb said. That results in replacement equipment justified by the lower energy consumption, he said.
ACS also is highlighting energy savings at NPE2018, showing a new chiller that is modular and energy efficient, among about a dozens of new products, Holbrook said.
"One of the items we're particularly excited about is the new high-efficiency chiller that we just introduced to the marketplace," he said. "It's a central chiller that comes in a modular design and provides 60 percent energy efficiency."