- March 01, 2002, Robert W. Marsh, Contributing Editor
What recession? With a new facility, two new Galileo metallizers, and an ei3 electronic communications network, Vacumet Corp. doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word.
Some people bet on the Kentucky Derby. Others bet on NASCAR races and NFL games. But not Bob Korowicki. Bob is the president of Vacumet Corp., and he bets on the future. His latest bet is a 60,000-sq-ft, $10,000,000 metallizing facility in Addison, IL, that houses two state-of-the-art metallizers from Galileo Vacuum Systems Inc.
It replaces the nearby Wood Dale, IL, facility and is the largest plastic film metallizing facility the 33-year-old, Wayne, NJ, company has ever built. With the completion of this structure, Vacumet now operates 11 plastic film metallizers and five paper metallizers at six manufacturing sites: Wayne, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Morristown, TN; Greenfield, IN; Windsor, CT; and Addison.
Korowicki selected the Addison location “because it's near the old Wood Dale plant, which allows us to retain all of our employees, in addition to its easy access to major transportation and its proximity to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.”
Backing up the Bet
The strategy behind his bet is Korowicki's belief that the demand for metallized plastic films will grow and that “we'll see continued degradation in pricing along with continuing demand for quality and performance.”
He adds, “Also, we know we must compete in the current market as well as the future market. In other words, we're preparing ourselves for the next-generation market, and that's why we talk about state-of-the art equipment housed in a world-class facility. Addison was designed and equipped to help us achieve these goals.”
Two years ago, when he first began to think about the Addison building, Korowicki knew it had to be more than just a shelter for machinery; it had to be designed to accommodate the most modern metallizers and ancillary equipment available. Thus, building and machinery had to complement each other to achieve maximum performance and efficiency.
“That's when I began talking to the world's leading machinery manufacturers,” Korowicki says. “It was Paolo Raugei, executive vice president of Galileo, who listened to us and adapted their engineering concepts around our needs to expand our position. We now have two Mega2 metallizers from Galileo.”
Korowicki continues, “One of the things that interested us most in the Mega design is the dual-boat arrangement. This mimics a proprietary system we developed for our own use some 20 years ago and gives us the versatility and capability we were used to in our custom-designed machines.”
Three-Zone Design Is Good Luck
In the three-zone geometry of the Mega2, in-line surface treatment takes place in the first zone. “This is something we didn't have before,” says Korowicki. “Now, we can clean the surface of imperfections and impurities and prepare it for better metal adhesion and, thus, improved barrier performance — all in-line.”
Metallizing takes place in the second vacuum zone at a line speed as fast as 2,500 fpm. “Due to the multi-zone geometry,” Korowicki explains, “the machine can achieve and maintain a vacuum in the 10-5 mbar range, which improves metal density and prevents spin holes.” The new machines can deposit aluminum for microwave applications as well as for complete opacity.
The web is cooled in the third vacuum zone, where it is possible to maintain the web's temperature “within two degrees, even at a high level of metal deposition,” says Korowicki, adding, “This cooling system allows us to run plastic films that are heat-sensitive and extensible. And, perhaps the best part of this three-zone system is that we can maintain a different vacuum in each of the three zones, depending on the need.”
The new metallizers can handle roll diameters of 40 in. and web widths to 95 in. And Korowicki says they are seeing 6-min pump downtime. “This is due to the differentiation in vacuum between the pumping zones. We altered their original design to put additional pumping where we thought it would benefit us. Although polyester people are not able to deliver 40-inch-diameter rolls, we'll be working with selected suppliers in order to develop that capability.”
These new machines aren't limited to metallizing plastic films, however. “They're designed for plastics but have the capability to metallize paper if we need it,” Korowicki reports.
Under the personal supervision of Raugei, Galileo delivered a turnkey installation of two Mega2 metallizers to the Addison facility. He assigned an installation crew composed of engineers from the company's headquarters in Italy as well as its US operation. The two metallizers were augmented with auxiliary equipment that provides total integration of the metallizers and the slitters, according to Korowicki. The finished roll is virtually untouched by human hands until it is ready for packaging and shipping, he says, thus protecting the metallized film from damage and preserving its barrier properties.
New Dusenbery slitters are lined up behind each of the metallizers, providing what Korowicki says is “immediate roll-to-roll inspection and slitting as required.”
Connections Keep Trouble Away
Along with the specially designed building and top-line machinery, the Addison facility also has an electronic kiosk that's linked to all the PLCs (programmable logic controls) on the metallizers. The kiosk connects the metallizers through the Internet to computers in the operations center at Ei3 Corp., where monitoring and diagnostic systems designed specifically for Vacumet can report any variation in production parameters. Instead of waiting hours or days, “we get the information we need immediately,” says Korowicki. “They are on-line with engineering support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Ei3 has integrated its proprietary technology within the Galileo machines to monitor Vacumet's operation and provide technical service. Adds Korowicki, “Galileo also has an on-line connection to our machines through the same Ei3 network.”
“The answer to a problem,” says Korowicki, “may come from information stored at Ei3 or from Galileo's people in Italy. One of my larger concerns in dealing with an offshore supplier is reliability of equipment, maintenance, and repair. Galileo is headquartered in Prato, Italy. Instead of being separated by five thousand miles and nine hours, we are linked immediately via the Internet to their engineers whenever the need arises.
“Our Mega2 machines were designed to be compatible with the Ei3 computers. People from Ei3 were right there in Addison when the new metallizers were delivered, and they handled the complete installation of their kiosk and all the connections to the microprocessors on the metallizers.”
During the time the first metallizer was en route from Italy, Ei3 worked closely with Vacumet and Galileo to understand its design. That understanding was the foundation on which the company developed the process logic that showed how the machine was controlled. In turn, this would help it troubleshoot any problems that might arise, Korowicki reports.
“When the Mega2 machines arrived, Ei3 had someone on-site from week three. When we turned the power on, they began to document the commissioning process and started writing up trouble tickets that provided a fully detailed account of that startup. They did the same thing for the second machine.
“Each and every PLC on the Galileo metallizers feeds into a kiosk that routes information to Ei3. Our metallizing process is monitored around the clock,” Korowicki says, “and they send an e-mail message to us and to Galileo the minute a process variation occurs. That's important, because our people don't have the time to look at every single parameter on these machines. It's impossible. There are just too many sensors to keep track of. But if something goes wrong, the sensor spots it and alerts us. This includes line speed, the depth of metal deposition, friction in roller bearings, and hundreds of other bits of information. If it senses an increase in bearing friction, for example, Ei3 alerts us right away and tells us which bearing it is, so we can get right on it.”
Pro-Active Support Adds Benefits
In addition to reacting immediately to problems, Ei3 also provides pro-active support, according to Korowicki. “They have a whole group of programs that monitor everything the machines do. One of them is the SiteSaver™. They regularly do a complete backup of the system software that runs our new metallizers and store that information in their operations center. It takes only a few minutes, because the information is collected constantly. If parameters change, they capture it immediately.”
Korowicki continues, “I can sit at my desk and log on to this program and see data base records on everything that has happened on either of the metallizers. Every time an issue comes up, Ei3 documents the entire troubleshooting process. If a similar situation comes up in the future, Ei3 has a fully documented solution they give to us.
“Not only can we troubleshoot with these computer programs, we can re-program the software that runs the metallizers. If Galileo wants to upgrade our software to handle a practical operational problem, they transmit revisions to Ei3, who does whatever it needs to do and then re-programs our software right from its operation center.
“We now can identify a process variation before it becomes a problem for our customer,” Korowicki sums up, “and it will make our products that much more consistent. That's what drives our business.”
What effect does all of this have on the future of Vacumet? Korowicki answers, “If we get the performance benefits expected from Addison — and I'm sure we will — that will be the model for Vacumet's growth and future development.”
Galileo Vacuum Systems Inc., East Granby, CT; 860/653-5911; galileovacuum.com
Ei3 Corp., Montvale, NJ; 201/802-9080; ei3.com
John Dusenbery Co. Inc., Randolph, NJ; 973/366-7500; dusenbery.com