Optima's new Zero machine platform is the benchmark for high performance, flexibility and modularity. The OPTIMA Zero L1 configuration is used, for instance, to package feminine hygiene and light incontinence products.
Around three years ago at the Index, Optima presented the "Zero" for the first time as a future-oriented technology platform. Since then, they have been continuing to develop this prototype into a comprehensive machine concept, which is particularly aimed at ensuring a future-proof investment. Today, Zero represents a new, completely modular machine platform. The machine's other key added features include format flexibility and a massive increase in output, as demonstrated by the OPTIMA Zero L1 version for packaging feminine hygiene and light-incontinence products. The dimensions of the previous top model were adequate.
The background to these innovations: The demands made on the packaging processes of the future are becoming more apparent than ever. Trends are also shifting more quickly in paper hygiene products, marketing is becoming more active and suppliers' stock levels need to be kept as low as possible. What this means in concrete terms is that, whether the product is to be triple-folded, packed longways or in a medium or small package, this need only play a minor role in future packaging processes. One key development goal was the option of being able to provide an ever-growing range of products in a particularly economical and efficient way in one machine.
The new Zero machine platform is constructed to be completely modular. There is no obligation to maximize process flexibility, as many systems will continue to produce all day long without any format changes. The platform simply opens up the option of achieving considerable time savings with motorized format changes and module shifting, as well as module changes. This is something entirely new in almost full automation. This versatility also has the advantage that the process can be perfectly adapted to the product when changing the format.
One example is the OPTIMA Zero L1 welding module: When processing long-shaped products first and then small ones, by selecting the new format, the sealing module moves closer to the stack. This makes the process more consistent and faster. During a format change, it is also possible to replace a standard product compression with a very strong compression or a rotary module in a much shorter time than was previously possible. Likewise, with the OPTIMA Zero L1, there is the option to massively increase performance via a double extension, the "dual lane"; this is yet another innovation in the feminine hygiene and light incontinence sectors. The process can also be converted to being "highly flexible" with the platform by switching different modules, but without having to design a completely new process - the key word here is: future-proof investment.
The new machine platform is based on a new machine structure. This can be assembled and built up in a range of varying lengths, for example, two meters or five meters long, and can accommodate the modules in different positions. In the past, the mounting positions for each unit were fixed. Another key element is the software, which is also completely modular. The same applies to the programmable logic controller (PLC), which has a modular design similar to what is used in mechanical engineering, and it can to a certain extent be made up of modules. During the design phase, the process and the variants are subject to prior simulation and testing; for each project, a digital twin is created. Optima describes the simulation of the machines' interlocking functions and function sequences as a digital twin. This means that it is possible to see as early on as the design stage whether the mechanics, electronics and software are working together in the desired way. For new, customer-specific solutions too, it is also possible to check in advance whether the functions will work together as desired. On the new Zero platform, anything that could be designed to be modular was made modular . As a consequence, there is more configuration and less design - and nevertheless, this technology should provide customers with access to specific solutions more than has ever been possible in the past, because there is now more time available to develop individual function modules, and at the same time, less effort is required.
Up to now, it would have been necessary to develop a specific process around a specific module. All that is needed these days is to design and test the specific module and make individual adjustments in the system. This means that Optima is also in line with what its customers need from us. The new platform provides something that was hitherto unknown in terms of versatility, both for special solutions and for the regular production process. Zero is the ideal platform for customers, whether they are looking for equipment for a process capable of five format changes per day or a process that produces identical packaging at high speed for five weeks.
Each customer is only investing in the modules they need. With an OPTIMA Zero L1, in concrete terms, this can mean that a fully automated, motordriven format and module changeover is cost-effective where changeovers are frequently performed. Conversely, if format changes are only occasionally required, a manual format change supported by adjusting wheels and counters will be adequate. Here again, a dual-lane version will probably be profitable by almost doubling the system's output. If, later on, the need arises for rapid format changes, this can be done using exchangeable modules.
In the meantime, the first machines have already gone into operation on customers' premises. The first dedicated modular system has also been developed for the OPTIMA Zero L1. Shuttles are used to transport the feminine hygiene or light incontinence products right into the open bag. Previously, the products were inserted using a top runner. Shuttles are crucial for the dual lane processing of feminine hygiene and light incontinence products, and for doubling output. For the first time, an output of two times 90 cycles per minute can now be achieved, while at the same time increasing the quality of the packaging. The following modules are currently being developed for the OPTIMA Zero L1; these modules are designed for processing particularly small formats and they are approaching production readiness: larger-sized products, twolayer package configurations, triple-folded products, etc., are now available much faster than previously with the new machine platform.
On top of this, engineers anticipate that the overall length of the project will be reduced. As well as the the fact that less design input is needed - the key word being "configure" instead of "design" - this is also due to the possibility of delivering non-specific parts of the modular construction kit, such as the machine frame, ahead of time. One advantage is that the dimensions of the lines or modules based on the Zero match the format of shipping containers. This means that they can be transported relatively quickly worldwide from the manufacturing facility in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, without the need for any custom solutions.
Ultimately, this also makes a contribution to short delivery times. The new machine frame can be a space-saving solution in cramped production environments. Depending on the machine configuration, it is possible to make savings of two meters in terms of the machine's length and more, because the modules do not need to be permanently installed in specific positions. The proven link between the manufacturing and packaging processes will continue to be maintained, as the manufacturing systems are increasingly meeting the need for flexibility. The OPTIMA Zero L1 and the Zero's multiple configurations are available right now. The platform is being continuously improved and extended.