Detection of difficult packaging through flexible sensor parameterization using IO-Link

Jun 19, 2023

Packaging machines are used in a wide variety of industries. To ensure production runs smoothly, they need to be able to reliably and correctly detect and process the packaging fed to them. The company MULTIVAC has equipped a new version of its TX packaging machine with a photoelectric sensor from SICK which, thanks to IO-Link, can be flexibly configured via control commands.

MULTIVAC's TX packaging machine is equipped with a photoelectric sensor from SICK.
MULTIVAC's TX packaging machine is equipped with a photoelectric sensor from SICK.

Precision is essential

Conventional photoelectric sensors cannot be automatically configured for different products.

The packaging machine places the upper web on the incoming trays and seals them. The photoelectric sensor for tray detection ensures the trays are correctly positioned for the gripping operation and are then correctly transported into the sealing die. There an atmosphere exchange occurs and the upper web is sealed onto the tray. In particular in the food industry, achieving the highest possible precision is essential for optical reasons as customers will keenly notice even slight displacements of the print.

Conventional photoelectric sensors cannot be automatically configured for different products. They have only one standard configuration that can be applied manually via a teach-in button, or via an external teach-in input on the sensor. When changing over to another product, the new parameters therefore need to be taught in first by inconvenient means.

Controllable photoelectric sensor with IO-Link

In conjunction with SICK, MULTIVAC developed a new version of its TX packaging machine that can be configured for a wide variety of packaging with little effort and is thereby able to reliability detect different trays regardless of their transparency or color. This is made possible by the WLG4SC photoelectric sensor whose switching threshold can be tailored to the specific product directly via a control command thanks to IO-Link.

The packaging machine can be flexibly configured to different packagings.
The packaging machine can be flexibly configured to different packagings.

Besides detecting trays made of a wide variety of materials, from black, colored or milky transparent right through to fully transparent, other parameters and settings such as “Quality of teach” and “Quality of run” can be implemented through the bidirectional communication via IO-Link. The full access to lots of data from the photoelectric sensor and the qualitative detection allow seamless condition monitoring. This enables, for example, the customer to detect very early any deterioration in the detection and to eliminate any errors that arise before they lead to a production outage. The photoelectric sensor is operated with the maximum possible reliability at all times, false detections are minimized, and the machine availability maximized.

Successful partnership with the technology partner

This project is a prime example of a successful collaboration between the technology partners MULTIVAC and SICK. MULTIVAC approached SICK with specific requirements not only in regard to product detection, but also in relation to hygiene, which is so important in food production. SICK proposed a solution based on these requirements. This was first tested in the R&D department at MULTIVAC and then on test machines in the field at the customer’s site. After this, the solution was immediately able to be adopted in series production. Thanks to this targeted, uncomplicated collaboration and the constructive communication as equals, both partners were able to implement all the project objectives on time.

“By using IO-Link sensors we have significantly increased our machine availability. We can respond flexibly and quickly to changing packaging so the sensors are always optimally configured for the objects,” reports Michael Huber, Development Engineer Tray & Pouch Packaging at MULTIVAC. “The IO-Link technology impressed us, and we intend to use the IO-Link products from SICK more often in future as well.”

This means that IO-Link will play a decisive role in the ever more intelligent use of sensor functions in other development projects as well. It is likely that more and more machines and components with IO-Link capable sensors will be found at MULTIVAC in future.


Packaged expertise, innovative cutting-edge technology and strong brands under one roof: MULTIVAC offers complete solutions for the packaging and processing of food, medical and pharmaceutical products, as well as industrial items – and as the technology leader, it continues to set new benchmarks in the market. MULTIVAC is today a global solutions supplier, which supports small and medium-sized companies, as well as large corporate businesses, in designing their production processes to be efficient and resource-saving. Around 7,000 MULTIVAC staff in more than 80 subsidiaries worldwide ensure that the company remains close to its customers, as well as providing the maximum customer satisfaction - from the first project concept right through to after-sales service.

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