PLC-based control systems are enabling engineers, production managers and skilled labour to produce higher quality products in less time with fewer resources. This benefits those producing durable goods who are hardest pressed to streamline production while expanding product line depth. Nordson Corporation, an international producer of precision dispensing equipment that applies adhesives, sealants and coatings to a broad range of consumer and industrial products, saw huge benefits when it implemented a PLC-based control system."With advanced controls, we've developed the Prodigy HDLV Color-On-Demand system, a powder coating product that changes colours in just 18 seconds," says Nordson's senior project engineer, Jim Khoury. "That's several times faster than manual change out. Another major development [is] we've eliminated operator error arising from improperly cleaning those lines during a colour switch, leading to higher quality products."A manual colour change can cause specks of the old colour in the newly applied colour if lines are improperly purged between colour changes. The Ohio-based company developed a control system that rapidly changes between 28 colours while eliminating cross-contamination of coloured powder through a sophisticated purge cycle. Nordson's Prodigy HDLV (high-density powder, low-velocity air) Color-on-Demand powder spray system then electrostatically applies coloured powder faster, with high-efficiency coverage in typically difficult-to-coat areas."The genesis was the need to shorten line gaps necessary for changing colours, which helps increase productivity," explains Khoury. "The number of colours used for everyday products is dramatically expanding. Customers are running single part, part family, customer order scheduling - a Lean manufacturing philosophy. Here, the painting operation is typically the bottleneck."Breaking the bottleneck Nordson based the Prodigy HDLV's Color-On-Demand control system on a WAGO Ethernet Programmable Fieldbus Controller (PFC) and WAGO digital input and output modules. The system utilizes Ethernet MODBUS TCP communications between controller and HMI touch screen, which has a colour display and a user-configurable interface. The HMI resides in front of the spray operator, tracking and displaying key process data.Items bearing material ID tags are conveyed to an end-user equipped with a manual spray gun. The control system automatically selects one of 28 colours from a code embedded on the item's tag. Users can also manually select colour via HMI. For example, if a product line, such as oven doors, requires different colours, the system will change out colours in approximately 18 seconds - a significant improvement over the two to three minutes (depending on operator skill) it previously took to manually switch colours.The touch-screen also plays a vital role in product quality and waste elimination.Patented rubber pinch valves accommodate high flow rate requirements while being easy to clean. Valve and seal rubber is a commodity item with a finite number of uses; degraded rubber valves can mix powders in the machine. Understandably, even a small amount of mixed powders is unacceptable for the quality levels required by some users. In the past, monitoring the service life of rubber bladders and seals had been difficult - replacement relied on a user's own tracking system. Solving this mandated integration of a life cycle counter into the machine's WAGO PFC. The cycle counter tracks rubber life cycle and usage, notifying the system head (the HMI displays a warning) when a replacement valve or seal is needed. This ensures high product quality and consistency while eliminating costs associated with waste and refinishing.As the earliest Prodigy HDLV models were installed, Nordson identified a few opportunities to improve performance. In addition to optimizing quality assurance testing procedures (uniform observation of LED blink codes and ensuring both Ethernet connectivity and proper machine sequencing) and improving wiring documentation, Nordson replaced the touchscreen to eliminate an emerging electromagnetic discharge issue."The powder is electrically charged to tens of thousands of volts," Khoury explains. "As you can imagine, most off-the-shelf equipment isn't particularly well-suited to that environment."In addition to reducing colour change times by nearly 90 percent, the controls also eliminated a previously substantial area of opportunity for human error - improperly cleaned colour lines. As with degraded seals, improperly cleaned and/or switched valves and lines mix coloured powders (e.g. white powder particles from the previous colour combine with the new black powder, resulting in salt-and-pepper sheet metal and costly scrap)."The goal was quickly purging the old colour and loading a new colour in the system without cross-contamination," Khoury says. "If a quick colour change system does not properly clean the powder delivery lines, thousands of dollars of scrap and rework will be created."Thus, Nordson's challenge became programming the proper system purge cycle to clean the entire colour feed line from powder hopper to manual spray gun (which features continuous or pulse purge). This was particularly daunting, since the Prodigy HDLV can accommodate 28 colours. The additional colours provide just-in-time manufacturing for zero inventory, improved efficiency and higher throughput than previous machines."We knew there would be a problem with establishing a standard time sequence for cleaning all powders and system configurations; some powders are more difficult to clean than others," Khoury explains. "Also, the length of the system delivery lines can impact cleaning. Nordson engineering developed the hardware and software that allows the purge timing sequence to be configurable based on the customer installation. Just supporting the large number of colours makes the system complex, mandating custom diagnostic screens so individual valves can be tested."As engineers grappled with programming the purge cycle parameters, they built upon the pinch valve technology used in the product's pump and adapted it to a manifold responsible for powder flow."We developed a custom pneumatic manifold to pressurize and expand the valve bladders, which pinch off powder flow passages in the custom quick-change powder manifold," Khoury says. "When the air pressure is removed, the pinch valve's bladder collapses, allowing the system to control the powder flow paths."With initial Prodigy HDLV deliveries, engineers closely observed performance and how the purge cycle faired. The Prodigy is equipped with 32 valves, and engineers believed increased functionality for valve timing would maximize purge efficiency, ensuring all lines would be perfectly purged every time."We learned from an early install that we needed to incorporate variable timing into the Prodigy to accommodate more purge cycles and different line lengths," explains Khoury.As part of the controls design, Nordson engineers selected the WAGO PFC because it could also support ancillary components such as the iControl and Prodigy Automatic Powder Spray systems, as well as the gun movers and part identification systems.Lean methods fatten profits Nordson estimates the control system and machine provide up to 35 percent increased efficiency on 90 percent of powders sprayed. Additionally, faster colour change capability allows same-day coating and shipping for approximately 80 percent of received parts.The controls behind Prodigy HDLV enabled Nordson to create an effective workaround, allowing users to efficiently produce several variants within one product line. Khoury revealed Nordson is going one step further by developing a fully automatic Color-on-Demand System that includes the control of gun movement."We are actively developing an automatic version that automatically articulates the spray guns (they move in/out, up/down)," Khoury explains. "This is intended for higher-volume applications, such as coating outside furniture, barbecues or anything requiring high-temperature powder paint. The auto system provides faster throughput."Among system details Khoury shared, the WAGO-based control system will be adapted from the Prodigy Color-On-Demand system and evolved to supervise the automatic control system, including the articulating guns. For instance, there are X and Y mechanisms responsible for moving the guns up/down and in/out to properly coat large quantities of metal."The human factor with the manual Prodigy HDLV can provide that special quality," he says. "The automatic version, on the other hand, is being developed for manufacturers with production scales calling for a higher-capacity system."Regardless of Prodigy variant chosen, Khoury maintains that substantially improved throughput and quality will allow users to embrace Lean principles such as just-in-time production."The old way of coating was not economical," he says. "If you had a 25- or 30-foot long spray booth that's 10 feet tall, you'd spend hours blowing it out, collecting waste powder for use in non-colour sensitive products. Then you'd have to clean out the booth, wipe out and ensure every speck of black powder was out before switching colours. This is just the booth, then there's line prep. Imagine powder-coating 1,000 black barbecue grills, then prepping the room for a run of 1,000 white, 1,000 red and 1,000 grey grills."In addition to labour savings and eliminated rework and scrap, Khoury points to the Prodigy's ability to save the actual coloured powder used to coat metal, effectively lowering material costs."There's also powder transfer efficiency," he explains. "The Prodigy spray gun uses a lower velocity spray, allowing paint particles to collect during dispersal and more effectively coat metal. The metal enjoys a higher-quality coat, while operators save on powder costs because there is 10 percent less wasted powder." Mark DeCramer is the WAGO-I/O-SYSTEM product manager for WAGO Corporation. Contact Mark at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 1-800-DIN-RAIL.
This year, with all of the economic challenges facing manufacturers, staying competitive is going to require cost reductions, increased productivity and efficiencies, innovation and the quick adoption of new technologies to help achieve these goals. What tools do you need to survive this challenging environment? We asked five industry experts to name the top five technologies and trends that will impact Canadian manufacturers in 2009 and beyond. Thank you to Jim Pinto, Sherman Lang, Sal Spada, Sivakali Prasad Dasari and Michel Ruel for sharing their thoughts and expertise.
Introducing a new robotics system in any manufacturing environment automatically places the robot at risk. Protecting the machine’s sensitive components from the work environment becomes a priority. But if you work in the food sector, you have an additional responsibility: just as the food mustn’t harm the robot, the robot mustn’t introduce contaminants into the food.Sanitation is everything, so the robot must be able to withstand daily high-pressure wash downs with hot water and sanitizers. It must be rustproof for protection from corrosive cleaning chemicals. The electronics box of the robot, and wherever possible its arm, must be covered during wash-downs.These are the relatively straightforward challenges of an industry that is otherwise, thanks to technology that can increasingly handle food directly, a rapidly growing market for robotics.What lies beneathAn investigation into the listeria outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto that killed 20 people in the summer of 2008 concluded that the bacterium likely originated from deep within the inner workings of a robotic meat-slicing machine. But the machine was not to blame, says its manufacturer. The nearly 300 Formax S-180 meat slicing machines at processing plants around the world have produced an estimated 2.3 billion kilograms of sliced meat for 13 years without incident, a spokesman for Formax said in a press release.Officials found the listeria only when they disassembled the meat slicer. The company had exceeded Formax’s sanitization instructions, but had not regularly dismantled the machine, a "very significant mechanical process." Since the investigation, Maple Leaf will now disassemble its 14 Formax S-180 meat slicers every week for cleaning, but might have to replace the equipment if that process proves impractical.Food contamination starts with a particle of something – meat, a human hair – that might, under certain conditions, harbour the formation of bacteria. Depending on factors such as temperature, humidity and how long before someone washes that microscopic particle away, it can grow and spread. In worst-case scenarios, the mass production or processing of food causes the contaminant to be folded or distributed into food on a grand scale.Food particles don’t stay fresh for long. Gauri Mittal, an engineering professor at the University of Guelph who has done research related to food safety, says there are more pathogens [disease-producing agents such as viruses or bacteria] in a person’s kitchen than in the bathroom. "Sometimes we do get microorganisms, and we don’t get sick," says Mittal. "But if there is a high concentration of them, or if our immune systems are weak, they can kill us."He says one drop of milk contains up to 4,000 microorganisms, and one glass of milk contains millions. "We get them every day, but when you get more that are pathogenic, there may be a risk. If there’s moisture, pathogens can linger for a long time. If they’re around for a long time, some pathogens become spores that have defence mechanisms and can survive for years. Under the right conditions, they can germinate and start to reproduce."If you’re automating your food plant, the good news is that machines tend to be cleaner than people. Dick Motley of FANUC Robotics America, Inc. recalls that when an e-coli outbreak in a U.S. fast food chain in the '90s made a lot of people sick, experts were certain that only a human being could have caused such a high incidence of the bacteria."There is no absolute control over accidental contamination by an employee," he says.Now we’re cookin’Food processors have a responsibility to regularly inspect and clean their machines, but it’s up to the robot’s manufacturer to make that process as foolproof as possible. Besides wanting details of the design, exterior, shape and form, Motley says, "the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) had a couple of key concepts that they really kept after us on: inspectability and cleanability." Those concepts, he says, went right into the design of FANUC’s new LR Mate 200iC Food Option robot and its M-430iA/2F Food Robot. FANUC has been in the palletizing business for decades, but has moved more into the upstream applications thanks to technological advances that make higher speed applications possible.The intelligent LR Mate 200iC series of mini robots is designed to handle products in various industries and working environments, including food. It has no area where food particles can be trapped. A special coating can handle wipe-down and low-pressure rinsing and sanitizers.Similarly, the FANUC M-430iA is capable of picking primary food and packaged products at speeds up to 120 cycles per minute on a continuous basis using visual line tracking. It, too, has a clean design with no food particle retention areas, to resist bacteria growth and rust, and can withstand the rinsing process after the caustic washdown.Motley says robots in the food industry are a positive change from the alternative: the human hand. "Until recently, no technology has been able to replace some of these applications where human operators are dealing with raw materials that occur in nature, where no two pieces are alike."He still believes nothing can surpass the dexterity or the gentle touch of a human hand. The best the industry can hope for, he says, is to equal it with vision-guided systems. "Machines, however, are more consistent. Robots don’t get tired or distracted," he says. Nor do they incur traumatic or repetitive motion types of injuries on the job. Robots can survive dull and dangerous work.Another robot that meets the rigid requirements of the upstream food sector is the new Meat Gripper from Applied Robotics Inc. The light-weight, end-of-arm tool allows for high-speed robotic pick and placers to pick up non-uniform pieces of food.It can handle all types of meat, fish and cheese in various fresh, cooked, frozen and sliced forms, and can withstand hygienic wash-downs. The Meat Gripper is easily inspectable and cleanable, says Applied Robotics’ engineering manager Clay Cooper. "For any automation design involving food, you typically look at it from immediate contact to the food going outward into zones."Any machine part that touches meat must not harbour bacteria. "The machine must be cleanable down to every facet, so there can’t be any cracks or crevices that bacteria can hide in." Sounds like common sense, but some machines might have a small cavity built in that could allow a puddle of water to foster bacteria. "All areas of a tool or machine should be washable," says Cooper, "and have drainage by gravity where everything just flows."Because contaminants can linger, even the environment where robots are manufactured must be sterile. Automated Packaging Systems has created a robotic system that puts food into bags. The new FAS Sprint SidePouch Bagging System can bag at speeds up to 120 bags per minute. Its manufacturing environment was recently certified by AIB International, an independent international auditing organization, as being conducive to food safety. The robotic system can be washed down every day for food packaging. Both the machine and the bags are manufactured in a clean room environment, which means there are no food or drink at workstations, and workers use hair and beard nets and other controls to prevent contamination. The plant also uses positive air pressure to prevent contamination from small airborne particulate and insects. The machine’s stainless steel construction, one-touch clean-out switch and 90-degree tilt action make the FAS Spring easy to clean. While equipment producers must design cleanable and inspectable robots, food plants have a responsibility to follow manufacturer’s instructions for maintaining and sanitizing the machines daily, and to exceed these requirements as needed to comply with food safety laws. If you’re inviting robots to the dinner tables of North America, they are welcome–but make sure they wash their hands. Michelle Morra is a freelance writer living in Toronto.
Manufacturing was changed forever because Dick Morley liked to ski.
With expert timing, a worker deftly reaches inside a machine to clear a jam while the machine is still running. Over the years he gets away with it 1,000 times, but 1,001 takes his hand off.It's against the law to expose workers to moving machine parts. Whether you remove safeguards, fail to lock out equipment or just let old, outdated equipment lurch along without any safety features, you take your chances. Not only are workers' lives and limbs in danger, but the law has no tolerance for plants that operate in the dark ages of safety, especially when the technology exists for vastly safer, more efficient manufacturing.Machinery must be guarded. It's plainly written in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and in the CSA Standard. Not only that, but now under Bill C-45 of Canada's Criminal Code, a company owner, manager or supervisor can be criminally fined, charged or even imprisoned for having failed to prevent a worker's serious injury or death on the job."If you're not in compliance with the law, you're looking at risk," says Michael Wilson, machine guarding specialist with the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA). "A lot of people sort of hope and pray no one comes to the door, but when you do get caught, you get caught bad." Safety technology such as light screens, safety mats, interlocking gates, switches and motion sensors are designed to stop a machine within milliseconds if a worker's body part gets too close. Newer machines feature redundant control systems, where if one aspect fails, another kicks in to continue the safeguarding. And today's more passive safety systems prevent the sort of injury that happens when someone reaches into a machine to clear a jam. Creators of these advanced technologies have removed the temptation to reach in by making it physically impossible. They have gone to great lengths to prevent workers from coming near dangerous parts. Too many manufacturers choose to take their chances, however, rather than upgrade to a safer work environment. Why aren't they making the switch?One maintenance manager, Anicete Goncalves, admits that guarding all of his plant's equipment involved a few growing pains, at least in the beginning. Management at Vintex, the Mount Forest, Ontario-based vinyl textile coater, made the proactive move of hiring a consultant to audit the plant, assess against current standards and, if possible, provide recommendations."We had various pieces of equipment needing upgrades," says Goncalves, the company's maintenance manager. "The bulk of our work involved in running nips, where engineering solutions were not readily available." The plant had quite a task ahead, but management didn't hesitate.The company hired S.A.F.E. Engineering Inc. to conduct a hazard assessment of the plant's equipment. Based on the assessment, management set priorities of what equipment to retrofit, which pieces to decommission and which key new pieces of equipment to purchase. S.A.F.E. helped design a plan and tailored the new equipment safety features to the workplace, and continues to work closely with Vintex.While adding new guards, Vintex also removed some standard fixed guarding that impeded worker's productivity and replaced them with area scanners that work much better for their operations and for their people.Were the workers concerned that guarding would change the way they did their jobs? "Yes," says Goncalves, "and it has."In its decision to shape up for safety, Vintex staff and management had to be flexible and open minded. If a retrofitted machine wasn't operating as smoothly as before, S.A.F.E. took it back to the drawing board. They made adjustments, with input from workers and management, ensuring compliance to legislation and worker satisfaction. Now, says Goncalves, the company is operating at the same rate as before and is achieving the same high-quality finished products. Vintex is not alone. Other companies that commit to a safer manufacturing environment experience a similar learning curve, but ultimately benefit. Unfortunately, injury and fatality statistics indicate there are still companies that choose to put workers at risk, rather than get with the times. Some may think they have good reason.Six common excuses for exposing workers to moving machine parts1. "It'll never happen at our plant."Sadly, too many plants learn the hard way that accidents can happen. Machines killed 223 Canadian workers from 2002 to 2006 across several industry sectors. During that time there were 90,059 machine-related injuries, 36,066 of them in manufacturing alone. Machines and human flesh don't mix. Besides surface wounds and bruises, statistics from the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) list open wounds, intracranial injuries, traumatic injuries to bones, nerves, spinal cord, muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints among the machine-related injuries–and the victims are often young or inexperienced workers.2. "We had to remove the guards because they were hard to work with."It's right there in the Health and Safety Act: workers may not intentionally defeat or otherwise bypass the safety device as required by the employer. "It's flat out illegal. I don't care why you do it," says Wilson.When workers remove guards, it's often because the equipment wasn't professionally designed or installed. It's important to consider productivity and a worker's specific tasks long before you purchase the equipment. Otherwise, says Wilson, people who cannot work well with the new system will invariably find a way to make it work. "And it's usually not the best way. It's the nature of the beast that production rules, but be careful."Vintex has a policy that removing a guard results in immediate discipline, and depending on severity, possibly termination of employment. "It's in the code, and it's in the safety regulations," says Goncalves. "Guards cannot be removed."3. "The law only applies if I buy new equipment."Wrong. Many employers learn the hard way that there's no such thing as "grandfathering." According to health and safety law, if you bought a machine in 1980 and it was built to 1980 standards and you're still using it in 2008, there's no requirement to rebuild it to that standard. As long as you don't replace it, technically you don't have to add safety features to it. None of this matters, though, if someone gets hurt or killed. The law expects you to be compliant to today's standards, period.Besides, using outdated equipment is just plain irresponsible. "Imagine you had two pieces of equipment, one new and one old, side by side," says Simon Fridlyand of S.A.F.E. Engineering. "One machine is safe, the other terribly unsafe. Now you as a manager have to decide who works on which machine. Do you value one worker's safety more than another? Of course that's an impossible decision. You have to do the utmost to protect everyone."4. "Safety is a luxury we can't afford."Goncalves admits his plant's up-front investment to protect its people may have seemed high. "People may have wondered why we made such a sizeable investment," he says. "But the way the legislation is written, everybody's liable, from the worker to the owner. In our company, employee safety is of the utmost importance. Exposing an employee to any sort of hazard is not an option."A simple guarding application may cost $3,000, and if someone were to become entangled in a machine, once you're done with the litigation and fines from the ministry, etc., we're talking potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars," he says. Today, looking at the bigger picture, Goncalves sees it as an excellent investment.It's not just something safety professionals have been preaching for decades. Safety actually saves you money at the end of the day, which is what large companies are finding out. Some have actually made money by upgrading to safer equipment. The money they don't pay in workers' compensation insurance premiums can offset any adjustment in productivity.A Cadillac solution isn't always necessary. Fridlyand says that while nobody can afford to retrofit their entire plant, they can retrofit some equipment and replace a few key machines with newer, safer ones.5. "We can't be productive if our machines are guarded."Fridlyand suggests there's a huge lack of understanding of the relationship between safety and productivity. With the right consultation, design and installation by a qualified person, manufacturers can find the most efficient path to operate the machine with the new safety system. If that's done correctly, he says, at the end of the day you're not only much safer and in compliance with safety standards, you also have a much leaner, more efficient machine.When Vintex invested in safety, the initial drive was to protect our people and to avoid the cost of an accident. "Another benefit from the guarding process has been the need to automate certain parts of the equipment and change our methods," says Goncalves. "It really forces you to evaluate current operating conditions, and we've had certain instances where the change has actually improved productivity."6. "We don't need help."Retrofitting old equipment with a safety guard, or installing brand new equipment, is no simple task. You can't just buy a safety device, plug it in and forget about it. That's why Ontario requires companies to find either a safety consultant with engineers on staff, or an engineering firm that specializes in safety-related issues, to conduct a pre-start health and safety review (PSR) of any new or retrofitted equipment.Engineers don't come cheap, so to get more from the investment, enlist help sooner than later. It's better than buying a used machine for $5,000, then finding out it needs a $30,000 upgrade to comply. Compliance lies with the equipment owner, not the supplier. Even a brand new machine isn't guaranteed to be compliant with safety standards. So if you hire an engineer, do it before purchasing, not after.One big advantage to getting help is that the engineer takes on the responsibility for compliance. "At the end of the day, we sign and seal the document," says Fridlyand. "We're taking the liability away from the customer, and we feel comfortable doing that because we're familiar with the codes and standards. And what we basically certify is that the equipment is compliant with current standards."Companies can also ask the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) or any other workplace safety association for assistance. The Canadian Standards Association also publishes resource documents that explain the standards in detail.Michelle Morra is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
Timing is everything. That's certainly how Dave Hinder feels. Hinder, a technical consultant with Bosch Rexroth, had dropped by ABB's press automation division in Brampton, Ont., to help the ABB controls group with a little problem. The group was looking for a variable frequency drive (VFD) to go in an aluminum fanning nozzle positioning machine for its client, Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing (CSM).
You want to add a robot to a production line in your plant. You configure a list of specifications into a request for quote, then award the business to the quote you like best. In comes the supplier, who works with you to configure the robotic system and software and set a completion date. Badda boom, badda bing. The end?That’s the hardware approach, says Richard Litt, president and CEO of Genesis Systems Group in Davenport, Iowa. The traditional, tactical way of plodding through a project from start to finish is what he hopes to convince manufacturers to change. A good program, he says, requires some strategic thought to outcomes rather than inputs."It’s a partnership between the user and the supplier that focuses first on desired outcomes, then goes back into the equipment and how it should best be configured to achieve that outcome," he says.Litt, who is also president of the Robotics Industry Association, made that clear in his presentation at the Robots 2008 conference earlier this month. After years of working in, writing about and pontificating on what makes some programs work so much better than others, Litt reaches the same conclusion time after time: robotics is a human-robot team, and humans must do their part by bringing their own strengths to the equation."And it’s usually all of the soft issues," he says. "I’ve said for years that the system succeeds or fails basically on non-hardware, non-system issues." Those hundreds of non-system issues are too-often neglected, he says, and include issues of design, knowledge transfer, material flow and parts variation."We engineers get very caught up in things that go pop and click and bang. We don’t often think about all the issues that allow them to pop and click and bang and achieve the outcome we’re looking for."How to use your (soft, human) headBefore your company sinks resources into its new robotic system, take time to think strategically. It’s what humans do best! In case 'strategic’ is just a word to you, here’s exactly what Litt means by it:1. Clearly communicate management’s objectives. Let’s say management tells you that cost reduction is this implementation’s primary objective. What exactly do they mean? Litt says before heading full steam into automating tasks to minimize labour costs, think about what really eats up profits. Rework. Scrap. Warranty and launch costs. Maintenance and support. At an early stage, really look at the design of the manufacturing process that you’re going to automate and if necessary, change the part design so it will be automatable with zero or minimal rework.2. Know your automation or manufacturing objective. Don’t just think about machine specifications. Litt uses one of his customers as an example. That customer was absolutely on the right track. The company not only wanted to reduce costs but knew exactly how. "They wanted to reduce the number of components in assembly by 30 per cent, because they felt that would drive the behaviours outside of the hardware."3. Involve all constituents (hint: those are people). A successful robotics program goes far beyond the supplier. The product engineers, manufacturing engineers, workers and senior managers, ideally, should work in tandem with the supplier through the whole process, says Litt. He had one customer with an unlimited budget whose engineer, at installation time, proudly said, "This is the most complex piece of automation we’ve ever seen."But the customer had failed to consider whether they could support that level of complexity, how long it would take to launch that level of complexity, or who would be responsible for supporting it. That project had a very lengthy launch with lots of scrap, rework and employee pushback, because it was configured as hardware rather than as something involving all constituents in the factory.Unfortunately, Litt says, failing to involve workers is the rule rather than the exception. Early in his career, another customer wanted to show off a new system. The tooling that would hold the parts to be welded by the robot was almost finished, so the engineer called over the men who had done the job manually. "The guys looked at it and were very impressed, but one had a question. He said, 'Why do we have to load the parts upside down?’"The way the system was installed, the worker would have to figure out how to turn a 1,200 pound part upside down. "Consider all upstream and downstream processes," says Litt. "The workers will take you there."As a supplier, Litt admits getting to the worker is a delicate issue. "The only way you can make that happen is to involve senior management in mandating that it happens," he says. "The awkward thing for us, as suppliers, is that when we demand interaction with senior management, the engineering-level folks often think we’re trying to go over their heads."Senior management should be involved in the program from the start, not only when a problem arises. "Senior management understands the issues," Litt says. "It’s just not what they think about unless [the supplier] can get to them."4. Manage to a start date. A wise customer once taught Litt that rather than manage to an end date, it’s best to think in terms of a start date. It’s looking all milestones – evaluating part design, suggesting design improvements to simplify robotic automation, establishing a project timeline, as well as milestones for material acquisition, electrical and mechanical design, design approvals (allow a month for this), manufacturing, software debugging, programming and procedure development, pre-shipment runoff and training."Put the schedule together of how this automation program is going to play out. If you hit your start dates on every element, you’ll never miss an end date."So what if you miss your start date? Litt says the biggest and most frequent penalty for failing to think strategically is having to complete automation after the equipment is in production."In other words, you’ve missed your milestone dates, you basically have installed a system that is not really yet complete, but it’s capable of limping along in production," Litt says. "Now you’re trapped in the endless cycle of having to finish it while it’s in production... and that’s the ultimate. That’s the death penalty for failing to plan strategically, and we see it happen a lot."Asked how he learned these lessons, Litt chocks it up to experience and a lot of analysis of what did or didn’t run smoothly and why. Genesis Systems Group is 25 years old this year and has completed more than 3,000 projects. "If you can’t start to get it after 3,000," he laughs, "I don’t think you’ll ever get it."Michelle Morra is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
Wireless security has the power to revolutionize manufacturing–but only if we stop fighting long enough to agree on an industry standard
When it comes to the level of quality that is acceptable for today’s manufacturers, one thing is clear. Manufacturers can only meet their customers’ requirements by making parts that are 100 per cent perfect all the time – while still reducing costs and improving productivity.
Will new developments in technology allow safe robot and human interaction on the plant floor?
Furniture maker Svedplan has deployed a team of eight of the latest ABB robots and a new vision system to improve competitiveness and reduce risk to manual handlers. As a result, production has increased by 45 percent from a line that will pay back in less than three years, the company says. As one of Scandinavia’s budding producers of flat pack furniture, Svedplan needed to improve processes to maintain competitiveness with low-cost production and reduce the risk to handlers in the packaging process. As demand and production grew, it knew that automation was the natural development in the production process. Robotic systems have been involved in loading and unloading production lines, together with automated processes for drilling holes. But packaging the various components was still largely a slow and costly manual activity. To provide a solution, Svedplan turned to Teamster AB, a specialist in automated process technology, to create a concept that was flexible enough to handle a wide range of large products and allow for fast changes to the line. Teamster recommended automating half of the manual picking line, creating three stations with a total of eight ABB robots. As a member of ABB’s Partner Network, Teamster understood that ABB Robotics would be able to provide the best robots for the system. Three IRB 660 robots were used to feed parts directly from pallets to five IRB 4400 robots that pack the products into boxes. The IRB 660 is a dedicated four-axis palletiser, which combines a 3.15-metre reach with a 250-kg payload. Indeed, the IRB 660 has the versatility, reach and handling capacity to meet the demands of most palletising applications. Well-balanced steel arms with double bearing joints, a torque-strut on axis two and rapid manoeuvrability makes the IRB 4400 perfectly matched for Svedplan’s needs, where speed, accuracy and flexibility are important. For economic operation, the drive train is optimised to give high torque with the lowest power consumption. The investment has made an impact on the production line: production has increased by an impressive 45 percent with a return on investment estimated at just two to three years. Automated lines now prepare 10 to 15 boxes per hour, compared with six to 10 boxes per hour on the manual lines. The new technology is also vital for Svedplan's future prosperity in the highly competitive furniture market. To accompany the new robots, vision system software was installed. This enables products to be saved as "recipes" in the system and changes to the product handling can be made efficiently. New products can be introduced quickly by entering the pack size with details of the new packaging position and station. Worker attitudes towards automation have also changed. Svedplan managing director Preben Ritter commented, “At first, workers were extremely wary of this new technology, but now they feel proud of it.” The company assured workers that, far from threatening their jobs, it was the best way of preserving employment in the face of global competition — and there have been no job losses as a result. www.abb.com
Today's fast-changing, highly competitive global marketplace is driving many system and machine designers–both end-users and OEMs–to aggressively try to achieve one very demanding goal: greater machine performance at a lower cost. For packaging end-users such as plant operators, this means a push to get more product throughput out of smaller, low-cost machines without sacrificing one iota of product quality. OEMs are driven by parallel requirements to offer highly flexible solutions at lower costs. They must deliver system/machine scalability, meet changing market demands and support simplified integration with the rest of the line. Their primary goal is to offer solutions where end-users pay only for what is needed. From a controls perspective, integrating motion and logic in a scalable hardware package can help fulfill this need. Centralized controlThe advent of a centralized architecture for motion control and logic has provided some advantages. The integration of motion control into rack-based PLCs helped reduce the component count in the control panel enclosure, and made it possible to program motion and logic from a single point in a single program. This delivered an initial round of cost savings. Ultimately, however, this was only true when a single processor was used with a medium axes count. A centralized control has an inherent limitation: there is a fixed amount of microprocessor resources available for all required functions–motion, logic, overhead tasks and communications. In any operation, top priority is always given to the motion task. Whenever an axis is added, a new burden is placed on the centralized processor. Limits reachedAt a certain point, the processor hits its limit and starts reducing performance to accommodate the additional axes. This reduction might be in the form of a slower response to registration inputs, not being able to run complicated cams, programmable limit switches, or not being able to run the system as fast as the machine is capable of running. This, in turn, can result in the need to add more processors so the machine can run at full capacity. Once this becomes necessary, there is little or no cost or operational advantage if a design engineer is forced to install complex PLCs for simple, low-axes count applications. The disadvantage to PLC-based motion controllers is the centralized control architecture. In a number of situations, it has proven to be the limiting factor in providing low-cost, scalable, high-performance solutions. On simple machines like fillers, augers, infeeds, wrappers and cartoners, using a PLC for the motion control can be overkill. It can add prohibitive costs that make it difficult to create a machine that fully meets an end-user's cost-performance requirements. In addition, centralized control can limit an OEM's ability to optimize machine performance. Packaging machines are very motion-centric, which makes motion control critical to maximizing efficiency and throughput. For example, a vertical form fill and seal machine that can mechanically run at 200 pieces-per-minute (PPM) might only be able to do 145 PPM due to limited controls performance. In some cases, using a centralized control architecture can double the price of the control system. Centralized control has reached the limit in the value it can offer. With today's fast-changing markets calling for much more production flexibility and scalability, the limitations of PLC-based centralized motion control are more evident. New technology and new approaches to motion control and logic have created a powerful alternative: distributed intelligence. Distributed intelligenceDistributed versus centralized control is defined by the location of processing power for the motion control. With a centralized architecture, a fixed amount of PLC processing power is divided among all the axes. As axes are added, the available processing power is reduced. Distributed intelligence (DI) solves the problem in a simpler way. It moves the burden of controlling an individual axis out to the drive. Thanks to advances in microelectronics, intelligence can be distributed throughout a machine to the sensors, motors, drives and other components. In a DI system, each drive is capable of closing the feedback loop and can handle such advanced functions as cam tables, absolute feedback, electronic line shafting (ELS), diagnostics and high-speed registration. It is even possible to add safety and predictive maintenance functionality at the drive. The processing power that can be built into the drive with today's low-cost processors and memory allows the drive to be quite intelligent. Most importantly, when you add a drive, you add more intelligence to the system. This is the exact opposite of centralized control, where every additional axis drains processing performance. Distributed intelligence not only reduces the processing load on the controller, it changes the controller's role in motion control to a supervisory one. Enhanced scalabilityDistributed intelligence is a modular, responsive architecture. It supports the scalability that is an absolute requisite in current operating environments. Adding an axis is greatly simplified: just add a new servo axis. There is no need for additional expansion cards or functionality for the controller. The intelligence is in the drive itself. Adding functionality and intelligence in a drive-by-drive, distributed fashion frees design engineers to create machines that serve end-user demands for more convenience and flexibility. Because processing power has ceased to be a limitation, more servo-controlled axes are practical. Other advantages include faster setup, greater precision and higher reliability. DI architecture can also enhance operational uptime and flexibility by supporting integrated safety and predictive maintenance at the drive level. It is made easier because of the quicker response and data monitoring inherent in a distributed intelligence platform. Implementing DIImplementing a DI system requires several components engineered to work in a decentralized architecture. These include intelligent drives and a DI-ready controller. Some may think an intelligent drive is one that can simply handle the position loop and receive inputs. However, this type of drive still places a heavy burden on the processor. For true distributed intelligence, a drive should be able to handle such tasks as closing the position loop, absolute positioning, high-speed registration, cam tables and diagnostics. As more tasks are handled by the drive, the load on the controller is reduced. A perfect example is the provision of safety and predictive maintenance tasks at the drive level. These tasks do not necessarily have to be managed from a central location. Plus, by making them drive specific, problems can be quickly isolated, downtime can be reduced and machine throughput optimized. The motion controller is the next component in this architecture. A DI-ready controller must take full advantage of intelligent drives. Its key tasks include running logic, overseeing drive communications, I/O peripherals, HMIs and system networks. Involvement in the motion is at a supervisory level. Integrated logic and motion control in a driveIntegration of the logic and motion control in a drive implements the distributed intelligence model without sacrificing machine performance and ultimate value. This is ideal for packaging systems such as carton erecting, flow wrappers, smart belts, infeeds,cartoners and labellers. Integrating motion and logic in a drive is the way to achieve the flexibility and scalability todayís fast-changing production environment requires. As OEMs strive to create high-performance, low-cost machines, and end-users in the packaging industry push to keep a lid on capital expenditures, the distributed intelligence solution provides an innovative path forward. It leverages the advantages offered by todayís advanced microelectronics, and supports a complete, high-performance system at the lower cost end-users require. John Wenzler is a corporate account executive for the food and packaging industry at Bosch Rexroth Corp.
It takes vision to achieve success. Literally. Comact Optimization Inc., a Boisbriand, Que.-based developer of sawmill technology and equipment–which ranges from basic conveyors to complete, automated production lines–helps its customers optimize yields in the highly competitive lumber industry with machine vision. For example, in machinery used for the linear transport of tree trunks, machine vision provides precise identification of each trunk's shape to optimize cutting operations. "Using a triangulation method and an optimizer, we can determine how we should cut a given trunk to get the maximum amount of usable wood from it," says Guy Morissette, a development engineer at Comact. Between two and 25 Pulnix TM-7, TM-200 or TM-250 cameras snap images of each tree trunk, and from two to 80 Lasiris lasers perform the triangulation calculations. To efficiently capture the large number of images required, Comact chose a Dalsa imaging board with four asynchronous acquisition channels. "Because we can use up to four asynchronous cameras with this board, we were able to eliminate the synchronization circuits we needed for other boards," explains Morissette. The high-speed Dalsa imaging board performs simultaneous acquisition of up to 40 MHz digitization per channel from up to four camera channels. Each channel features an A/D converter, synchronization circuitry, anti-aliasing filter, input lookup tables and the ability to respond to four independent trigger events. Buffer image data can be stored in local memory during heavy PCI bus traffic, helping to increase acquisition speed and host availability for processing. Images are transferred from the image acquisition board to a PC for processing and optimization. The image analyser detects the slices of the laser on the trunk and builds a 3D shape. Then, the optimizer determines what products can be cut from each shape. The resulting solution is transmitted to a programmable robot system, which controls the mechanical equipment that cuts each piece of wood accordingly. Making the gradeComact and its customers are also reaping the rewards of machine vision on the GradExpert grader. Using a 3D scanner reading and a colour machine vision system to detect such defects as rot, knots and cracks, GradExpert automatically determines the quality grade of each piece of cut timber (2x4s and other boards). Using machine vision dramatically increases throughput and provides more reliable inspections and more accurate grading than human operators. High-frequency fluorescent tubes light each piece of wood. Eight Basler L301BC line scan cameras and eight image capture boards from Dalsa acquire images of the wood at speeds of up to 160 MB/second in search of any defects that would affect the grade of each piece. The Viper-Digital is a single-slot video acquisition and pre-processing board for the PCI bus that features high-speed, highquality image acquisition up to 160 MB/second. This board can handle a variety of data formats, including eight, 16, 24 or 32 bits/ pixel. Hardware speed is crucial to the success of the application, which demands real-time image acquisition and processing. "The fact that our architecture is based on a PC helps us achieve our performance goals," comments Morissette. "In addition, programming is simpler and we can benefit from the flexibility offered by the PC." And since the frame grabber features a driver to Baslerís L301BC line scan camera, Comact saved the time and money involved in developing a driver from scratch. Another reason that Comact chose image acquisition boards from Dalsa for both applications is the ability to connect the boards to the QNX real-time operating system used in Comact's equipment via a simple serial interface. Comact develops all of its software in-house, from drivers to the user interface, using QNX technology. According to Morissette, both Comact and its customers are pleased with the reliability and performance of Dalsa's boards in these two applications. So pleased, in fact, that Comact is also using Dalsa's Genie-M640 Ethernet camera, which can scan at speeds of 120 Hz. The company is using the camera in its geometry scanner system, replacing coaxial cable technologies. Indeed, vision continues to bring the company success. Philip Colet is the vice-president of sales and marketing at Dalsa.
Sequenced part delivery (SPD) allows automotive manufacturers to outsource whole sections of their assembly process, essentially creating a factory without borders.
WANTED - Manufacturing strategyManufacturing AUTOMATION's editorial advisory board got together for our second annual roundtable meeting at our office in Aurora, Ont., this summer. The purpose: to discuss trends and challenges in the industrial automation industry.

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