Retrofitting with VTEM increases productivity

Less hardware, more functions and speed and lower energy consumption

Serious steps in pneumatics can be made by smart retrofitting: removing old valves and replacing them with the VTEM digital motion terminal reduces hardware and increases functionality, speed and flexibility. Controlling and setting are done remotely with a simple app. But what about the older production machines? After sometimes decades, they still run their production steadily and reliably. However, in the light of current times, they no longer meet the requirements and wishes with regard to energy efficiency and speed. Remote monitoring and control also become difficult. Serious steps in the field of pneumatics can be made by smart retrofitting: removing old valves and replacing them with the digital motion terminal VTEM reducing hardware and increasing functionality, speed and flexibility. Controlling and setting are done remotely with a simple app.

The VTEM motion terminal is a logical development of the valve islands that we have known for some time. Back then, it was already a revolutionary development to control pneumatic and electrical functions in a space-saving manner. With all the knowledge and experience that has been developed in recent years in the context of SmartIndustry in the field of digitalisation, these valve islands have now been further developed into a smart, digital variant.


What benefits? Many. A valve island is still a collection of valves that are responsible for controlling a set of pneumatic functions. The big difference with the digital variant VTEM is that the function of each individual valve can be changed at any time. Not by manually changing settings on the machine, but simply via an app. Which function is needed at which moment is determined by the control unit, which calls up the right app 'on command'.

In addition to the easy change of functionality, the digital character offers all possibilities to vary and measure the pressure at any point in the system at any time. This means that a cylinder that previously could only move in and out as far as the stops with one push, is promoted to a serious solution for complex motion tasks. In addition, all pressures and pressure changes over time can be recorded. By converting this big data into valuable information using advanced analysis software, important steps can be taken towards energy efficiency, productivity and smart maintenance.


The advantages of the VTEM motion terminal really come to the fore in a practical example. In this case it is a producer of sauces and liquid food and we focus on the part of the process where the products are filled into the various packages. Pneumatically, the main components are the filling tubes that are emptied into the containers via a cylinder. The speed per filling tube is controlled independently and depends, among other things, on the internal friction of the specific cylinder and, of course, on the properties of the product. Because a number of filling tubes are emptied in one cycle, the 'slowest' cylinder determines the cycle time. When this machine was built, the techniques that were available at the time were used. A retrofit with the VTEM motion terminal brought it completely up to the 'state of the art', which gave the producer distinctive advantages.


One of the most important results was the increase in production speed. Digital control makes it possible to infinitely change the speed of the cylinders by changing the pressure. This allows them to move at speed when possible and to empty the filling tube in a controlled manner when necessary. Also, each filling tube can be controlled separately when needed. The increase in speed was not of the order of percent but went in the direction of a factor of 2 (twice as fast, half cycle times).

In addition, productivity increased due to a lower downtime. This is related, among other things, to the accuracy with which the valves can be controlled, but also to the possibility of continuously monitoring the operation. If something goes wrong, this is immediately noticed and the machine is stopped, preventing unnecessary damage to the machine and the products.


In addition, flexibility in production has been greatly increased by replacing the old valves with the VTEM motion terminal. For new sauces or food it is no longer necessary to endlessly turn knobs to find the right setting. These are created digitally, tested and adjusted until the process runs as desired. The same applies to changes to the packaging that are larger or smaller or the fragility of the product that affects the speed at which it can be filled.

Moreover, it is easy to add functions. If the producer wants to perform not only filling but also a check stroke, for example, in the same station, this can be done with the valves from the same motion terminal. There is no need to install, wire and commission new hardware. Switching functions via the app makes it possible.


The manufacturer of sauces and liquid food has also taken a significant step in the area of energy efficiency. Comparable to a frequency converter on an electric motor, the digital control means that compressed air or vacuum can be adjusted very precisely to the demand. This eliminates the need for throttling to dissipate excess energy as heat losses.

Monitoring also plays a role in energy saving. By checking for air leaks, any leaks in the system can be quickly detected and resolved. Most Festo customers have known for a long time about the savings that can be made. If not, we'll be happy to update you.


Finally, really new in this retrofit are the possibilities of doing so-called 'smart things' with all the data collected during the production process. The possibilities are practically endless and are in fact only limited by human creativity and imagination.

The possibility of noticing malfunctions during the process at an early stage was mentioned earlier. If, for example, a 'piece' of the feed remains in the filling tube and prevents the cylinder from emptying, it will immediately be noticed, based on pressure measurements and time, that the cylinder has reached its 'end position' too early.

And of course, all data is of value to the maintenance department. Trend analyses provide a reliable indication of wear and tear and air leaks, among other things, and form the basis for condition-dependent maintenance. In the event of a calamity, this data helps to determine what is possibly wrong more quickly, so that mechanics can solve the problem immediately with the right tools and the right parts on site.

Finally, when data is logged over a longer period of time, the producer of sauces and liquid food may be able to use it to optimise his process.

July 2022