Monday, March 21, 2011

Servo vs. Mechanical: Which machine is best for you?

A recent LinkedIn discussion amongst members of the Packaging Machinery group debated the virtues and drawbacks of mechanical versus servo-driven automated packaging machinery. Several comments focused on increased flexibility offered by servo machines, which includes allowing changes to be made “on the fly,” and increased production speed compared to mechanical systems. Others noted that the skill level required to service servo-driven machines is very different from the skill set needed for mechanical machines, remarking that industrial mechanics generally understand (or can figure out) the workings of mechanical machines, but not all understand servo motors and the programming involved with using them. But cost is the big difference between servo and mechanical machinery, so it is important to understand when to use servos and when a more cost-effective mechanical solution will work.

For manufacturers and packagers of pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, medical devices, cosmetics, and consumer goods, an audit of the packaging process offers the best way to determine which solution should be implemented, especially in scenarios where a manual process is being replaced by an automated process. It not only allows the company to fully understand the current process, it is helpful when writing the equipment specification and calculating ROI. A complete system audit allows companies to understand their current strengths and weaknesses, and put the money where it will have the greatest impact. In general, servo systems work best in applications with multiple product sizes at fairly high production speeds. Mechanical solutions are often more cost effective in production lines with one or two high volume products that can easily justify the cost of custom tooling. A forward thinking system integrator can design a mechanical system that can be upgraded to use servos in the future. The audit allows the integrator and the manufacturer to have a conversation about which type of machine is best for the application and define the best performing, most cost-effective solution.

Which type of machine works best for your application? We would love to hear about it.