JP Morgan Global Manufacturing 2022 PMI shows lowest reading since October 2020.
Delayed orders, rush delivery rates, increased downtime and operator shortages are just some of the symptoms US boxmakers are experiencing with the global supply chain crisis in 2022. According to the recent J.P.Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI™, “Supply chain delays remained substantial in January, as average vendor lead times lengthened for the thirtieth month running.” Key findings in the report show, as of January 2022, the Manufacturing PMI is at a 15-month low – the lowest reading since October 2020.
Now with rising tensions in Russia and the China shutdown due to growing COVID-19 cases, the global supply chain has become even more concerning.
With box manufacturers struggling to get their hands on new equipment, parts, consumables, and raw materials, American OEMs are finding innovative ways to combat this global issue. At A.G. Stacker, we believe choosing the right corrugated machinery partner is key to minimizing the effects of these shortages and remaining productive and profitable during these uncertain times. In this article, we discuss three ways the right OEM can help maximize your operations amid a volatile supply chain.
Prepare With Digital Twin Technology
When crisis calls, U.S. manufacturers have always answered with technology and innovation – this global supply chain issue calls for the same. One tool that is extremely useful is digital twin technology. Digital Twins take the exact blueprint of your machine and recreate it in a digital format. The system is developed with a complete replica of the specifications, component configurations, operator interface and more, unique to each machine. This allows your team to run a multitude of simulations that can assist with:
New digital twin systems in commission for the eBREAK Bundle Breaker, eTAMP and DSS.
Operator training before equipment arrival. Boxmakers can now train operators using the digital twin software, prior to equipment installation. Though OEM lead times may remain unsteady, operators can use the month(s) between purchase and installation to train. The faster your team is up to speed on the new equipment, the faster your operations can be more productive and profitable once the machine is in commission.
Reduce waste and downtime by testing job runs through simulations. In a time of raw material shortages, no sheet can go to waste. Managers can now utilize digital twin technology to run new jobs with variable sheet sizes and shapes through the machine digitally. The simulations can help visualize areas of waste and inefficiency and inspire the most productive job configurations.
Digital solutions available to boxmakers expand far beyond digital twin technology. Mobile applications, virtual factory environments, and equipment in augmented reality are just a few new technologies manufacturers are also using to better plan and prepare for the unpredictable future ahead.
A.G. Stacker is among the first to apply and effectively utilize digital twin technology on commissioned machines in the corrugated converting market. With 3 digital twin assets and counting, A.G. is preparing the way with expanded business solutions tailored to the future of the industry. Learn about A.G.’s digital twin technology and other digital solutions, incuding the AG+ mobile app and AR/VR solutions, HERE.
Adapt With Custom Machining Equipment
Does your OEM machine, weld and fabricate all equipment in house? Or do they assemble the machine from parts and components manufactured outside of their facility? During a global supply chain predicament, equipment manufacturers capable of machining in-house have the upper hand, and so do the boxmakers that work with them.
When lead times become longer and longer, assembly-only manufacturers have few options but to wait on the parts and components they need to build the equipment, causing lead times to become excessive for their customers.
A.G. welders train on the new COBOT welder system, installed Fall 2021.
OEMs that manufacture 100% in house, like A.G. Stacker, have multiple options during material shortages and can quickly adapt to the supply chain environment. Machining OEMs can source steel, aluminum, brass and other raw materials from a variety of suppliers, rather than having a small pool of companies capable of manufacturing their exact parts. In emergencies, they can utilize readily available materials and machine them as temporary solutions until the raw materials arrive. Furthermore, with in-house engineers, OEMs can engineer retrofits and upgrades to adapt to the new global supply chain and reduce the need for unavailable materials.
When parts and components are in short supply, OEMs with custom machining equipment can innovate their customers through the logistic nightmares haunting their purchasing team.
With a large fleet of machining equipment and an army of skilled operators, assemblers and engineers, A.G. Stacker has helped converter customers navigate the unsteady global supply chain of the 2020s, successfully. A.G. also recently installed a COBOT welder and HAAS CNC system for more efficient parts manufacturing, reducing lead times for the road ahead. See how our team fabricates material handling equipment in house in this Manufacturing Marvels TV segment featuring A.G. Stacker on Fox News.
Accelerate With American-Made Equipment
As stated in the AICC 2022 Economic Report, “Supply chain constraints, raw material shortages and the spread of the omicron variant slowed activity in markets around the world.” As the COVID pandemic still looms over humanity, global sourcing has become a logistics horror.
A.G. Production Floor
Getting equipment, parts and consumables from manufacturers overseas often comes with long lead times due to the distance, trade constraints and paperwork associated with imports – and that was before the pandemic. With the added materials shortages in the global supply chain, boxmakers can easily fall behind on production goals while they are waiting, waiting and waiting for their international shipments to arrive.
Many US boxmakers are turning to quality, domestic manufacturers for solutions that ease logistic constraints and accelerate lead times. With less procedural barriers, faster shipping times and local technicians on stand-by, partnering with a local OEM could save a ship load of time and money. American corrugated OEMs also understand the unique landscape of manufacturing in the USA and are better prepared to help you navigate the road ahead.
Founded by Clarence and Helen Allen in 1996, A.G. Stacker machines and assembles all equipment and parts in our production facility in Weyers Cave, VA. Additionally, A.G. chooses American suppliers and technology vendors to partner with for quality assurance, synergy and collaborative innovation.
Prepare, Adapt and Accelerate through the Global Supply Chain Crisis with A.G. Stacker
A.G. Technicians offer remote support after the first eBREAK Bundle Breaker installation.
As box manufactures forge through uncertain supply chains, A.G. Stacker is preparing the way with technology-focused solutions. From digital twin technology to digital service, A.G. has developed digital technology solutions that keep operations moving forward. With the creation of digital twin assets for the eBREAK Bundle Breaker, eTAMP servo-driven tampers and divert & separate system, A.G. customers can take advantage of the digital twin training simulations to prepare operators before equipment arrival and plan new jobs with efficiency.
A.G. will continue investing in more digital twin assets to optimize production planning and training for converters nationwide. Additionally, A.G. now offers expanded business solutions including VR, AR and a mobile application to empower converters with visual planning, training and collaboration tools.
A.G.’s longest tenured welder wears his American flag shirt with pride while fabricating steel stacker frames.
A.G. takes great pride in being a 100% American manufacturer. All equipment, components and parts are machined, welded, and assembled in our Weyers Cave, VA facility, since inception. For 25 years we have remained committed to innovation in material handling equipment for corrugated board and have partnered with a network of American suppliers to support our production.
With advanced digital technology, in-house machining capabilities, and a domestic location, A.G Stacker is ready to help you prepare, adapt and accelerate through the global supply chain crisis of our day and beyond. Contact our team today to discuss your unique logistic challenges and production goals and we’ll collaborate with your team to innovate the best solution for your operations.
Committed to Innovation. Committed to Service. Committed to You.
Manufacturers are increasingly relying on digital twins to improve design, commissioning and operational efficiency, but there are even more possibilities for the technology. In the course of achieving these objectives, digital twins are providing additional, unexpected collaboration benefits in the sales realm.
Founded in 1996, A.G. Stacker is a custom manufacturer, engineering line solutions and fabricating tailored industrial machinery for corrugated material stacking and handling operations. A.G. services a variety of end users, ranging from sheet plants to converting facilities, and from global multi-facility box makers to local family-owned converters—all of whom expect reliable operation and continuous innovation.
A.G. deployed Siemens’ digital-twin technology to enhance its design and manufacturing processes and to elevate the training experience for its end user’s equipment operators. As the company developed these digital twins, it quickly realized it could also use the modeling and simulation capabilities to improve upon the sales and purchasing experience for itself and its end user customers.
Machine builder and end user challenges
In the age of plug-and-play technology and intuitive apps among personal electronic devices, end users expect similar convenience for operating machines. This is increasing the pressure on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), compounded with the always-present high cost of investment when developing new machines.
And the challenges are not limited to OEMs. Though end users do not carry the same risk of ensuring proper machine function, they consider ease of operation and staff training as key issues. In a traditional machine development and delivery process, training cannot occur until equipment is received in the final facility and is commissioned, many months after an order is placed even in the best cases.
In the early stages of training, the threat of improper machine operation is a serious concern, as users require time at the outset to get acquainted with new machinery. Without quality training, facility operations run the risk of injury, lost product, damaged machines, costly repairs and unplanned downtime.
A training tool and proof of concept, all-in-one
Recognizing these risks and concerns, A.G. set out to change the machine design and training landscape, and we recognized the impact we could make on the entire machine-buying journey from concept to implementation. Using a digital twin, engineers and end users can visualize mechanical, electrical and automation components of machines, using a combination of hardware- and software-in-the-loop (Figure 1).
Digital-twin technology helps to facilitate productive collaboration between OEMs and their end user customers and partners. At a project’s outset, electrical and mechanical engineers use design software—such as Siemens NX Mechatronic Concept Designer (NX MCD)—to prototype quickly. With built-in visualization tools, a mechanical engineer can define a basic simulation to show end users how the physical machine will work.
It is not uncommon for engineering teams to employ early simulation to find choke points in a proposed machine and to improve efficiency of the design process and ultimately the finished product, but the A.G. team quickly foresaw the value of this prototype as a sales tool. This early machine visualization provides potential end users with the opportunity to make better-informed decisions about exact machine specifications for their applications.
Once a favorable model is identified, an end user submits the order, and the machine builder can quickly pivot from the proof-of-concept model to ordering components, assembling machinery and writing code. When tuned throughout the design, deployment and operation phases of the project lifecycle, this model continuously provides insights to improve efficiency.
Results at a trade show
As a testament to the digital twin’s effectiveness as a sales tool, a trade-show attendee recently visited A.G.’s booth and requested a customized corrugated material-handling machine demonstration. The attendee communicated the machine requirements to A.G. That evening, A.G. staff put together a model with the attendee’s specifications, and the next day, A.G. demonstrated a working simulation of the desired machine.
The attendee was able to quickly verify the machine would provide what was needed, without the need for heavy machinery in the demonstration, simply computerized components running the digital twin and industrial automation software.
In a trade-show environment, setting up training stations saves time and money by eliminating the need to transport massive machines across the globe. And in the production world, the training-station methodology increases end-user learning opportunities and improves the speed at which new machines hit the market by reducing both learning and physical commissioning time.
Adjust to the environment
Figure 2: A.G.’s Digital Innovations Lab provides a space for learning, innovation, user feedback and machine optimization. (Source: A.G. Stacker and Siemens Digital Industries)
Running a simulation, stakeholders can determine how well a machine will accomplish its intended purposes before getting too deep into design and fabrication. Designers and developers can discover issues, adjust mechanical and electrical components, and tune automation logic in the early stages of development to prevent equipment bottlenecks and other problems down the road.
A.G. is innovating its entire scope of machines with Siemens digital-twin technology, beckoning in a digital future with automation components adapted to new technologies. We are equipping machines with the ability to learn and improve, optimizing production and helping meet rapidly evolving industrial manufacturing needs. These include quickly scaling, retaining labor, training clearly, and maintaining high-quality production.
Additionally, A.G. maintains and is expanding a Digital Innovations Lab at our headquarters, housing training stations for the machines (Figure 2).
The lab provides a space to learn how to operate A.G.’s machines, and it also serves as a center for research and development. Not only do A.G. end users test drive and learn machines here—producing valuable user insight and feedback—but A.G.’s employees also collaborate on designs cross-departmentally, devising plans for improving machines. The use of virtual reality in this setting provides the ideal environment to train personnel on both operating and building machines.
Digitalize the machine
Figure 3: The digital-twin ecosystem combines 3D modeling, PLC code and the HMI application in one simulation, demonstrating a machine’s capabilities with the flexibility of hardware- or software-in-the-loop. (Source: A.G. Stacker and Siemens Digital Industries)
Simulation vastly improves design, decision-making and machine efficiency, but ensuring an accurate model is essential for realizing these benefits. To create a machine’s digital twin, a designer begins with computer-aided design (CAD) software, such as Siemens NX MCD, to define application components. These include rigid bodes and collision bodies. Rigid bodies represent fixed machine components in the model, while dynamic collision bodies react according to the laws of physics in the simulation.
Next, the designer creates motion-control joints—sliding, hinged and other axes of interaction between two bodies—and actuators to control component speed and position. For a worthwhile simulation, just drafting machine motions is not enough. It must also showcase how the machine acts on products.
Products and other external objects can be added, with certain spawn and removal points in the simulated three-dimensional space. Additionally, Siemens NX MCD software and the TIA Portal integrated automation suite provide the capability to synchronize tags between the model and the automation project. This makes it easy to simulate the 3D model in lockstep with PLC logic (Figure 3).
A.G. currently uses S7-PLCSIM Advanced software as a virtual PLC, with standard PLC simulation logic driving the mechanical machine models. This enables observation of machine movements in the CAD-based modeling environment, as well as the ability to visualize and control the machine using the real HMI application and hardware. The HMI can also be simulated with a PC application, if preferred.
Figure 4: Though the CAD model and PLC are virtual, A.G. Stacker end users learn the application using the actual touchscreen HMI model equipped on the real machine. (Source: A.G. Stacker and Siemens Digital Industries)
The Siemens suite of simulation and modeling software turned A.G.’s vision of an improved sales-and-marketing tool into a reality. The timeline to progress from initial end user interest to a new fully functional corrugated material-handling machine traditionally takes years. But the reduced time and cost investment required to create a simulated proof of concept and the design flaws it helps to detect and prevent when building the real machine cuts the process down to between 12 and 18 months in most cases.
Additionally, training can begin as soon as the digital twin is ready. Technicians no longer must wait for machine building, shipping and commissioning before they begin learning how a machine operates.
A.G.’s end users are now visualizing and learning how to operate their custom machines in the simulation environment just a few months into the machine-building phase. Operators interact with software-in-the-loop using the actual HMI hardware of a real machine, providing a realistic environment for learning to control the machine effectively (Figure 4).
Figure 5: A.G.’s eBreak training station utilizes the real machine’s HMI panel to prepare users to operate the machine long before it arrives at the facility. (Source: A.G. Stacker and Siemens Digital Industries)
Additionally, learning in a simulated environment improves safety and reduces cost risks, as operational errors do not result in accidents, wasted product or machine downtime. Staff can dial in ideal machine parameters in the simulated environment, and, once the real equipment arrives, they can start producing promptly because they already know how to operate it.
Companies are increasingly creating and utilizing digital twins on segments of machines, but digitalizing an entire machine is often viewed as too complex an endeavor. However, A.G. is proving the benefits far outweigh the cost.
When digital twin methodology is applied to segments, the goal may be to reduce design risks for more complicated elements, or sometimes to serve as a visual gimmick. But A.G. is not in it for the show, and a carefully crafted and accurate digital twin makes the machine products more efficient and easier for users to understand. It streamlines machine design and fabrication, and it increases operational efficiency. This benefits end users throughout their entire equipment lifecycles, creates the opportunity for better OEM support models and ultimately results in machines producing higher quality and quantity of products.
In coordination with our end user customers, A.G. kickstarted the digital journey by creating digital twins for three of our common machines: eBreak bundle breaker; Divert and Separate System (DSS); and eTamp.
The eBreak digital-twin training station makes it easy to establish and recognize corrugated material break points. The simulation functions just like the real machine, providing the opportunity for operators to become familiar with operational procedures and different types of possible breaks such as straight and nested. The station utilizes Siemens PLCSIM Advanced, NX MCD and WinCC Unified HMI software, along with a WinCC Comfort HMI panel (Figure 5).
A.G.’s DSS implements recipe creation and management for many product order types. The DSS varies mechanical arm spacing based on the dimensions of corrugated material being separated, and the recipes make it easy to store and recall proper spacing for each particular product type. This eliminates the need for operators to manually adjust spacing, reducing complicated setup and idle time. Similar to the eBreak training station, the DSS digital twin is also a mechanism for training, so technicians can learn how to use the machine with real hardware prior to fabrication and delivery (Figure 6).
The eTamp machine provides automatic tamper adjustment for sorting and stacking corrugated products. The digital-twin training station runs simulated PLC code with a real HMI interface to provide a means for operators to learn how to position motion axes and run product without fear of jamming a real machine. Should a jam occur in the simulation, the user can quickly clear material and begin training again with a clean slate, helping to familiarize and provide operator confidence (Figure 7).
Figure 6: A.G.’s DSS uses the recipe manager to store product-specific separation arm positions and other parameters for quick and accurate recall. (Source: A.G. Stacker and Siemens Digital Industries)
For actuators, A.G. uses electrical components to eliminate hydraulic and pneumatic points of failure, simultaneously speeding up the machine-building process and eliminating complex hydraulic and pneumatic knowledge requirements for end users. Linked up with the digital twin, these smart actuators provide diagnostic feedback, easing troubleshooting and providing A.G. with the ability to remotely adjust electronic devices.
Because electrically, hydraulically and pneumatically trained maintenance personnel are hard to come by, advanced capabilities for remote support with a digital twin help to reduce a machine builder’s risk and an end user’s downtime. The presence of electrical—and absence of hydraulic and pneumatic—components results in a more convenient and environmentally friendly support model for A.G. and its end users, yielding quicker issue responses and reduced requirements for travel.
Figure 7: Training with a digital twin in the software environments is a safe means for learning because jams and other issues can be cleared with the press of a button. (Source: A.G. Stacker and Siemens Digital Industries)
A.G. also benefits from enhanced machine and market business process feedback, so we better understand user needs. This enables A.G. to innovate and adapt more quickly with versatile machines, and it simultaneously builds trust among existing and potential new end users.
Digital twin and beyond
A.G. Stacker’s partnership with Siemens showcases five primary benefits of using digital twins:
Mechanical design validation—the ability to see how a machine will work prior to its physical creation.
Virtual commissioning—the ability to tie in models and factory automation tools, bridging the mechanical and automation worlds.
Virtual training—easing the training process for machine builders and enhancing operational capabilities and know-how for end users.
Prototyping—machine builder’s sales tool, enabling potential buyers to try before they buy.
Support and service—the ability to provide users a proof of concept for new materials and products before they commit to ensure their requirements can be met by the machine. This eases new setup and reduces material waste and downtime, increasing speed to market.
End users on the digital journey are looking for progressive machine-builder partners who understand digitalization technologies and are incorporating them in their own internal processes. A.G. no longer builds machines without creating the accompanying digital twin first, before machine fabrication even begins.
On the horizon, A.G. Stacker is planning to branch out beyond using digital twins for just individual machines and move into entire integrated facility simulation. We are on the road to becoming a digital enterprise, adept at uniting enhanced business processes, technological innovation and heightened human involvement.
About the author
President of A.G. Stacker Joe Wunder has extensive experience in engineering, operations and sales, within the industrial manufacturing and corrugated converting markets. Wunder holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and an MBA from Averett University in Virginia. He began his career as a nuclear instrumentation and control engineer, designing for nuclear power facilities and submarines and aircraft carriers for the U.S. Department of the Navy. While completing his MBA, Wunder stepped into the role of technical sales engineer and later vice president of sales at a regional industrial automation distributor. In 2015, Wunder joined A.G. Stacker as a regional sales manager and, with his extensive technical background, became the director of engineering and manufacturing in 2016. One year later, Wunder was named president of A.G. Stacker. Merging his engineering experience with operations and sales, he was instrumental in implementing a new internal company culture focused on people, processes and technology. In this role, Wunder has led the charge for continuing education, equipment and software investments and digital technology, with the goal of a complete digital transformation in the company, its processes and equipment solutions. Contact him at email@example.com.
Unveiled first at SuperCorrExpo 2021, A.G. Stacker partnered with Siemens, a world-renowned technology innovator, to develop digital twin technology for multiple A.G. Stacker systems. See the A.G. Stacker x Siemens eBREAK Bundle Breaker digital twin collaboration in the video below.
(VIDEO) eBREAK Bundle Breaker Digital Twin Technology developed by A.G. Stacker and Siemens
Check out the other A.G. Stacker x Siemens digital twin innovations unveiled at SuperCorrExpo 2021 below:
Unveiled first at SuperCorrExpo 2021, A.G. Stacker partnered with Siemens, a world renowned technology innovator, to develop digital twin technology for multiple A.G. Stacker systems. See the A.G. Stacker x Siemens DSS Divert & Separate System digital twin collaboration in the video below.
(VIDEO) Digital Twin Technology developed by A.G. Stacker and Siemens for the DSS Divert & Separate System
Check out the other A.G. Stacker x Siemens digital twin innovations unveiled at SuperCorrExpo 2021 below:
Unveiled first at SuperCorrExpo 2021, A.G. Stacker partnered with Siemens, a world renowned technology innovator, to develop digital twin technology for multiple A.G. Stacker systems. See the A.G. Stacker x Siemens ServoTamp digital twin collaboration in the video below.
(VIDEO) A.G. Stacker partners with Siemens to develop ServoTamp Digital Twin Technology
Check out the other A.G. Stacker x Siemens digital twin innovations unveiled at SuperCorrExpo 2021 below: