At Optimation, we provide a variety of goods and services to our customers who manufacture a range of products for numerous markets. One of the verticals that we service is that segment of the manufacturing population that produces goods continuously in web form (or roll-to-roll). These products can be commodities like garbage bags and food wrap, or they can be more high tech, such as printable electronics. In either case, in order to take advantage of the attractive unit manufacturing costs that uninterrupted production garners, these companies need to have sufficient knowledge of the process and machinery that is the platform for their operation. It is this knowledge of the science behind the web machinery that drives troubleshooting, new product introductions, diagnostics, and improvements.
When we consider roll-to-roll (RTR) manufacturing, it is worth noting that this method employs a flexible media (web) that is transported so as to allow a value adding manufacturing process to be performed. Many times this value-adding step is the addition or coating of a solution to the web, followed by drying, and then winding up a roll for product handling purposes. Sometimes that web IS the product, as in the example where plastic may be extruded through a die, and a sheet is formed and wound that ultimately might become label stock, or packaging wrap material. The key in these examples to producing high quality products in this format is to be able to control the various parameters of the RTR process. These process parameters will include tension, speed, direction, acceleration, etc.
Optimation’s Media Conveyance Facility is the home of our expertise in the science of RTR manufacturing. Our staff of development engineers utilize the pilot equipment available in our lab, as well as our library of technical papers and math models, to assist clients in their endeavors to master their individual manufacturing operation. But how is a prospective customer to know whether or not our technology is applicable to his or her problem and specific manufacturing configuration? We are cognizant of this sensitivity, and strive to answer it by offering regular training courses in the science of web handling.
Through our Media Conveyance Facility, we offer courses (typically 3 days in duration) that teach the physics of flexible web behavior in RTR manufacturing lines. We demonstrate through the applicable mathematics (equations of motion) and the material characteristics of the media what can be expected when forces are applied to webs. We then utilize these teachings in practical demonstrations, using the pilot machines in our Media Conveyance Facility, to help solidify the understanding of our students with respect to these governing principles. We also use this teaching venue to reproduce typical web handling problems and defects, which we then apply science to in order to predict ways to remediate the specific flaw. The corresponding lab demonstration applies the suggested correction and shows the students how effective this corrective action is, and hopefully also connects the elimination of the problem back to the predicted root cause and the science behind it.
We have found that educating our clients in the RTR domain is good business. It is through teaching of these principles that govern the behavior of flexible webs in processing lines that we establish our credibility and earn the right to participate in our clients’ ongoing improvement efforts. When we teach web handling fundamentals, it results in our customers’ realization that we are well equipped to help them solve their most annoying RTR manufacturing problems, because they can see science in action, not trial and error guesswork.