The concept of offering packaging machines as modular systems and thereby achieving the greatest possible flexibility in top-loading tasks, has been the cornerstone of Schubert Group's successful corporate history since the company was founded more than 50 years ago. Managing director Ralf Schubert talks about the benefits of modularity and the opportunities it provides in the digitisation of industrial production.
Ralf Schubert: Modularity delivers lasting benefits. With modular systems, the individual components are already known and tested. You know whether a principle works, and you can therefore save time and costs in systems planning. If specifications - such as dimensions and the number of boxes to be filled are known - the line can then be easily assembled accordingly. In my experience, the best concepts always arise when using standard modules. It is with this in mind that our designers always use the standard catalogue as a building block, with only the robot tools being developed for each task.
A big plus is that modules can be easily combined or replaced. This allows the high-level flexibility that is increasingly important for many customers. For example, if a client needs more performance, another sub-machine can be added to the existing system. Working with other packaging solutions, customers may need to invest in an all-new system. With Schubert, however, extensions are intrinsic to the system design and this definitely pays off for customers in the long run.
Today, with its eight modules, Schubert can perform all standard tasks in the top-loading area. This is why it is now also moving into special processes with its modules, which would usually be addressed with its TLM systems. This includes, for instance, filling coffee capsules, thermoforming and sealing plastic trays, or filling shampoo bottles.
Since Schubert doesn't think in terms of machine types, but rather in components, it can simply incorporate, for example, a thermoforming unit, a punching unit or a filling unit. With these components, it also makes use of standard solutions that can be easily integrated into a TLM line, without the products having to be removed and grouped again. With this principle, Schubert remains faithful to its promise to offer the most flexible solutions on the market, while eliminating the interface between primary and secondary packaging.
Modularity brings unique advantages to the configuration. One example is the TLM configurator, which Schubert uses for planning, and which is readily available on its website. The company now wants to take the digital representation of its modules a step further. In the form of a digital twin, Schubert is currently depicting a fully functional simulation of its machines on a software platform. This platform is then not only the basis for our internal structural design, but it will also be available to the customer, for example, for their production planning.
In the form of the digital twin, it is possible to test - quickly and cost-effectively - which solution is best suited for a task, or what changes are needed. This saves time and money through test runs in a virtual environment, and errors can be detected and resolved prior to commissioning.
Absolute modularity would be a given if fully flexible robots were to work on the lines. A universal robot would represent the perfect module. It would be mobile and could be used at different positions, depending on the task at hand. In this scenario, a line would consist of two modules: the conveyor belt and the robot, which would automatically equip itself with the right robot tool.
This would represent a self-configuring machine with maximum flexibility. Let's see what we will be offering in a few years - with increasingly intelligent controls and further reduced mechanics.