Hold the presses

Friday October 14, 2005
Written by
It came out of nowhere, and caught most manufacturers off guard. With little fanfare, the Canadian Standards Association released a new safety code for power presses in 2002.

Then, a number of provinces, including Ontario, mandated that code as part of their Occupational Health and Safety legislation. Suddenly, manufacturers were scrambling to implement the code before government inspectors knocked on their door – and locked down their machines to stop production.

That's when Fileco Inc., a Concord, Ontario-based manufacturer of filing cabinets, knew it needed to take a proactive approach to upgrading its 62 presses to comply with the new code. Of those 62 presses, 58 are hydraulic presses, and at the time the standard was implemented, there was no easy answer to bring hydraulic presses up to code. Fileco was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Fileco started searching for the answer, but it proved hard to find. "One of our suppliers of presses said 'We will do the remediation, but you've got to ship the presses to Montreal," says Richard Malett, director of quality resources for Fileco. "That's not acceptable. We had to find solutions that are on site. We tried to find suppliers that we could partner with, who can provide a range of solutions and also can be here for the long-term."

As luck would have it, the answer came to Fileco in a most unexpected way. In the summer of 2004, Guy Reichman, an Automation Specialist in the OEM Industrial Automation Division of Omron Canada, was wondering how he could help companies comply with the new code. Reichman turned to Cameron Edgar, the manager of machinery certification, Project Design & Sales for Dazit Production Technology Group, and the two formulated a plan to go into the Teknion Group of Companies–Fileco's parent company–and do a presentation on the new code.

The presentation was all Fileco needed to get the ball rolling. Fileco, Omron and Dazit sat down to start planning the mammoth task of upgrading all of Fileco's 62 presses to meet the new code–all without disrupting the flow of production in a plant that runs six days a week on a two-shift operation.

"First, you need to figure out what you need to do to be compliant," says Dazit's Edgar of the process. "Then, [you need to] either fit something existing into that solution or create a new solution. What we tended to do is a bit of both."

At the heart of the solution is Omron's new NE1A Safety Network Controller. A DeviceNet-enabled controller, the NE1A is designed to work with equipment from any manufacturer, which meant Fileco didn't need to change any of its existing equipment.

"That was part of the decision-making process," says Malett. "[The NE1A controllers] are very forgiving as far as not having to change out a whole bunch of things to make them work together and talk to each other."

Not only that, but the controller also featured transparent integration, a bonus for the press operators who are used to working in a certain way. "If the operator were to leave and come back after this was installed, he'd never know anything had changed," Reichman says. "The machine would function the way he's always seen it function."

"There's nothing visual [added to the press]," agrees Malett. "It just performs and monitors like your silent partner, making sure that everything remains safe."

The easy-to-use controller is cost-effective and can be easily upgraded should the regulations change again. "We could have done all this with relays, but that would have ended up being very cost-prohibitive," says Dazit's Edgar. "That's because, with every single machine you have to redesign it a bit. Whereas with the safety PLC, there's just some software tweaks you have to do once you've got the panel made. Then, if you add light curtains or extra interlocks, you don't have to redesign again or pull any more relays. You just pop it in and program it up."

But just having the controller wasn't enough to create the solution Fileco needed, says Matt Dodds, an Omron product specialist who worked on the project. "It's like going out and buying a computer," he says. "If there's not software in it, it looks pretty, but it doesn't do anything. Hydraulic presses, well, every one is slightly different, so it has to be custom programmed." That's where the rest of the team came through to get the project underway. Dazit brought in an electrical contractor, Veugen Integrated Technologies, to do the electrical work for the project, and the team set down to work.

The team knew that upgrading one machine at a time would be critical to ensure an uninterrupted flow of production. That meant communication was the key to success. The team had to sit down and meet regularly to ensure that each machine would be completed in the three to seven days allotted for each upgrade.

"That's the target we set, and that's pretty much what we've been achieving," says Malett. "That comes back to sitting everybody down around the table and talking about each press. What needs doing, an audit of the press to identify the deficiencies, who's buying the light curtains, who's buying the controller, that type of thing."

Once the first press was done, the team knew they'd found the right answer. "At Fileco, they've got so many machines that are almost exactly the same, after the first one is done, the [remediation] process is shortened dramatically," says Edgar. "That first one? You get a few little growing pains. That one takes the longest. The next ones, you've got a panel pre-made, you drop it on, you've got software in that you've tweaked on the other machine. You pretty much drop the program in, make sure everything is sequencing properly and that your hardwiring is done, and you're good to go."

Work is still underway at Fileco upgrading the machines, but the team is already starting to think about how the new solution will help ensure the presses comply not only with today's code, but with future codes as well. "We're trying to go beyond what the ministry wants," says Malett. "We could put the minimum on, and that would be fine today. But tomorrow, the rules will change again. We'd rather be compliant with what's coming down the road.

"That's why it's important to have a long-term relationship with contractors and suppliers," he adds. "If you want to do something else with the presses two years from now, you don't have to change the controller again. You can make the changes very quickly and Omron and Dazit will be there to help us with the solution."

Alison Dunn is a freelance writer living in Burlington, Ont., and former editor of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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