Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Industry Watch Opinion
Start the presses: Can updating press safety also boost productivity?


Over the past few years, the metal forming industry in Canada has had to deal with the expense of increased safety standards, while at the same time suffering increased competition from offshore manufacturers. This has made the industry sit back and look at the overall profitability of continuing to manufacture in Canada.Many presses in Canada have older control systems that use outdated technology, limiting their ability to run the sophisticated automation needed to stay current within the modern manufacturing environment. At the same time, these presses often have reliability problems due to the age of the controls and worn out wiring. Since the equipment must be upgraded for safety, it’s also the perfect opportunity to upgrade the overall performance of the pressroom.
There are many things to consider when upgrading presses. Of primary importance is determining how to eliminate the risk to the worker when dealing with this type of equipment. If you keep the machinery running with reliable control systems and compliant guarding systems, the worker will rarely become exposed to the hazards presented by the stamping presses and auxiliary feed equipment. Finding a control solution that works with a variety of equipment is a must; standardization of the press controls will allow all the operators to go from one machine to another with minimal training.
For example, one of our customers asked us to help modernize an older 1000 ton big-bed press. This particular press was installed in the mid 1970s, and at the time, it was set-up to do a hand transfer operation. The press required six operators and was producing 1200 pieces per shift. It needed a controls upgrade to deal with safety issues, along with the added ability to decrease set-up time and improve the operator interface
After looking at the existing control system, we made the decision to start over with a completely new control package, similar to others currently operating in their facility. We designed the press control with die protection, PLS controls, tonnage monitoring and the ability to interface with the existing feed equipment. This interface allows the press control to pass down feed information directly to the servo feeder, reducing overall set-up time.
The physical wiring of the press was greatly reduced by using remote Input/Output modules located in areas that contained most of the existing electrical devices. These remote Input/Output modules connect to the main PLC via Ethernet. We then added data collection software to the press control that allowed the company managers to monitor the uptime of the press, giving them a better understanding of what was happening on the shop floor.
At the time the electrical system was replaced, the plant also took the time to do a mechanical upgrade on the press, which resulted in the press being able to operate effectively at 20 strokes per minute, up from 12. The plant is now able to produce 9600 pieces per shift compared to the 1200 per shift before the improvements. At the same time, they were able to reduce the number of operators to one.
The lesson to be learned here is that manufacturers should not look at safety as a burden, but rather as an opportunity to update older equipment.

Walter Veugen is the owner of Veugen Integrated Technologies (VIT), based in New Dundee, Ont. VIT manufactures stamping press controls and peripheral machine guarding systems.