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  • Writer's pictureShane Novacek

eXtended Transport System Delivers Extreme Flexibility and Throughput to Pizza Case Packing Machines

Brenton M2000 case packer with Beckhoff XTS does the work of three machines while erasing downtime and excess mechanical parts

Brenton M2000 machine cartons pizzas using XTS
A series of buckets on the M2000 holds pizzas as XTS takes them around a 180-degree corner to grip and stabilize stacks. (© Brenton)

Amid rapid change in the food and beverage industries accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers and contract packagers have to dramatically increase their flexibility and agility. This requires their machine builder OEMs and automation suppliers to step up and deliver technologies that keep pace with constant disruption. As millions stayed in and prepared many more meals at home rather than dining out, an exponential surge in demand for packaged foods threw supply chains into chaos.

Part of the expansive ProMach, Inc., group of brands, Brenton is a leading OEM that helps food manufacturers and packagers succeed in this challenging environment. In addition to the general crush of demand for CPGs, experts at Brenton see a notable change happening in the contract packaging market. “There has been a steady increase in new machine purchases from contract packagers recently,” said Mike Grinager, Vice President of Technology for Brenton. “Now as much as 15% of our machine sales come from contract packaging applications.”

Brenton manufactures integrated end-of-line packaging systems and machines, specializing in case packing, cartoning, robotic palletizing and material handling for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. While Brenton pushes the envelope in packaging technology today, the company has been in existence for over 30 years. “We started in the retort and retort packaging business and quickly got into case packing, which is now our main application area,” Grinager said. ProMach purchased Brenton in 1998 during one of the first waves of acquisitions by the conglomerate. As ProMach has grown, so too has Brenton to become one of the biggest companies within the organization.

Brenton M2000 machine puts stacks of frozen pizzas into cartons
XTS greatly reduces jams and downtime as it moves perfectly stacked pizzas into cartons, according to Brenton. (© Brenton)

Solving supreme challenges

A major U.S. contract packager recently enlisted Brenton to take on a challenging case packing application for frozen pizzas. This fast-paced facility required machinery that could handle random timing infeeds and 26 different frozen pizza SKUs that were either boxed or simply shrink wrapped in plastic. This end user sought an OEM that could deliver high flexibility through more automated changeovers and a strong willingness to customize the equipment, especially on the infeeds.

“This application presented a challenge as we had to eliminate change-out flights for different sized products. Switching from 10-inch to 15-inch pizzas required time-consuming mechanical adjustments,” Grinager explained. “We also had to deliver a high throughput of 15 cases per minute without product damage. This is complicated by the fact that pizzas on the line are stacked as many as 15 high in variable orientations while they speed down the packaging line.”

Brenton eventually decided that these demands necessitated a mechatronic linear transport system for the company’s popular M2000 intermittent motion, side load case packer machine. “This led Brenton to the eXtended Transport System (XTS) from Beckhoff, which we found could adapt to these product changes on the fly,” Grinager said. “Using XTS, we developed a pitch-less M2000 machine that expertly handles a completely random infeed timing of all pizza shapes, orientations and SKUs, including display-ready and bulk packaging.”

Linear transport technology with all the extras

A true mechatronic solution, XTS offers linear motor characteristics with constantly cycling movers on an endless path. Movers can accelerate, brake, position and synchronize themselves on the fly with automatic collision avoidance provided in TwinCAT 3 automation software. XTS movers can take up absolute and relative positions, they can group and accumulate, they can create clamping forces in motion, drive through curves and along straights, recover energy through regenerative braking and use return and outward paths for transport purposes.

Beckhoff XTS track with multiple movers
Mechanically robust encoder flags on wireless XTS movers communicate their position to motor modules via EtherCAT.

Simple XTS motor modules form a complete unit with the movers and guide rails. The desired geometries, lengths and radii are determined by the number and type of the components selected, with various options for 22.5-, 45- and 180-degree modules to enable circle, clothoid and S-curve designs as well as open straight segments. The XTS movers contain magnetic plates that, together with the coils in the motor modules, generate propulsive forces. Movers absorb the attractive forces of the magnets on both sides and can move at high speeds with acceleration greater than 100 m/s2. Mechanically robust encoder flags on the wireless movers communicate their position to the motor modules via the EtherCAT industrial Ethernet protocol.

Brenton soon found how quickly users get XTS tracks up and running. “Our local Beckhoff sales and support team visited Brenton offices with a complete XTS starter kit to do a hands-on demonstration that showed exactly how the technology worked as I watched,” Grinager said. “All of my questions about how to adapt linear transport technology to our current production challenges were answered by easy-to-follow XTS configuration changes in the standard TwinCAT engineering environment. It all took mere minutes. We have grown very pleased with Beckhoff support, during the sales process and after the install – this service is at the high level that our own customers expect from us.”

Discussions between Brenton and Beckhoff started in January 2020, with most programming occurring in June and July of that year with the OEM’s first XTS-equipped machines shipping in August. Since then, Brenton has already received a third order from the contract packaging company and there are quotes from other customers for additional machines with XTS. “It was great to see the Brenton team quickly accomplish a successful application and secure long-term customer benefits by incorporating Beckhoff’s XTS technology,” said Dennis Sowada, Regional Sales Engineer for Beckhoff USA. “Brenton’s willingness to update and redesign an already successful machine with a new concept to meet higher customer expectations has paid dividends on this project as well as future projects in their pipeline.”

XTS bakes-in flexibility and high-performance

The upgraded M2000 machine now features 5.5 meters of XTS track with 12 movers to control the frozen pizza infeed. “With the XTS, the M2000 can easily handle pizza stacks, regardless of their weight, shape and orientation,” Grinager said. “That’s the beauty of this machine – it takes a stack of 15 shrink-wrapped circular pizzas and can quickly adapt to an infeed of pizzas already in square packaging – all with minimal changeovers.”

A series of buckets on the M2000 holds the pizzas as XTS takes them around a 180-degree corner to grip and stabilize stacks until they are loaded spine-first, spine-last or mixed. Using two movers in tandem, the XTS grips the buckets for fast and secure transport to case packaging steps. The XTS can also relax and straighten the pack pattern when pushing in or out, and buffer product in front of the load station to give other production processes extra time if needed. “XTS greatly reduces jams and downtime as it moves perfectly stacked pizzas into cartons,” Grinager said. “None of this was possible with other systems we evaluated.”

Brenton’s first XTS application had to handle a heavy payload for this application type considering the tall stacks of pizzas. In addition to their efforts with Beckhoff, Brenton worked with Bishop-Wisecarver in the U.S. to integrate a HepcoMotion GFX guidance system, which can accommodate high payloads.

Beckhoff industrial PC in a control cabinet
The XTS controller is a standard Beckhoff C6930 control cabinet Industrial PC.

The XTS controller is a standard Beckhoff C6930 control cabinet Industrial PC. The machine controller connects to a CP2915 15-inch Control Panel display with five-finger multi-touch capability. Despite the highly dynamic motion control involved, the XTS only utilizes about 15% of the CPU bandwidth in the C6930 IPC, leaving ample reserves for other automation functionality. The TwinCAT 3 runtime on the C6930 and EtherCAT close all XTS drive loops, which provides extremely fast XTS module-to-module handoffs in production.

Later iterations of the Brenton M2000 also include high-speed EtherCAT I/O systems with a variety of EL series I/O, including 8-channel high-density (HD) terminals – all with easy DIN rail mounting.Interoperability between the EtherCAT I/O system from Beckhoff and other fieldbuses is very helpful,” Grinager said.

“Establishing connectivity with EtherNet/IP devices was easy for the Brenton Engineering team,” said Patrick Triemert, Application Engineer at Beckhoff USA. “However, with its extremely high-speed and synchronization, EtherCAT is the perfect bus for mechatronic applications like XTS.”

Taking another slice of market share

Brenton has experienced impressive throughput from the XTS-equipped M2000 machine. The M2000 is now able to carton as many as 41 different SKUs and up to 27 cases per minute, which equals 140 frozen pizzas per minute. The machine can also implement up to 26 different pack patterns, including more complex spine-to-spine, display ready and commercial patterns at 12.5 cases a minute. “One XTS-equipped M2000 machine can actually do the work of three conventional case packing machines,” Grinager said.

Full view of the Brenton M2000
Using XTS, Brenton developed a pitch-less M2000 machine that handles completely random infeed timing of all frozen pizza shapes, orientations and SKUs. (© Brenton)

After eliminating many of the change-out steps, Brenton reduced the typical downtime required for remaining infeed changeovers from around 30 minutes down to just five minutes with XTS. Brenton saved at least 200 hours of engineering time for the infeed section of the M2000 and dramatically reduced complexity by removing about 100 parts from the infeed, such as chains, flights, pushers and rotation mechanisms. “These types of components add no value to the machine, so getting rid of them frees up the Brenton machine shop and assembly team to focus on other work,” Grinager said.

In addition to supporting well-established packaging markets for Brenton, XTS is opening up many new project types for the OEM, particularly in pharmaceutical applications where they have even more potential to expand market share. “XTS supports many new machine designs for projects that we might have passed on previously,” Grinager said. “We now have in our reach new concepts that that are faster, more flexible and can reduce machine footprint by as much as 50%. Following our initial XTS successes, Brenton is also researching XTS Hygienic for washdown applications in food manufacturing and the XPlanar flying motion system for the most challenging material handling requirements in the industry.”

Are you interesting in boosting packaging machine capabilities while decreasing footprint with XTS? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


Shane Novacek of Beckhoff USA

Shane Novacek is the Marketing Communications Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.

A version of this article previously appeared in Packaging World.


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