Common Motor/Drive Combination with Motion Control Improves Line Production by 50%, Reduces Panel Size by 50%

Sealed Air builds new converting lines for its own production of bubble wrap mailers, using Siemens and Axis to configure and commission entire line control platform

As Sealed Air's facility in Saddle Brook, New Jersey was both the OEM converting line builder and the end user of the equipment, there were high stakes for all parties to this project, according to Sealed Air director of specialty equipment, Tom Kimble.  "This was a whole new platform of control for us, as we were migrating from an older control, motor and drive arrangement on our converting lines, in order to increase line production.  As expected, there was some resistance from our team to the idea of something new, but we worked with our automation partner, Axis Inc. (Somerville, New Jersey), who simply showed us a better way."   Axis is a local industrial automation specialist and an authorized distributor for a number of motion control component and robotics suppliers.  

On this project, the challenge involved improvement in the production speed of the Jiffy-Lite paper-sleeve, laminated bubble wrap mailers for Sealed Air's customer, a major online retail operation.  The goal was an increase of 50%, from 120 bags per minute to 180 bags per minute.  As Kimble points out, "Our speeds needed to increase and that meant more horsepower, with all the attendant control and drive challenges."  He turned to Axis Inc. and their motion products manager, Joe Pitera, a longtime partner on many Sealed Air machine build projects.   Joe notes, "Our customer expressed the need to run faster, yet with a greater degree of accuracy and a smaller footprint on the machine, in response to some logistical materials handling and physical plant space availability challenges."   While a number of previous converting lines featured a reliable motor, drive and motion control package, the new line required performance specifications not achievable with the previous generation of product and software solutions. 

Axis recommended a combination of motors, drives and integrated motion controllers, all in cabinet space that was 50% smaller than previous line designs.  The Siemens TIA Portal, a programming and commissioning software platform,  offered the easy integration of all data and connections to the configured motion controller.  This interconnection offered substantial engineering upsides to Sealed Air, as Pitera detailed.  "This customer is a leader in the market, precisely because they've always been open to new and better ideas for making their lines run faster, with great accuracy and production validation.  With the TIA Portal, however, we were bringing them a totally new concept in the engineering and start-up of their equipment, as it offered a single station of HMI with option screens for design and subsequent runout on the devices used."   Kimble admits there was some resistance.  "To be frank, I fought this idea of a whole new engineering platform, as it was very different from our previous protocols and even very different from previous generations of Siemens products we'd used on existing, quite successful lines here at Sealed Air.  Joe showed us the demo, however, with the TIA Portal ability to pull everything together, run the HMI from a single touchscreen panel with a full library of option screens, interconnects, tagging and access tracking to every single run of cable in the line."  Despite his team's 25+ years of experience with PLC technology in the design and buildup of converting lines, Kimble knew there would be some pushback, but he notes Joe Pitera spent a full day each week for several months at Sealed Air showing the engineers, for example, how to copy and paste values for the entire temperature zone of the line. 

Tom Kimble calls the TIA Portal "simply the fastest way we've seen to do programming, setup and commissioning, then be able to make changes on the fly and validate the decision very quickly."   He added that, although some of the machines being built for this project were heading for other facilities of Sealed Air, around the world, his team was confident the use of this new platform would streamline the engineering efficiency, company-wide.  

The results of implementing Sinamics V20, Sinamics S120 AC drives and Simotion motion controllers, plus using the integration features of the TIA Portal from Siemens, according to both Kimble and Pitera, helped Sealed Air achieve its two primary metrics of 50% increase in line speed, from 120 to 180 packages per minute, plus a 50% reduction in control cabinet footprint, as the enclosure went from a four-bay to a two-bay configuration.   This solution controls 13 axes of servo motion with three simple-speed control variable frequency drives, 16 temperature control heater zones with solid state control and automation comprising the HMI, zone controller with 64 digital and 32 analog signals, all circuit control, safety protection devices and terminal blocks.

From a timing standpoint, the overall project took less than six months, including all the development on the code blocks, according to Joe Pitera, who further cited the assistance received from Siemens application engineering and the converting market manager, Bill Gilbert.  

A second full production line is planned, plus this system follows on the previous successful implementation of this hardware and software solution on a co-extrusion line located in the Sealed Air facility in Chicago, which utilizes 43 axes of motion, 91 zones of heating, hundreds of I/O points and the full HMI and controller solution provided by the single source, Siemens.   Sealed Air further utilizes this supplier's motion control systems on its approximately 25 rotary knife perforators, both existing and planned for production in the near future.  

For more information on this story, please contact: 




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Phone:  908-429-0090

Joe Pitera, Motion Products Manager

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