Bologna-based IMA Life designs and manufactures high-tech automatic packaging machines for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors. The company has more than 3,000 employees worldwide,18 production sites - in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, the USA, India and China -and a sales network covering more than 70 countries. It has been listed on the Milan Stock Exchange since 1965.
In Italy, IMA Life lines for pharmaceutical aseptic environments are produced at the Bologna and Calenzano plants. In Bologna, filling, capping, and ringing machines are produced, while in Calenzano, bottle washing and sterilization machines, external washing machines, trayers, and labeling machines are manufactured. This plant was the birthplace of a partnership with Ever Elettronica, the Lodi-based company specializing in programmable stepper motor drives.
High productivity and very high precision: two important requirements for labeling machines
High throughput and very high precision are the basic requirements of labeling machines in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic sectors, where the vials to be handled are very small - up to 2 ml. In the labeling process, label application is not a complex operation per se, but is performed at speed, on small, often unstable containers.
A few years ago a need arose at the Bologna-based company to improve the performance of these machines; a quality leap was needed. The goal was to ensure that labeling could follow changes in line speed: labeling, in fact, takes place on a machine in line with other machinery; the speed of the application must be able to decrease according to the slowdowns that can be generated on the line. In the past, this situation was handled with accumulations on the line: the machine worked at a constant speed, always reproducing the movement in the optimal condition in which it started at the beginning of production, but generating accumulations that required space, which entailed higher costs.
IMA Life was looking for a company that could provide such a driver, possibly networkable with the PLC through a single point of production setup, to be able to set the working parameters of the stepper motor driver as well.
A supplier with specific expertise in stepper motor management
After a meticulous evaluation phase, the choice fell on Ever Elettronica: not only because of the quality of the stepper motor supplied, but because the Lodi-based company demonstrated specific expertise in managing this type of motor, including optimizing the correncurrents that the drive supplies to the motor in the various phases.
After the realization of a prototype used for a series of tests, a first machine was designed and built, and then, given the good results offered, Ever's technology was gradually extended to all other machine models, also succeeding in implementing its applications, such as incorrect label recovery, or missing pitch recovery-functions that were difficult to handle with the pre-existing drivers. The collaboration with Ever also led to the improvement of the closed loop technology on the driver and the implementation of a machine particularly pushed for labeling on bottles and vials at high productivity, reaching 600 pieces per minute, as opposed to the 400 pieces that was the maximum speed for this application.
Thanks in part to this leap in quality, IMA Life now makes an average of 60 to 70 labeling machines in a year, mainly for multinational pharmaceutical companies in foreign markets.