Is the Dial Dead?

Ok, so ghosts and goblins still may be the only things you find in the graveyard this Halloween because the indexing dial table isn’t actually dead. In fact, it’s not really going anywhere. It still has an effective place in the automation world, but hey, it’s Halloween and it’s fun to come up with spooky ways to get your attention. But there is a new option available that may change the way you think about the dial and the benefits they can offer you.

As we get ready to launch the new SuperTrak GEN3™ 90 DEG motor section we’ve been hearing references to an indexing dial or a servo dial, and want to point out the differences and where you may benefit from using one over the other.

Why the Indexing Dial Table Isn’t Headed to the Graveyard

Application Engineers already know that traditional dials bring a lot of value. They are very good at saving floor space and packing a lot of functionality into a smaller footprint, particularly when you have consistent station times and processes that require up/down operations such as:

  • Screwing
  • Pressing
  • Testing

But the Dial is Limited in its Functionality

The problems with traditional indexing dial tables are encountered, however, when the station times are not consistent. Or the process requires more advanced operations. Gluing, for example, usually requires a period of time for curing, a testing operation may take extra time to complete, or an assembly operation requires top and bottom access.

Another thing to consider is scalability. If you plan to increase throughput in the future, most often you would need to acquire an additional dial to accommodate for additional processes.

The Case for Smart Conveyance

The SuperTrak GEN3 90 degree, joins the lineup of existing SuperTrak GEN3 configurations including the 500mm curve and 800mm curve. This newest option enables unique system configurations that can provide numerous efficiencies from a floor space perspective and allow you to easily expand your system by adding more trak sections as required.


One such configuration is dial like, utilizing four 90 DEG sections together.

The advantage of a configuration like this parallels a traditional indexing dial , but now the capability exists to be asynchronous, and you have access to the shuttle’s tooling plate from above, below, and in front.

Let’s think back to that gluing application I mentioned where curing is required. The operation can be completed and rather than wait at the station to cure (like a synchronous process), the shuttles can queue at the next station. If the system is designed properly, the queue time can be the exact time required for curing. Not only do you now get the floorspace benefits associated with dials, but your cycle time is reduced.


Individual Shuttle Control

Each shuttle can also be programmed with individual velocities and accelerations for gentle (unsecured part) or aggressive (secured part) motions. Our simulation capability with TrakMaster Software™  enables this level of system insight and design which normally isn’t available with traditional conveyance.

Reduced Cycle Times

Cycle times can now be optimized due to the advantages of the asynchronous operation (independent shuttle control). Alternate between 1 up and multi-up operations and, as discussed, utilize queues for any operation that requires time to set or cure.

Floorspace Reduction

The shuttle (tooling fixture) can be accessed from the top, bottom, side, or the front, creating a lot of configuration options for mounting tooling on the outside or on the inside of the Trak. Also, the dial-like configuration is not circular (it is more of a squared circle) so you can take advantage of the straight locations to simplify tooling alignment, particularly in multi-up situations, while still having the freedom to mount stations anywhere.

There’s no question that indexing dials aren’t dead and will continue to be a mainstay in automation for a long time, and I don’t see it going anywhere….almost like Freddie Kruger or Jason (sorry, marketing has really encouraged the Halloween references!).

The new SuperTrak GEN3 90 DEG takes the original dial concept and amplifies it.

With an indexing dial, you get:

  • A compact footprint
  • A cost that aligns with performance
  • Simple operation

With a SuperTrak dial configuration, you get:

  • A compact footprint
  • Easily expand or redeploy as processes change
  • Asynchronous operation – alternate between 1 up and multi-up based on station cycle times
  • Queue shuttles for operations like curing, cooling, or heating.
  • Independent shuttle control (position, velocity, acceleration)
  • Straight areas for simplified tooling alignment
  • Simulation tools to fine-tune the process
  • Simple operation – SuperTrak GEN3’s integrated features provide a means to achieve high-performance capability with less effort
  • A cost that aligns with performance

Want to learn more about smart conveyance and how it can decrease machine development timelines and improve overall automation ROI? View our 2-part FastTrak webinar series here.









Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween everyone! Enjoy the dial-licious treats!


3 ways to enable high-performance automation with less risk

Automated systems can be complex to develop and get to production. Typically, each process requires extensive engineering and customization to meet application requirements.

System complexities are leading to the creation of a higher functioning standard system component to enable faster project cycles. This standardization is a benefit because it provides functionality that has already been tested and verified. The function is basically accessed like a service. Now you only need to know how to use it; you do not have to invest time to understand how it works.

Engineering complexities are now significantly reduced leaving less room for error and enabling a faster path to production without compromising the functionality of the system.

A recent example of this is where ATS’s Life Sciences team utilized SuperTrak GEN3™ as the foundation to design, build and deliver two automated manufacturing systems that are expected to enable the production of 10 million COVID 19 test kits per month. Due to the urgency, these lines are expected to be delivered within a 4-month time frame. In this case, SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ was the primary enabler to meet the required shortened lead team. Read the full press release here.

How does a standard foundation platform like SuperTrak CONVEYANCE minimize engineering time? TrakMaster™ software, the user interface, provides key tools to enable efficiencies and reduce complexity.
The three main areas are:

3. Diagnostics

TrakMaster™ simulation enables better designs

Understanding application requirements is a critical requirement to create effective designs. Problems often arise when unknowns are encountered during the design phase.  Because the functionality of the conveyance is also the process flow, simulation provides a way to properly understand and optimize both.

One of the key advantages of using smart conveyance, the term used to describe how the SuperTrak platform drives productivity, is being able to utilize the motion that is already available in the Trak. This allows considerable complexity to be removed from station tooling and robotics. You can learn more about that here.

With TrakMaster software, the simulation will help the designer align functionality with the application requirements so that the design phase can begin with significantly more insight to understand what needs to be designed and what can just be configured.

Watch the video below to see how the intuitive graphical interface offers performance optimization tools to enhance your processes.

TrakMaster™ configuration enables high-performance automation

Twenty years of development and implementation on over 600 systems have allowed the SuperTrak team to identify the functionality that is used over and over again in smart conveyance applications. This capability has now been integrated into the system, so that it can be configured for each application rather than programmed, saving considerable engineering time.

With TrakMaster software, functionality like collision avoidance, position triggers, target and offset teaching, access to motion parameters, I/O availability, pre-arrival notifications, and others allow powerful capability to be configured, removing extensive hours of PLC programming.

Watch the video below to see how TrakMaster unlocks the platform’s integrated functionality to remove risk and engineering time by utilizing tested and proven capability.

Enable better machine interaction with TrakMaster™ diagnostics

Effective machine interaction is essential to running productively. Downtime happens for many different reasons, but having insight into the system is critical to getting back up and running fast.

Watch the video below to see how TrakMaster provides diagnostics tools that allow users to access fault details with recovery recommendations; monitor and optimize section temperatures, power consumption, and station cycle times; and troubleshoot system hardware.

Powerful automation with less risk is enabled by SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ and TrakMaster software by minimizing custom engineering to utilize simulation, configuration, and diagnostics.

Click here to learn more about TrakMaster™ software and request a sample simulation of your processes.



The Right Applications for Smart Conveyance

Smart conveyance enables numerous efficiencies in machine development to get to production faster….but is it right for your application? Our Go-No-Go Guide is a good place to start!

From simplifying tooling requirements, to quick system assemblies, to intuitive and easy integrations. Smart Conveyance provides significant value to machine builders and end-users because material costs and engineering hours can be reduced. This offers a solution that balances the overall cost of automation with market demands by allowing for reconfigurability and scalability.

Check out the on-demand webinar to learn more about how smart conveyance can fast trak your machine development.

Smart conveyance timeline
Smart Conveyance gets machines to production faster and more effectively than traditional methods by saving significant engineering and integration time.

Like any technology, however, smart conveyance isn’t the be-all and end-all that will satisfy all requirements. Certain criteria must be identified accurately at the start of the project in order to realize value.

Let’s look at the major identifiers that highlight the true value of smart conveyance.

Major Identifier #1: Number of process stations

A simple system with two process stations is not the ideal fit for smart conveyance; let me explain why.

A cell with two stations could potentially benefit from the motion available in the smart conveyance in order to simplify tooling requirements, but this benefit would be outweighed by the premium cost of typical smart conveyance platforms.

2 station cell
Simple cell with two stations.

Typically a system with 6 or more stations is the ideal fit for smart conveyance. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.

Major identifier #2: Cycle Time

A slower cycle time of say 15 s, would also not be a suitable application for smart conveyance. One of the main value drivers for smart conveyance is it’s high-speed capabilities.

SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platforms as an example, index shuttles quickly so one piece of tooling can work on multiple parts rather than one piece of tooling for every part on a shuttle.

A slower cycle time also means that the high-speed capability is not completely utilized.

Major identifier #3: Precision

A precision requirement greater than +/- 0.1 mm means that the application may not require locate tooling in order to do the work, so it limits the possibility for simplifying tooling requirements and therefore the value for a smart conveyance application.

A simple system with two process stations, a cycle time of 15 s, and a precision requirement greater than +/- 0.1 mm, would not realize the value drivers associated with smart conveyance and in my experience would not pass a CapEx proposal.

If we look at a more complex example, however, the value of smart conveyance becomes evident.

Here we have seven process stations, the cycle time is less than 8s, and the precision required at each station is less than 100 microns.

Now we have an opportunity!

automation cell with multiple stations
Automation cell with multiple stations.

Smart Conveyance provides significant value as the complexity of the system increases because there are a lot of efficiencies to be gained by taking advantage of the inherent functionality:

  • Asynchronous – Implement multi-up capability on slow stations while maintaining single-up on faster stations, removing redundant tooling.
  • Servo Precision – Take advantage of the system’s repeatability (+/-0.01 mm) to remove stopper cylinders and locate tooling. 
  • Independent Shuttle Control – Utilize the motion available in the conveyance instead of adding actuators, sensors, I/O, and programming to station tooling.
  • High Speed – Index shuttles quickly so one piece of tooling can work on multiple parts rather than one piece of tooling for every part on a shuttle.
  • Re-Pitch – maximize functionality in the minimum amount of space. Set shuttle pitch based on the tooling requirements and re-pitch as necessary.

The upfront cost of smart conveyance is definitely higher than other forms of conveyance platforms, but the value introduced by utilizing the functionality can lower the overall costs by simplifying tooling requirements, saving engineering time, and reducing integration complexity.

Let me explain how.

The cost to develop automation is generally broken down as follows:

Cost of automation break down

As you can see, material costs are only 30% of the overall cost.

The engineering is the highest cost, yet reducing it is usually a second priority to the material cost.

With smart conveyance, the cost of your conveyance goes up, but the cost of tooling can come down. Combine that with less engineering time and you would most likely reach an overall cost that is fairly similar to a system with traditional conveyance – but the big differentiator is that the system that implements smart conveyance has better performance, the ability to reconfigure, and can be scaled if production requirements change. You can check out part 2 of my FastTrak webinar series, to learn more on how to FastTrak Automation ROI with Smart Conveyance.

To fully understand if your application is suitable for smart conveyance, we generally use the following guide as a go/no go gauge – download your official go/no-go guide here!

As a rule of thumb, if your application has at least 2 major identifiers in combination with 2 minor identifiers, smart conveyance could offer you an enhanced ROI for your automation cell.


If you’re looking to improve the ROI of your automation cell and think smart conveyance might be right for you, contact us to create a custom simulation for your team.


What is Smart Conveyance?

Simply put, smart conveyance drives productivity.

Consumers demand immediacy and in order to keep up with such demands, manufacturers must rethink their production processes. Automation cells no longer can be looked upon to produce one standardized batch or product, instead, they need to be flexible and re-deployable to create shorter cycles. For manufacturers to remain competitive, engineers are being tasked with rethinking their current processes and developing ways to not only produce more, but produce more in smaller amounts of space.

To really understand the benefits of smart conveyance and how it’s helping manufacturers achieve their goals; it’s essential to look at the limitations of traditional conveyance.

Traditional conveyors – be it roller, belt, dial, etc. – are generally synchronous, meaning each shuttle (or dial position) move together, in the same way, over and over again. There is no flexibility, every step in the process has only one option and process time is dependent on your longest station. These kinds of systems can be effective for manufacturing operations that have lower volumes or simple operations, but the problems come when you have complex processes that require greater productivity as traditional conveyance typically has longer cycle times, isn’t as flexible and can actually require a greater investment in equipment. These limitations are in contrast to the needs of modern manufacturing.

So how can you enable higher performance automation that is fast and fits into the floor space that you have available? And how can you clearly identify ROI? To answer this question we must first fully understand the limitations of traditional conveyance.

Let’s start with an example looking at a traditional conveyor:

If there are two stations, one with a cycle time of one second, the other with a cycle time of two seconds. With traditional conveyance, the shuttles will move into the stations synchronously causing the cycle time to be that of the time of the slowest station plus the time to retract stopper cylinders, locate tooling, and then index between stations.

To save cycle time, you can add a buffer station. This will allow the shuttle to index into station 2 faster because it doesn’t have to wait for locate tooling and stopper cylinders to retract, and the distance can be shorter. While this may reduce cycle time slightly because you are now adding in buffer stations, the overall footprint of your cell has increased.

Another option is to change the process from 1 up to 2 up. This means that you will be working on two parts instead of one part at a time. To implement this, you need to double up each station, and you will likely also want to include buffer shuttles. The challenge here, as you can see, is that the system has again increased in size, and because you are adding duplicate stations, it is increasing in cost.

By nature, any technology that is considered smart, must have a certain degree of inherent intelligence and capability. It must also allow the user to take advantage of such functionalities without having an advanced engineering background. Smart technologies and products also enable Industry 4.0 because they provide a means to be modular, reconfigurable, and more robust by offering integrated functionality that is tested and ready to use.

Smart Conveyance provides value by incorporating a number of features into one platform, allowing a higher level of performance and productivity than that of traditional conveyance. Generally, it is powered by linear motor technology using a moving magnet shuttle system. This means that your system is a servo, so you have independent control of all the shuttles; it’s fast and precise; and it’s incredibly flexible in terms of scalability and process flows.

Let’s look at an example of smart conveyance:

To achieve the fastest and most productive cycle time, we can use a similar system design as in our traditional conveyance example. But now, we don’t need to duplicate the 1 sec station because we now have asynchronous control of the shuttle. The flow will go from 1 up to 2up. We also no longer need the buffer space because we can take advantage of the speed and precision of Smart Conveyance. There is no locate tooling or stopper cylinders. The shuttle in station 1 moves to station 2b and 2a alternately. We now have a smaller footprint because we were able to remove a station, have decreased our cycle time and are ultimately more productive.

While smart conveyance may not be right for everyone (check out our checklist if you’re not sure if it’s right for you!), it helps modern manufacturers achieve greater productivity with a smaller footprint. The SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ family of platforms is a leader in smart conveyance. It acts as the stable foundation for many of the world’s fortune 500 companies. With hundreds of deployments across the globe for a wide range of applications, not only is it innovative, but it’s also trusted. To learn more about smart conveyance and manufacturing productivity, contact the SuperTrak Team.