Automated capabilities continue to bring greater efficiencies to manufacturing

tagsStainless Steel Nuts

Regardless of manufacturing needs, stores can find automated machines or systems within budget.

I used to swear words in production workshops all over the world, and I used to scream in the executive conference room before,

It's not just a way to reduce labor, it has become more comprehensive. Of course, some workers are still complaining, but the long-term shortage of skilled workers, combined with the advantages of reducing the monotony and safety of working days, has alleviated some of the objections that have appeared in the workshop all the year round. At the same time, especially in view of the competition of companies in low-wage countries/regions, the quality of parts, the improvement of machine functions and manufacturing productivity have jointly formed the latest perspective of the automated manufacturing system in the administrative suite.

"From 20 years ago to today, the concept of automation has changed dramatically," said Pat Downing, the company's pipe manufacturing equipment and service sales director.

, Wauseon, Ohio.

He said: "At that time, you did not say'automation' in the management factory because people were worried that they would lose their jobs." Nowadays, almost everyone realizes that automation has become a reality. When it enters an industry, every company It must be embraced to keep up with the competition, Tangning said.

Equally important, it creates new opportunities.

"Some old attitudes still exist," said Carroll Stokes, the company's sales engineer

. "Some workers worry that this will take away jobs. In fact, a fully automated turnkey system can help the company grow by bringing in more business. Automation will not kill jobs, it will bring jobs you don't have."

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, programmable control systems have taken a big step in improving the way manufacturing systems work. Variants of the theme (DNC, CNC or NC for short) use programmed instructions to control the movement of the machine. The machine with modern control system will operate in a different way, instead of relying on a certain length of material, until the feeding trolley hits a hard stop for cutting, bending, piercing or punching, the machine will tell the execution according to the instructions of the program Detector, how far to move the cart and when to make strokes for cutting, punching or other processing. Accuracy and consistency have been greatly improved, and NC has laid the foundation for automation.

Over time, new possibilities have emerged, and until recently, these possibilities were too expensive for most manufacturing applications. In the 1980s, 1990s, and even the early 2000s, more costly measures were used to combine more complex actions or actions (or other actions), add sensors to monitor them, and develop more complex software programs to control them. . However, like most electronic technologies and software, functionality grows as prices fall. Many basic technologies have higher functions and cheaper prices than in the past, so a process that could have been automated but too costly (for a considerable return on investment in 2000 or 2005) will be affordable in 2020. For example, Stokes said that in the past 30 years, the cost of servo technology has dropped by 60% to 70%, down to about $1,500 to $2,000 per axis. The performance of the electronic subsystem is much better.

Downing said: "Today, when we first implemented this technology, the price of a vision system that cost 30,000 to 40,000 US dollars was only 5,000 to 7,000 US dollars, and the latest features are more powerful."

He said: "The main driving force is the progress of sensors, vision systems, robots and software, but that is not all." "When the industry started to use all-electric end forming machines, the automation of tube manufacturing did make progress. Servo motors enabled It becomes easy to monitor the force generated by the actuator and the distance it travels, so that the bending cycle can be precisely controlled."

This means that today's automated, customized machines are not only faster and more accurate than the machines of a few years ago, but in general, they can complete tasks previously completed by operators, do more than before, and do more accurately than before. .

For large-scale OEMs, RFQs are sent to solve the problems of large-scale turnkey manufacturing systems. However, small equipment manufacturers can also use all hardware, software, sensors and control technologies.

In many cases, especially when making simple parts, basic automation is faster than manual processing, which is sufficient to achieve automation. However, as time goes by, the finished product tends to become more and more complex, so the machines that make the components also tend to become more and more complex. Automated systems can help check raw materials or intermediate products, error-proofing processes, manufacturing parts, and manufacturing entire assemblies.

"Nowadays, many people are investing in turnkey automation systems," said Matt Phillips, the company's president of automation

. Some people still want a machine or a unit of work, but today, many people are thinking about bigger ideas.

Phillips said: "In metal manufacturing, the system usually does not just make parts, but perform other tasks, such as bonding." Assembly and bonding are not necessarily difficult, but the incoming parts must meet all dimensional requirements for the assembly process to be able to do it according to plan.

He said: “In the past, parts inspection was the responsibility of the machine operator.” “If the machine operator is reliable, that’s great, but if it’s unreliable, they might load bad parts.” Solving this problem means designing a specific A system where the application is fully checked.

Phillips said: "Laser inspection equipment and camera systems are used to measure the size of parts and detect the features of the parts." "Usually, they can measure sizes below 0.0005 inches. The accuracy is measured with a laser, and then the parts are loaded with a robot system. , Much faster and more reliable than the operator inspecting parts and loading them manually."

* "The vision system can detect the presence of parts or features, so, for example, it can determine whether there are end forms or nuts on the pipe," Tangning said. "It can also be used to detect color, so it can determine whether there is a specific O-ring."

The visual system may be more specific than this.

He said: "The 2D vision system can find the parts on the test tube and determine whether it is in the correct position." "The 3D vision system can determine the depth, so even if the parts are not stacked in an orderly manner in the trash can, it still The exact x, y, and z position of the accessory can be drawn."

The vision system can also be used for functions other than preload inspection.

Phillips said: "One of our machines is used to assemble a product made of five parts." "Some components are very similar and may be assembled in the wrong order." To prevent this is to design a mistake-proof system. The problem.

He said: "The customer wants to use the poka-yoke system to prevent assembly errors-this is car assembly-so we installed three cameras and a profiler on the system to prevent assembly errors." The price has increased by 15%, but customers think it’s a worthwhile investment.” In some industries, this may seem expensive, but in the automotive world, if a recall can be prevented, it adds thousands of dollars to the price of the machine It is a good investment.

As parts and assemblies become more and more complex, the robots that assist in manufacturing them also become more and more complex. Nowadays, some products do more than just pick parts from a box of incoming materials and move them from one machine to another for processing. Phillips described a system that can perform self-diagnosis and has a certain self-correction function.

Sometimes, the sub-systems of the robot do not work exactly in unison. It will try to assemble two parts and just fail. This happens when there is a mismatch between the vision system that the robot uses to perceive its environment, the software that runs the robot, and the actuators that provide the robot's motion. This sounds like a difficult problem to solve. It is necessary to improve the vision system software or fine-tune the program that runs the actuator, but on-board diagnostics can sometimes solve this situation.

Phillips said: "The feedback loop usually provides the necessary corrections."

The feedback loop runs in the background, and corrections are made while the system is manufacturing parts, and minor corrections are made online. If the feedback loop cannot manage the correction while the system is running, in some cases, the operator will shut down the system to try to process it offline. Downtime is costly, but self-correcting systems can solve such problems faster than less complex systems that require more invasive remediation.

Phillips said: "A weaker system will only perform the same actions over and over again."

When the work environment requires both robots and workers, protective measures must be taken to protect the workers, unless the robot is replaced by a collaborative robot (collaborative robot). Designed, constructed and programmed for sharing workspaces with people, collaborative robots eliminate the need for protection, and over time, there is no doubt that robots will play a greater role. Downing warned that collaborative robots cannot solve every problem of interaction.

He said: "Using a collaborative robot depends on the application." "If the process makes the tip or edge of the part rough, or the part is hot, you still cannot work in that environment."

Even when the robot is responsible for most of the machine maintenance tasks, workers are still required to keep the operation in a normal manner.

Tangning said: "You still need a person to get the raw materials onto the machine." "You may have an operator filling a hopper filled with 5 or 6 machines, and he may perform some quality control checks or other Value-added activities that are not easy to automate." This gives manufacturers more time to focus on areas that cannot be automated, such as using judgment to make decisions that are not easy to automate.

Although turnkey units with robots or collaborative robots are the pinnacle of automation, some manufacturers may not be ready to take such a big step. This does not mean that they cannot find affordable automated machines to meet considerable manufacturing needs, even if they change over time.

This is an example of a small company that produces stand-alone machines that can keep up with the latest trends in automation and process control. As the machine runs faster, tolerances become tighter and tighter, and manufacturers rely less and less on machine operators. Stand-alone machines (such as turnkey systems) can be equipped with the latest sensors and software. Run more reliably without intervention.

Innovo also uses a design strategy that keeps pace with the times. For example, the machine usually accommodates more space in the rack than necessary. Therefore, if the customer needs other functions in the future, the rack has some open space to facilitate modification.

Phillips noted that as automation became more and more complex, it created a need for more complex automation. He compared it with the technology used in today's cars. Conveniences such as rear-view cameras, rear-view mirrors with blind spot indicators, and seats that vibrate when the car is too far away from the center of the lane are multiplying. Everyone provides driving assistance that was not available until recently. Soon, this convenience became necessary, encouraging further innovation.

Phillips said that automation is like that. Processes that were difficult to automate 10 years ago are now easy, leading developers to create more automated processes, and these processes are generally welcomed by manufacturers striving for higher maturity.

This trend works in two ways to help alleviate the shortage of skilled workers. First, it attracts people to manufacturing.

Bochat said: "Everything involved in automation involves computers and software. They attract young people to enter the industry." "Automated systems cannot replace people. They will bring new challenges that young people like to solve."

Phillips agreed.

Phillips said: "As people become more and more interested in automation, they hope to use the full range of the technology, which satisfies the need for more knowledge of various systems and subsystems, whether these principles are electronic or hydraulic. Yes, pneumatic or mechanical.".

Second, as machine operators become more familiar with these technologies, their job responsibilities are also increasing.

He said: "For example, in the past, you needed a maintenance technician who could diagnose and repair the machine. These days, the man-machine interface is so complicated that it points the operator to the fault area, and usually the operator can replace the problem. Failed component."

Phillips said: "We have been on a learning curve." "I always take training courses and always learn from our customers."

In most cases, Phillips has found that people in the manufacturing environment take on their roles. He said: "People know they can't be complacent, and many people I meet always want to learn more." "Working with customers like this makes a lot of sense."

He does admit that some customers deal with parts that simply cannot generate enough revenue to consider automation. When each profit is only a few cents, there is no room for investment in the contract, so such procedures are destined to continue to be processed manually.

Nevertheless, those people are still in the minority. Most manufacturers have some cash to spend, and they can spend it without hesitation, but most people should realize that automating processes is not only an opportunity to reduce labor or make the process run more consistently, but also to rethink the process. Opportunity. And upgrade it.

Bochart said: "It has to be a little bit more." The ability to grasp customer needs, the ability to express needs as problems, and the motivation to solve those needs are the three elements that peak in a better machine.

"Engineers think differently," Bochat said. "If someone tells an engineer or a team of engineers,'This can't be done,' they will find a way. They try to prove it

Either mechanical, electronic or a combination of the two can be completed. "Bochat said that today, electronic products and software provide them with greater freedom than in the past, and the possibilities are growing exponentially.

He cited a case, which is a machine for manufacturing panel fences, which is very important to Innovo. He said: "A few years ago, it was used to make fences on two or three separate machines, and even use a planer to carve grooves." Routers make chips and chip blocking machines. "Today, a single CNC punching and notching system provides greater flexibility, higher throughput, and cleaner, more accurate parts."

In applications that rely on multiple machines from different vendors, Downing and Stokes pointed out that the role of integrators has evolved over time.

Downing said: "In the past 20 years, the role of Watson machines has been greatly improved." "In 1999, we only used our own equipment to develop automated work cells for pipe manufacturing. A few years later, we will The equipment of other companies is integrated with the robot. About 10 years ago, we began to develop automated work cells for non-pipeline applications. Today, the company has become a Level IV certified vision integrator and certified service provider for FANUC robots. In addition to development and In addition to debugging the system, the integrator also assumes other responsibilities, such as the safety compliance of the Robot Industry Association."

T-Drill is also following a similar path.

He said: "We have cited systems that contain many other equipment manufacturers' machines, but in the end we are responsible for all these machines." "Today's contracts usually specify a single source for all maintenance and repair work." This means the integrator's There are more responsibilities than before, but it simplifies the process of problem resolution and troubleshooting by assigning these roles to a company, rather than diluting the roles by assigning them to all contributing device manufacturers.

Stokes (Stokes)'s point of view integrates the views of other industries, is a preview of some concepts and technologies outside of automation, these concepts and technologies also have the potential to improve manufacturing efficiency.

He said: “Construction companies use a lot of rental equipment, such as forklifts and scissor lifts, and now they can use GPS to track movement and utilization.” “In addition, by tracking the minutes of battery-powered saws, they can determine When should one or two extra batteries or two new blades be sent to the runner so that the workers don’t have to stop.” DeWalt’s Tool Connect and Milwaukee’s ONE-KEY have such features that enable managers to track the company’s List of tools, equipment and materials. See who has checked out a particular tool recently; customize the settings of the tool; and perform remote diagnosis.

Manufacturing equipment manufacturers are already using similar concepts

, This is a demonstration of the interconnection technology of metal manufacturing at Hoffman Estate, Illinois. The widespread use of Industry 4.0 technology helps uninterrupted production-automatic guided vehicles bring raw materials to the machine when the machine is running at low speed, and RFID technology allows the company's system to track the progress of each raw material or semi-finished product warehouse or trolley. The state when passing through the factory. Even better, any customer who can use WiFi can log in from anywhere in the world to track orders.

Industry 4.0 can be an integral part of automation, but automation systems cannot

Industry 4.0 functions are successful. Without the ability to digitize data, the system can operate normally. That being said, designing machines that can be used for Industry 4.0 integration is not a bad idea. The key is to include an application programming interface (API) in the design and construction of the system.

"Now, if there is no API, we will get nothing." Stokes said.

T-Drill Industries Inc., an equipment manufacturer based in Norcross, Georgia, has made great strides in automating its ferrules and cutting machines. It is manufactured to form a collar in a copper pipe to make a manifold system, and its machine is traditionally loaded and operated manually. When the mechanical contractor asked the company for information about programmable and automated systems, T-Drill spent countless hours developing systems with powerful functions. Obtaining information from the CSV file, it cuts the pipe to a certain length, applies QR tags, and uses the splitter table to divide the parts into different bins. The operator uses the handheld unit to read the QR tag for subsequent processing.

Application Engineer Carroll Stokes said: "On the day the machine was installed in the workshop, a worker posted a sign on the top of the machine that read'Job Killer 5000'. It didn't last long.

When workers realize that they no longer need to traverse a pile of printed parts, they can use a tape measure to mark the length of the pipe, use a short saw to cut, manually operate the neckliner, and stick the label to the pipe by hand. , The appearance of the machine has undergone tremendous changes. Making parts in the workshop faster than before (six times faster than before) means that they will spend proportionally more time to complete their trained work, installing piping systems on site.

A few months later, the company implemented a plan to relocate to a new building. The T-Drill team disabled the machine and prepared to move it to a new location, but the company ran into a problem that took several weeks to resolve. According to Stokes, many workers are very interested in knowing when the machine can be restarted and run again. Obviously, they don't want to do their job if they don't have the machine that was previously called the killer.

Over the years, various manufacturers have had to deal with the shortage of skilled labor.

Ron Bochat, a sales engineer at Innovo Corp., said: “Automation is absolutely needed now. Labor does not exist.” The era of a young man working six days a week in a factory to raise his wife and children has not completely disappeared, but other career options (among them Many are not so arduous) have weakened the labor available to manufacturers.

Given the sheer volume of manufactured goods manufactured and sold in the United States, dealing with the shortage of workers is particularly daunting. The United States has the third largest population in the world and the seventh highest per capita income. Compared to most other countries in the world, the United States is a wealthy country, and its demand for manufactured goods is almost never satisfied.

Bochat said: "When you look at all the products available in a large store, you realize that manufacturers really need suppliers who manufacture a large number of intermediate products to meet demand."

"Manufacturers usually need automation to meet the needs of OEM customers," agreed Matt Phillips, President of Automation of Tooling Technology Group. Speed ​​is the key to almost every industry (especially the automotive industry), which is one of the company's main markets.

Depending on the industry, automation can help cope with two trends that are not conducive to manufacturers at the same time: rising demand and falling profit margins.

Phillips said: "In the automotive supply chain, suppliers are always forced to get more revenue with less cost." "So far, you can only reduce the cost of raw materials. Then, the problem is faster production. And fewer defects, thereby eliminating excess costs."

Finally, automation can help solve the two main problems associated with manual work.

Phillips said: "If the manually produced parts or components are complex, the quality may vary." "It depends on the operator's idea of ​​the day. If the parts are simple and repetitive, it is ideal for manual processing because the operation The staff can master it. The downside is that it can lead to repetitive stress injuries."

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Added editors

In 2000, he served as associate editor. His main responsibilities include editing technical articles on steel pipe production and manufacturing, and writing case studies and company profiles. He was promoted to editor in 2007.

Before joining the magazine, he served in the U.S. Air Force for 5 years (1985-1990), and worked for 6 years as a manufacturer of steel pipe, pipe and duct bending machines, first as a customer service representative and later as a technical writer Author (1994-2000).

He studied at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, and received a Bachelor of Science in Economics in 1994.

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