The first machines I programmed when I started my old company ACS were primarily packaging machines. As I have mentioned previously I teamed up with NAS early on, becoming their de-facto controls department. In the beginning we built a lot of equipment for Avery Dennison processing their magic markers and binders. Much of the controls involved reacting to product and moving it around. Packaging and material handling have a lot in common.
We built systems that would collate, or arrange product in a specific order or grouping for insertion into a package. Sometimes the machine might perform assembly as in the Binder machines. Often these machines would feed product in varying configurations or quantities into clamshell packaging or boxes. This involved stacking product in groups, often picking up the stacks or pushing them into boxes. Various techniques would be used to ensure that the right number of items ended up in the package. This was often augmented by inspection using machine vision or measurement.
Many of the systems involved working with other vendors who specialized in other types of packaging machines such as palletizers or case erectors. Eventually NAS themselves began to specialize in baggers and film related machinery. They developed a new kind of sealing system which they patented in the early 2000’s, incorporating it into a standard vertical bagger. With sealing equipment a lot of expertise is required in the precise control of temperature and time related to the packaging material type.
In my opinion the most successful companies in automation related machinery eventually end up specializing in what they are best at. Even a large machine builder like the one I currently work for usually buys packaging equipment from a specialist company. After all, why not benefit from the years of experience (and mistakes) of others?