A Toaster, Shuffle Board and Controllers Share a Common Passion
Aug 30, 2018
Ever since I can remember, I was tinkering with things, taking them apart and putting them back together. My Dad had a workshop, which I used as my playhouse. It was lined with all kinds of tools and stuff I could take apart or “operate on.” My first recollection of engineering came when I was six or seven. I fixed my grandma’s toaster. I probably saved her from moving her saving account to a different bank. (Back in the day, banks gave away “free” toasters when you opened an account).
My fascination with machines and my passion for engineering has never waned. Engineering machines is one big jigsaw puzzle. You twist and turn a piece that “for sure” is going to fit, only to find it’s a little off. The color is right. The shape is right, but it doesn’t snap into place like it should.
One of the first machines I brought into the office when I started two years ago was an old analog shuffle board arcade game. It came in dozens of pieces with no directions, just like a puzzle. It was fun assembling and tinkering with, and our team now can enjoy a game or two when they need some down time.
Solving our customers’ puzzles brings great satisfaction especially as engineers design smarter, smaller and more efficient technology in manufacturing. Let’s look at one of those puzzles – conveyor operations. I’ve studied conveyor systems and automation for years, and new, smarter and smaller technology (controllers) can positively impact a company’s bottom line. Here’s how.
The Future: Modular, Flexible Plants
Manufacturing plants are becoming more modular to shift production processes in response to changes in product mix and market shifts. This flexibility is hampered by the complexity that gets built into many conveyor implementations. Each conveyor has different functionality, runs at different rates, and may even be manufactured by different companies.
Often, a company measures the results of each conveyor system. For example, the first conveyor may fill 200 bags of candy, which are conveyed from the sealer to a cartoner. From the cartoner, each carton is conveyed to a case packer, which then is conveyed to a palletizer. Each conveyor is a custom-engineered product based on the load it is responsible for and the rate of speed. As a result, each conveyor along the production line will have different motors, sensors, servo modules and motion control hardware and software.
Treating them as individual automation systems rather than a single system makes the building and implementing of the operation more complex. Industry standards, such as ISA88 and PackML, have helped reduce complexity but haven’t alleviated the challenges of integrating components with the rest of the production lines.
Simpler Approach to Measuring Effectiveness
As I look at this like a giant puzzle, I see an opportunity for conveyor-driven production plants to simplify their operations even more by eliminating the measurements of each stage in the conveyor system and focus on the overall equipment effectiveness.
How? Through automation performance and standardization of the conveyor modules. By looking at the overall conveyor system, all belts function the same, whereas each station in between have varying functions, builders, software and ways of measuring overall equipment effectiveness.
If the conveyor controllers have a standard program, the job of getting multiple cell controllers to work together becomes easier.
Using a modular approach, overall equipment effectiveness can be based on data points drawn from the conveyor modules. Data includes running speed/design speed, running time/available time and output products/delivered products.
This type of tinkering can result in more efficiency, cost savings, elimination of downtime to repurpose the conveyor line and reduce the plant automation control footprint.
To learn more about AMK Automation, call us at 847-565-2652 or reserve a meeting with our engineers at PACK EXPO International, Booth N-6129, Oct. 14-17, in Chicago. Register for the show on us, use code 29Q24 and this link to register Register on AMK.