Linear Transport Systems Provide the Next Step for Pharma Packaging Machine Innovation

By Joe Martin, Beckhoff Automation

Like many industries today, pharmaceutical product and medical device production are experiencing a digital transformation. Intensifying the challenges and opportunities, product quality and safety in these two industries directly and immediately affect consumer health, perhaps more than any other.  Implementing greater data acquisition and adding track and trace capabilities are now mandatory, leading to the adoption of more Industrie 4.0 concepts. Pharma and biotech manufacturers, along with machine builder OEMs, require new automation technologies so their machinery can keep pace with this rapid change without adding exorbitant costs to the equipment. But to realize the benefits of some new technologies, OEMs must be willing to look at the basic mechanical design of their machines and redesign them if needed.

High-end linear transport systems offer the ability to exceed many of these requirements with high efficiency and precision in all areas from production to packaging. The eXtended Transport System (XTS) from Beckhoff Automation, for example, does this while increasing throughput, decreasing machine footprint by up to 50% and essentially eliminating downtime previously required for mechanical product changes. As a mechatronic system, XTS integrates the necessary power electronics, position measurement and EtherCAT communication in highly customizable motor modules, combining proven rotary and linear drive principles. The high accuracy, flexibility and repeatability of PC-based control enables dynamic motion control, which is now essential for biomedical and pharma packaging.

Real-world packaging applications — from bag filling and inline package assembly to product stream sortation and synchronization — have already proven the benefits of linear transport systems. In addition, Beckhoff has also announced a stainless steel XTS concept that is suited to the hygienic, wash-down requirements of pharmaceuticals. These best-of-breed linear transport systems — the hygienic concept and the standard system that has already been proven in numerous real-world applications — work the same way.

Nearly unlimited movers transport product along mechanical guide rails, which offer options for varying product weights. Magnetic plates in the movers and coils in the motor modules generate propulsive forces to move at velocities up to 4 m/s and accelerations exceeding 100 m/s2. Each mover is treated as an individual servo axis, which can increase track-and-trace capabilities across the linear transport system.

While XTS offers complex functionality, its programming takes place in a universal, PC-based automation platform. With Microsoft Visual Studio® integration, TwinCAT 3 automation software provides a familiar engineering environment with a standard toolbox of functions such as automatic accumulation and mover collision avoidance, among other built-in features. Through the flexibility of PC-based control, changeovers that previously required time-consuming mechanical adjustments can now happen on the fly without stopping production and without adding cost to the control architecture

The XTS enables pharma and medical device machinery to ensure consumer health. This linear transport system offers intelligent material flow, exceptional precision, real-time robotics integration, and efficient self-reconfiguration of movers based on lot, recipe or other product specifications. The ability to boost throughput and track custom products reliably puts Industrie 4.0 and IIoT concepts within reach, while enabling flexible mass production down to lot size 1. This makes XTS an important next step for all areas of the packaging industry.

Healthcare Packaging Expo (Sept. 23-25, Las Vegas Convention Center) will provide a compelling opportunity for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to converge and see the latest life science solutions. Owned and produced by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, the show will also offer educational programming and opportunities to cross-pollinate ideas among industries showcasing PACK EXPO Las Vegas. Register and learn more at

Joe Martin is the Packaging Market Manager for Beckhoff Automation USA (Pack Expo 2019, Booth LS-6149). Beckhoff Automation is a provider of advanced, open automation products for high performance machines. The company’s product range includes industrial PCs, distributed I/O, automation software, IoT solutions, servo drives, servomotors and linear motion solutions. For more information, visit

2020-01-24T16:20:13-05:00 August 9th, 2019|