New College Institute wanted to train the local workforce in Martinsville, VA. The local economy was primarily textile and furniture manufacturing related, with limited technical positions. Two local film manufacturers, Commonwealth and CP Films, were struggling to have enough qualified resources for their facilities. New College Institute approached Ralph Schultz of Commonwealth to tackle the problem. They determined that a machine was needed to demonstrate the principles of coating and web conveyance (both essential processes in film making), in addition to a classroom setting to teach the principles. Other companies offered solutions that New College Institute couldn’t afford. Schultz then brought in Commonwealth’s longtime supplier, Optimation. Optimation’s team was able to offer a creative solution that met New College Institute’s budget constraints.


Optimation did internal estimates and realized that it would be too difficult to build a new machine and meet those budget constraints. Optimation came up with a solution that involved a retrofitted machine, locating a used machine in England that met base requirements. Using fabrication skill sets within Optimation and Kingsbury, the machine was modified to include a web guider module and a web take-up module, wrinkle module and a traction module. New College Institute needed the machine to do aqueous coatings; however, the machine was a solvent coater. To modify, Optimation removed the solvent equipment, rebuilt the coating equipment and brought the machine up to code.

Optimation used the web conveyance unwinders and added a conveyance teaching module right on the machine, designed as an accessory to be used for teaching. In retrofitting, Optimation used technology similar to that in both factories so that students could learn the process they’d be using on the job. All of the old controls were stripped out and new motors and actuators were installed. Software engineers made the GUI screens as similar to the Commonwealth and CP facilities as possible. A Control Logix PLC Processor and Flex IO provided for many of the point connections. The drives were Integrated Power Flex. The main interface was designed using Wonderware, which also included two smaller operator interface units which were Rockwell PanelView Plus. The system has data logging capabilities to use as a part of teaching and record data for future student assessments.

Optimation also offered web conveyance training courses on the retrofitted machine, taught by Optimation’s web handling expert Dr. Kevin Cole. Kevin’s web conveyance training was another key selling point. Classes will be on each section of the machine to address these issues. Because the machine is modularized, they can have three classes going on at one time on different parts of the machine. Mounting all of the air systems and skids on the ground level gives students access to the burner controls and air system maintenance and controls, as well as the supporting systems, such as drying, a large part of the coating process.

After retrofitting was completed in Optimation’s shop in Rochester, NY, Optimation disassembled, crated, and shipped the finished machine down to Martinsville, VA. Optimation put in all of the wiring and connected all of the services for the machine, and oversaw the installation, which was performed by local resources. Optimation performed the commissioning of the machine, training Ralph Schultz on how to operate the modules.


New College Institute has since requested that Optimation add a slot die and coating station to the machine. This is another coating device that applies a metered amount of coating, for more precise coating, allowing for flexibility for other types of coating and materials for products. A solution delivery system is also on the horizon. Dr. Kevin Cole teaches web handling classes throughout the year at the institute. The client uses the facility to train existing or prospective employees to build on their skill sets. Their collective motto is “we sell more film than Hollywood.”