Pump up your productivity

Modification of motion control products can provide safer, more efficient operations
Wednesday December 02, 2015
Written by Shannon Winkler, ITT Control Technologies
Dec. 2, 2015 - The automation industry runs smoothly, effectively and efficiently when the right motion control products are employed on operating equipment. There are four important considerations to take into account when evaluating customized motion control solutions. Plant operators and management should consider the four points below when evaluating motion control products for a facility.

1. Employee safety
The primary purpose of motion control technology is to decrease human intervention during mechanical and machinery operation. Work-related musculoskeletal injury is often reported when working in a manufacturing environment. Introducing and continuously using motion control products in any workplace results in little to no strain or bodily injury. With fewer hands-on steps in manufacturing processes, employees no longer have to put themselves at risk while working to maintain productivity of a facility. Once motion control products are introduced, plant managers should expect to see a significant decrease in workplace accidents. This is a positive benefit to share with all plant employees.

An automotive steering and suspension component company in Ontario requires the movement of 2,300 F billets through numerous processes in a work cell. The heat in this environment is, of course, too extreme for humans to work. An industrial process company provided the component company with a custom-engineered motion control solution. To limit contact with this dangerous environment, a compact automation angual motion gripper, attached to arm tooling on an ABB robot, was selected. The grippers move the billets from the heat station, to the roll station, to the bend station and finish at the press station. These are critical process steps for these parts. The grippers play a very important role in moving the parts from station to station accurately and consistently while meeting the drawing specifications. There are numerous advantages to the company such as:

• Ensuring human/employee safety – Automation machinery eliminates worker injuries during dangerous tasks in dangerous environments.
• Production and productivity – Increased product production with higher volumes at lower cost in less time than other types of machinery or if completed by humans.
• Quality – The automation grippers are consistently accurate and provide repeatability that is otherwise unobtainable due to human error.
• Lean and savings – Return on investment (ROI) is immediately impacted after this type of machinery is implemented. There is a reduction in waste, due to the ability of the motion control products to produce more of the product, while accumulating less scrap.

There are more financial savings, including the elimination of workers compensation due to employees avoiding unsafe environments that may cause worker injuries.

2. Cost
Particularly when it comes to purchasing a new product, automation customers are instinctively looking to reduce costs and maintain profitable operations. Although a custom-designed product may require a greater initial investment, purchasing the right solution can save money in the long run. A customized motion control product can be developed to meet the unique motion control specifications of almost any application.

Customers often select a product because of its lower cost, but if it’s not designed for that specific automation application, side load or other improper loading could be induced. This can cause disruption in production and possible damage to the equipment resulting in expensive repairs and unplanned down time. Evaluating a potential purchase based on a total cost throughout the life cycle of the product may result in substantial savings. Partnering with a custom-engineered solutions provider will ensure that the right product is being selected based on budget, needs and the unique specifications of the facility.

3. Efficiency
The automation industry is commonly centred on a goal of maintaining consistency and efficiency. The use of automated machines removes the possibility of slowing down a process, or causing any imperfections in the product due to human error. Machines perform the same tasks with the same steps in the same amount of time every time. These automated solutions are useful when production needs are constant. However, custom-engineered motion control products allow a plant manager to speed up or slow down a machine’s production as needed to accommodate fluctuating supply and demand.

4. Quality/reliability
When searching for a motion control product, overall quality and reliability should be a main concern in the decision-making process. The average off-the-shelf model can have shortcomings in either area. For example, cylinders used in machinery are designed to operate within a certain speed of travel. Using a cylinder at its top speed or beyond its intended use will cause premature machine failure. However, a custom-engineered motion control product can last up to 10 times longer when it is designed for its specific function and environment. Toxic or acidic washes, extreme heat or cold and production speed are all factors that may shorten a product’s life cycle if not properly designed.

Which consideration is the most important?
Although each of these four categories should be heavily considered throughout the selection process, ideally employee safety should be the top priority. However, the overall cost of the product plays a large part in the final decision for plant managers. Be sure to first look at the length of a product’s life cycle, rather than the initial cost before selecting a motion control solution. Financially, custom-engineered motion control products will ultimately be the best choice in the long term, due to their ability to work in hazardous environments and achieve high efficiency levels while maintaining quality and reliability.

Since the automotive component company mentioned earlier is experiencing the many benefits of motion control products, imagine what this technology could do for your plant. Motion control technology can increase the safety of your employees and limit the dangerous contact of those who may be subject to hazardous working environments. The technology can increase and speed up your facility’s production while delivering high-quality, consistent product at reduced costs. And if your supply and demand fluctuate, your plant manager has the flexibility to speed up or slow down production, as needed. While the financial savings are best seen over the long-term, your plant will still benefit from an almost immediate return on investment, reduction of waste and increase of employee safety.

Shannon Winkler is the product manager with ITT Control Technologies. His responsibilities include managing customer service and application engineering.

This feature was previously published in the October 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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