How to achieve high-performance automation in a smaller footprint

Scaling your business should be easy. The success of today’s manufacturers relies on it.

In addition to achieving high-performance goals, application engineers have very specific space confines they must work within to meet business objectives. These can include accommodating additional technology, working around permanent fixtures such as support columns, or even integrating a newer system into an existing system.

Your conveyance platform sets the foundation for your automation process, playing an integral role in process design and determining the overall footprint of your system.

In addition to integrated functionality, a conveyance platform should offer diverse system configurations to meet the unique needs of today’s factory automation applications.

 

SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ offers various configuration options to meet the footprint requirements of your application.

The SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ portfolio offers 3 core configuration options, all of which are enabled by the following components:

 

 

Wide E-Turn
Straight Section
Narrow E-Turn
90 Degree component for automation
90-Degree Curve

 

 

 

Configuration Options

Our flagship configuration is the SuperTrak GEN3™ – 800mm. Popular amongst engineers because of the amount of space available on the inside of the track to mount tooling. 

SuperTrak GEN3 - 800mm Configuration
SuperTrak GEN3 – 800mm Configuration

The SuperTrak GEN3™ – 500mm configuration offers a slightly narrower base which is ideal for applications where tooling must be mounted on the outside of the foundation. 

SuperTrak GEN3 - 500mm configuration
SuperTrak GEN3 – 500mm configuration

Finally, the newest offering is the SuperTrak GEN3™ -1200mm configuration. Here four 90-degree corners create a squared circle shape, somewhat resembling a dial configuration. While it offers a similar space-saving value as a dial, it adds a lot more functionality because of the track’s integrated smart functionality. The new 90-degree also allows manufacturers the option to mount even more tooling on the inside to further reduce footprint. We’ll look at this in a bit more detail shortly. 

SuperTrak GEN3 - 1200mm Configuration
SuperTrak GEN3 -1200mm Configuration

Scaling should be easy 

All SuperTrak platforms are modular in nature and can be reconfigured as needed by adding or removing track sections. 

SuperTrak Conveyance - modular platform

Manufacturers can now easily reconfigure the functionality or redeploy the system as the business grows or as product lifecycles change. 

Engineers and designers can also quickly scale system programming for additional stations and processes utilizing target routing with SuperTrak’s TrakMaster™ software.

 

Since there has been so much talk around the newly launched 90-degree configuration, I thought I’d spend a bit of time looking at this in more detail.

The 90 enables more configuration options to fit your automation into the space available. Do you need it to be as small as possible? Or do you need to expand the system to fit larger tooling on the inside? This new configuration can accommodate most scenarios.  

A good example of this was with a cleanroom where the manufacturer was working with a very tight and specific footprint. Designers tried a variety of configuration options to accommodate the space but both the 800mm and 500mm configurations were too long when tooling was added. With the release of the 90, they were able to fit the system into the needed space and still achieve performance requirements. 

We’ve seen quite a few comparisons between the 90 and traditional servo or indexing dials.  

One of the key differentiators between traditional conveyance options, like the dial, and SuperTrak are the integrated features that make the track a smart technology. Traditional dials are synchronous, meaning the slowest process determines the overall cycle time, but with SuperTrak, independent shuttle control enables asynchronous operation so if you have inconsistent cycle times, you no longer are limited by the slowest stations. This allows for more flexibility in manufacturing processes. 

SuperTrak Product Manager, Ben Hope, examines in more detail the differences between dials and the new 90-degree in his blog, Is the Dial Dead?  

SuperTrak GEN3-90-degree configuration

SuperTrak also allows engineers to easily set destination targets, change velocities and accelerations, creating a means to move between 1-up and multi-up shuttle processing that can optimize system cycle times and output. 

Other integrated features include: 

  1. Collision avoidance – shuttles will automatically avoid contact. No additional programming is necessary. 
  2. Target routing set and release shuttles to destinations around the track without any additional management in the PLC. 
  3. Pre-stops – set pre-stops where extra space for tooling or process is required. 
  4. Define regions for specific motion dynamics – shuttles will move through the region with a specified velocity, acceleration, or jerk. 
TrakMaster™ simulation of GEN3-90-degree functionality

All of these provide the value of achieving maximum functionality in the minimum amount of space. 

Here’s why your choice in conveyance shouldn’t be an afterthought 

Selecting the right automation technology is essential for the success of our project and businessSmart Conveyance technology with SuperTrak may be a good option for you. But how can you be sure? Does your conveyance really play a significant role in your overall automation system? 

A common challenge encountered by automation design teams is achieving process functionality and performance requirement within the available footprint. A foundation defines what can then be built on top of it We show our customers why conveyance should be the starting point of conceptualization and design by highlighting its motion capability to better understand what needs to be built on top of it. It is the foundation of automation. From there, you can really start to think of conveyance as more than a material mover, but a key piece of technology that can optimize and simplify process design. 

ATS provides market-leading automation performance to many of the world’s largest manufacturersA key element driving this capability is the utilization of conveyance as the starting point because it connects everything and touches every part of the process.  

Conveyance is one of many dominoes, but often should be the first. 

Choosing the Right Technology 

Choosing the right technology is easier said than done. Once you understand the impact and value of conveyance, your decisions start to become clear. 

In our webinar, Automating Under Uncertainty, we advise customers to follow 3 good practices when it comes to selecting their automation technology. 

Good Practice #1 – Begin with the end in mind. 

Even during the development phase, we need to know the ultimate impact of technology decisions. This may sound easy, but the reality is it isn’t. When working under tight deadlines, we tend to only think about the next step. But knowing the endgame is crucial to identifying the most direct and efficient way to get there. As an example, will you be manufacturing in a cleanroom? What will be done manually vs automation?  Although difficult, always keep the ultimate end goal in mind and this will help you take the right steps to get there. 

Good Practice #2 – Choose the right foundation. 

Much like building a house, selecting the right foundation for your automation is the most important selection you can make. You would never attempt to build a roof before you have your solid foundation in place. When building out your automation process, one of the biggest mistakes we see is when your conveyance or foundation is an afterthought. Like I mentioned before, your conveyance impacts literally every aspect of your process, if you choose the wrong one, or fail to recognize its importance, process inefficiency and unnecessary complexity may be the result. When you keep the end in mind and select a conveyance foundation that supports this, you will be left will a process that is able to adapt and support ever-changing needs. 

Good Practice #3 – Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it. 

Never re-invent something that already exists. It takes capacity away from developing IPand it adds unnecessary risk. Making a tweak, redeploying, or reprogramming existing technology can often help you get to where you’re going faster. Especially if you’re using proven technology that can be implemented with less risk. 

Achieving High Performance within a Defined Footprint Using Smart Conveyance 

The SuperTrak CONVEYANCE platform is leading the way with its integrated functionality that we spoke of earlier. SuperTrak is one of the world-leaders in smart conveyance with hundreds of deployments at many fortune 500 companies across the globe.  

Smart Conveyance enables numerous efficiencies in machine development to get to production fasterFrom simplifying tooling requirements to quick system assemblies, to intuitive and easy integration. Smart Conveyance provides significant value to machine builders and end-users alike 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 Explained

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 with encoders. This means that the system is a servo:  it’s fast, precise, and you have independent control of all the shuttles. Plus its flexibility enables process scalability and reconfiguration. You can see more examples of how traditional conveyance compares to smart conveyance here: What is Smart Conveyance? 

Not all applications are suited to Smart Conveyance but typically if you have cycle times that are less than 8s, more than 6 process steps, and a repeatability requirement of less than 100 microns, the value created by SuperTrak’s performance really exceeds the cost of implementation. 

Discuss the configuration option that is best suited to your application.

8 Ways SuperTrak CONVEYANCE ™ Helps Life Science Manufacturers Uncover Automation Efficiencies

As a manufacturer in the life sciences space, you deal with a lot of uncertainties that can impact how you choose to develop your automation. 

During the product development phase, requirements often change, during the scaling-up phase, you must adapt to changing market conditions and may be required to alter your processes or throughput.  

While these changes may be unavoidable, one thing remains certain, the life sciences market is very dynamic and requires reliable, high-speed, and adaptable automation that keeps up with product demand without compromising on quality. 

The decision to invest in capital equipment is complex. Unclear strategic directions, shifting priorities, staffing challenges, and inconsistencies in operation all contribute to risk elements you must consider when building and designing your automation. You want to select equipment that your team is confident in and that allows you to build automation to help you meet your business demands and improve efficiencies. 

If you are assembling medical devices or diagnostic products, our life science customers rely on our expertise to help them reduce their risks and develop the automation solution that is right for them. With life science manufacturing, solutions are needed to solve complex automation assembly challenges that are typically characterized by tight tolerances, no-touch zone, the need for low particulate generation, and superior quality control. 

Your choice in conveyance shouldn’t be an afterthought

When working with some of the world’s largest manufacturers we’ve noticed a trend where the choice in conveyance isn’t top of mind and is often a detail looked at later in the development process. But it shouldn’t be. 

Whether your top priority is being able to quickly design and deploy your automation or having the flexibility to increase throughput without investing in more capital equipment, your choice in conveyance plays a major role and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Your conveyance platform touches every piece of your automation and therefore naturally impacts all the major pieces of your strategy – your people, process, and infrastructure.   

Now that we’ve convinced you that your conveyance platform shouldn’t be an afterthought, (or if we haven’t, we talk more about how conveyance can impact your growth strategy in our webinar “Is Conveyance Gating Your Growth.”) how can you determine what conveyance platform will help you best meet your business goals? 

To answer this question, we turned to our team of application engineers.  

With a combined 45 years of experience interfacing with customers and creating inventive solutions to their unique needs, they’ve pretty much seen and been asked everything. 

Looking specifically at the life science industry, we challenged them to tell us why the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform is the ideal foundation for many world-leading automation processes. 

Here’s what they had to say: 

Life science manufacturers can typically be defined as having the need to produce lowcost parts at a high volume. With this in mind, we’ve outlined 8 main areas of focus where the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform can help life science manufacturers meet their goals. 

8 ways SuperTrak CONVEYANCE can help life science manufacturers.

1. Operational efficiencies 

Not unlike other manufactures, life science manufacturers are concerned with OEE. OEE is the resulting product of Machine Availability X Machine Performance X Machine Yield.  There are many ways that the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform can help.  For example: 

Machine Availability 

  • Low preventative maintenance requirements 
  • Low MTTR and high MTBF 

Machine Performance 

  • Low pallet exchange times ensuring that process stations are sitting idle for the least amount of time possible between parts. 
  • High velocity and acceleration to reduce time to travel longer distances.  

Machine Yield 

    • Smooth and precise movement and positioning ensure that the transport system does not contribute to bad part creation. 

 2. Improved production yields

With the current global pandemic, many life science manufacturers are seeing increased demand for their products. The ability to scale effectively is essential for effective execution. SuperTrak enables scaling because of independent shuttle control, which allows the reconfigurability of targets, velocities, accelerations, and routing. This means that stations can be added or optimized to meet output capacity expectations. 

 3. Adaptable and expandable to meet changing needs  

Having flexible automation that you can develop as you go is critically important, especially to life science manufacturers who need to comply with FDA regulations. During the development phase, we often seem more manual processes being used while IP’s are being developed or regulatory processes are completed. As validations are completed, there is now a need for semi-automated production, and manual stations are now integrated into an autonomous system to demonstrate cycle time capability. Once you are in the ramp stage with lower volume production all manual stations can be converted to a fully automated system. Finally, as the market demands higher volumes, you can utilize asynchronous transportation to duplicate systems and for high-speed, high-volume production.

scaling

 4. Long life with low maintenance 

When producing highvolume products, having maximum availability of your automation is key. Minimal moving parts on the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform requires a simple preventative maintenance schedule and reduced downtime and minimal moving parts.  For example, the only moving parts are the wheels (X4) on the pallets that have a typical lifespan of up to 50,000km. 

 5. Gentle product handling 

Many life science products are fragile or poorly contained at some stage during production.  

The SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform includes precisely controlled servo positioning that eliminates the need for hard stops, and the built-in collision avoidance ensures no shuttle to shuttle contact which means that there are no large g-forces applied to the product. In addition, as each shuttle’s motion is fully configurable, it is possible to have reduced accelerations and/or velocities at processes that require even lower jerk. 

6. Clean operation 

The majority of life science applications require some level of cleanliness. The SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform complies with the requirements of cleanrooms Class 1,000 (ISO-6). 

7. Quiet operation 

Life science products are often manufactured in cleanroom and lab environments where technicians are required to be at workstations in close proximity. It is important that the room is conducive to long to term noise exposure and allows for a level of communication and concentration amongst workers. 

The SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ system allows for quiet operation by:  

  • Having very few moving parts. Each shuttle has 4 plastic rollers/wheels that provide low friction and a dampened rolling sound as they ride on the steel rail system. 
  • The built-in collision avoidance ensures no shuttle to shuttle contact or banging noise.
  • There are no mechanical stop mechanisms required to precisely stop and locate a shuttle at a process station

 

8. Reduced floor space 

In manufacturing, floor space is at a premium. As market demand increases, adding space for accommodating more capital equipment may not be an option. With the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform, there are built-in mechanical as well as software features that enable a smaller system size. 

 Mechanical feature examples include:  

  • The inside portion of the conveyor loop is accessible and usable for the mounting of process stations. This means that some equipment may be mounted within the footprint of the conveyor itself rather than surrounding the conveyor. To facilitate mounting inside the track space, the track stands come complete with mounting features for tooling plates and the track structure includes integrated standard t-slots.
  • Corner sections are fully usable for process stations. On many transport systems, the area where shuttles change direction is unusable, but on the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™, this area provides smooth and precise motion reducing the need to extend the straight portion of the track.

Software feature examples include:  

  • Asynchronous shuttle motion allows for variable station process times and unique shuttle indexing distances which results in significant flexibility and the ability to maximize station utilization.
  • For example, due to the size of the product being manufactured, it may be desirable to have 2 parts on a shuttle. In this case, due to differing process times, it may be beneficial to work on both parts at one time at one process, and at another station, work on 1 part, index the shuttle, and then work on the second part. This reduces the need to double up the tooling in the second process.
  • In some cases, the high-speed shuttle transfer and automatic shuttle queuing have allowed a reduction in the number of parallel stations, resulting in less space consumed.
  • Flexible shuttle positioning and routing can facilitate running multiple part types on the same system while maximizing station re-use as opposed to the station or full machine duplication.

Still have questions about SuperTrak CONVEYANCE and how it can help you discover efficiencies in your processes?  Check out all of our top FAQs here.

Not everyone can say that they’re one of the World’s Greatest!

We’re not ones to brag, but when SuperTrak™ Conveyance is named one of The World’s Greatest, it is hard not to!

Recently, the crew from the national television show, The World’s Greatest, visited ATS Automation’s corporate head office in Cambridge, Ontario to film and learn more about the SuperTrak™ Conveyance platform. The show, which features top companies, places and products across the globe, spent the day interviewing and filming key members of the team to see for themselves how SuperTrak Conveyance is elevating how manufacturers develop and build their processes.

Over the past few decades, automation in manufacturing has been transforming factory floors and altering the way products are brought to market. SuperTrak Conveyance is the foundation of many fortune 500 companies because of its flexibility and industry leading features.

Now in its third generation, SuperTrak Conveyance platforms are fundamentally changing the way automation cells are designed in order to make them smaller and more efficient. You can read our case study to see how one company gained back 44% of their floor space! As today’s market continues to evolve, manufacturers are being tasked with doing more with less. More throughput, less space. More flexibility, less machines. More automation, less capital. In order to help customers face these challenges in the best possible way, we need the best technology. SuperTrak Conveyance and its combination of features, including industry leading speed and precision, is helping manufacturers achieve more productivity in less square footage more so than any other product on the market. (We said it was hard not to brag!)

What makes SuperTrak Conveyance one of The World’s Greatest is ATS’s pride, passion and persistence in innovation. The SuperTrak Conveyance platform is continually evolving in new and exciting ways which allows manufacturers to reimagine their production processes in ways never before possible.

Want to learn more about why ATS’s SuperTrak Conveyance is one of the World’s Greatest?

Watch the full episode here!