To Run Lean or To Get Agile?: A Manufacturer’s Perspective

How has your market changed over the past year? 

Perhaps you are being asked to find more efficiencies with less time and fewer resources? What once worked well may need to be reexamined and reworked. So how do you figure out how to move your business forward? If you are in manufacturing, chances are that you already use the lean methodology. So, when you have eliminated as much waste as possible where is there left to go?  

Lean methodologies have worked well over the past century within the manufacturing space, but things are changing quickly. 


What is Lean Methodology in Manufacturing? 

If you are not familiar with lean manufacturing, it is built on the 
principle of eliminating waste in 8 key areas of the manufacturing business: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, Defects, and Underutilized Talent. The focus is on reducing waste so that functions that directly bring customers value are prioritized over those that do not.  


The 8 Wastes of Lean Manufacturing

This methodology focuses on improving internal processes. Reducing waste internally can certainly reduce your business costs and those savings can be passed along to the customer or reinvested. It has worked well in manufacturing for just about a century and continues to work well for businesses that rely on high volume production with low variability.  

Some Advantages of Lean: 

  • Reduces costs
  • Reduces waste

What is Agile Methodology in Manufacturing? 

Agile is a mode of operation that
 touches all areas of the business (sales, marketing, design, engineering, etc.) and is the next step in the evolution of manufacturing methodologies. Driven by the robustness of data available, the capabilities of today’s technology, and the market conditions in which we operate.  

Agile manufacturing is driven by market conditions and responding to them as they are in the present. Advances in technology, like the rise of machine intelligence platforms, and data collection have aided in its adoption. Collecting and using the wealth of data available to manufacturers and then sharing that data across all sections of your business illuminates areas that once relied on guesswork. Data-driven decision making allows your business a laser-like focus on those elements that bring direct value to you and your customers, even as those areas of value change. This approach works really well where a rapid response to customer demand and can set you apart from your competitors.  

Some Advantages of Agile: 

  • Improve productivity across the entire organization 
  • Improve customer satisfaction with products 
  • Adapt quickly to changing market conditions

How Do You Get Agile? 

The quick answer here is “slowly
”. You need to lay the proper foundations for this process in order to get the maximum benefit. As this methodology is highly informed by data, making sure you are collecting high-quality and highly accurate data is a key first stepAgile methodology allows you to take the guesswork out of your process, but you need to know what you expect from the data and what you are looking for. What are some ways you can communicate with your customers to ensure you understand what they are looking for now?  

Some industries are still getting value from a lean approach, particularly ones working within more rigid regulations. However, the post-COVID world is an agile world and it is time to shift focus from eliminating waste to using the data and small, quick-moving teams to be more responsive to market demands. 


OGo Beyond Lean. Get Agile Webinarur Director, Simon Drexler P.Eng. MBA, hosted a webinar examining the difference between lean and agile manufacturing that goes into more detail.

You can watch that webinar here: Go Beyond Lean. Get Agile. 


We at SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ have modeled our own business using agile methodologies to ensure we are responding to our customer needs in real-time. We know that industrial automation processes are changing rapidly and need more flexibility than they have had in the past. 



You can learn more about the products our customers have told us they need here: SuperTrak GEN3.  

Industrial Automation & Industry 4.0 – Where to Start

Industry 4.0 - where to start

Industry 4.0 is a broad term that encompasses a vast number of innovations, improvements, and changes in approach that are progressing manufacturers toward a digital transformation.

Even for experts on the topic, it’s very difficult to know where to begin. The sheer volume of change that is encompassed within what is now referred to as the “4th industrial revolution” can be overwhelming. Many partners we work with express their desire to incorporate elements of “Industry 4.0” into their businesses but don’t actually have a good understanding of all the facets of Industry 4.0 and this makes it very difficult to know where to start.

More than merely a marketing buzzword, a deeper understanding of Industry 4.0 can help businesses embrace a digital transformation that looks to leverage IIOT data and insights to further optimize their manufacturing operations.

There are a number of guides and resources available to support this transition and I will try to reference some of our favorites in this version of “Around the Trak”.

Why industry 4.0

The “why” of Industry 4.0 is no different than other initiatives we take on in our business. Simply put, it is an opportunity to get better. But more than that, it is a strategy to improve market performance by increasing competitive advantage in the market served and/or driving organizational efficiencies.

The difference with Industry 4.0 and why it is described as a revolution is that unlike most incremental improvements we take on, when fully adopted, it has the potential to completely transform the way in which our business is done.  But the idea of a total business transformation is why many companies have a hard time getting started.

We get lost in the broad and overarching end goal and hesitate to take a first step that is practical to our business today. To be successful with your implementation, focus on a clear, achievable scope, and build early momentum similar to our discussion in change management.

It is expected that those who effectively adopt a digital transformation strategy will outpace those that do not in growth.  It is important to note that digital transformation opportunities exist in a variety of areas in business. Those that effectively adopt in their area of expertise fuel growth.  Those that do not drive transformation, digital or otherwise, can be passed by, which is why there is an increasing amount of turnover in the Fortune 500 – change is accelerating.

Beyond the ‘why’, the ‘why now’ is equally important to understand while reviewing what type of changes to implement in our business. Industry 4.0 is enabled by broader technology trends in the world being adopted in manufacturing. As an example, the commercialization of smaller, faster processors has created new opportunities for networking and processing of data. Applying these technologies to standard manufacturing technologies and processes give way to a new approach.  It also makes them more important to the business, which is one of the reasons for the increasing trend in this area.

But what is Industry 4.0 really anyway?

There are many descriptions and definitions of Industry 4.0, however, the one the SuperTrak team likes to use is, a centralized pool of operations data that can be used to make better (more informed) business decisions.  In a broader sense, Industry 4.0 seeks to connect, centralize, and analyze all data across the complete value stream.  This broader definition is more complex and can be more challenging for those seeking to learn.

The idea of a fourth industrial revolution was coined in 2015 by a man named Klaus Schwab. He introduced the idea to the world economic forum, speaking about a revolution that was fundamentally different than the three that preceded it.  The idea is that new technologies were more rapidly becoming available and “are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries…”  For more information on the initial definition, Mr. Schwab has written a book as well.  Intentionally oversimplifying the broader vision, my view is that the general idea is that:

Better Data = Better Decision = Better Outcome

The better data, better decisions, better outcomes statement appears simple enough, though in practice it involves many steps.  To break it down, we need to be able to capture the right data then more importantly view and use the data in a meaningful way to inform our decisions.  It is worth acknowledging that this step is not always easy, though research has shown that the effort is worthwhile as we are better off when we begin to rely on data in our decision making.

How exactly can it help me?

Think about how many times per day you rely on “gut” feeling to make a decision.  I’m not saying that following your intuition is always a bad thing, I believe that intuition is often a solid conclusion you haven’t learned to vocalize yet. What I am saying is that instinct, or gut-feelings, in combination with the data-driven decision has proved to be beneficial for decision-makers.

According to, data-driven firms are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their gut-trusting competitors.

For those that I speak with on the topic, we’d all like to have the data to back decisions, it is just not practical sometimes. The vision of Industry 4.0 and a completely connected value stream is to eliminate this impracticality.

The goal of this industrial revolution is to allow for one, consolidated source for operational data.  Imagine a world where the production manager didn’t have to adjust the production schedule due to an expedited request, it just happened.  Or one where the supply chain manager knew a delivery truck would be late due to incoming weather the day before.  This is the potential of Industry 4.0 and real examples of implementations we’ve observed in operation.

How to get started with Industry 4.0

As I’ve alluded to in the past, change of any kind is hard for a variety of reasons and an entry into the fourth industrial revolution is no different.

The first step is to be very clear on your “why”.

Are you seeking to improve efficiency? Find a new path through a seemingly insurmountable issue? Eliminate downtime on a process?   Being clear on your “why” will help you to define what success looks like in your business, then attribute metrics to the initiative. From the metrics, you can build a business case and move forward.

Some considerations while building out your plan:

  • I often use the term don’t try to boil the ocean. What is means in this context is that Industry 4.0 is a big idea (it is a revolution for a reason), don’t try to take on the entire value stream in one step. The entirety of Industry 4.0 is a big idea but that doesn’t need to be, and likely shouldn’t be, your starting point. Select a part of the process, perhaps a single station or production cell, that will be most impactful to the business.  It may be the part of the line that is down far too often or one production cell that executes the most critical part of the product offering.

Choose a practical scope of work for your team and then build momentum from there.

  • Confirm that you have the infrastructure that you need. Implementations can get held up by relatively simple items like not having Wi-Fi coverage in the plant or enough data storage for an influx of new information. The IT infrastructure is an important and often straightforward part of successful implementation, but it does take deliberate thought and planning.
  • Further educate yourself and your team along the way. The area of your business that would benefit the most from a stronger data backing is likely known to you. What you specifically need will be unique to your business and reading several industry-specific articles and blogs will help you as you take the first step.  As always, there are strategic partners that can support your implementation and I recommend that you leverage them.

There are a number of surveys that can help assess your digital readiness transformation, as well as compare you to like-sized and focused companies. This survey from Impuls is one of my favorites because it provides tangible actions you can take depending on the input provided through the survey.

The role of Automation in Industry 4.0

Automation, both hardware and software are critical to a world-class implementation of Industry 4.0.  It is critical because automation is both driven by data acquisition and is also instrumental in the processing of data.  With the influx of data, we need to be able to process it in order to make it valuable.  This is called turning data into information and models to analyze the data are needed to do so.

Humans can typically create one or two good models a week; machine learning can create thousands of models a week. –Thomas H. Davenport, Analytics thought leader excerpt from The Wall Street Journal

When getting started, the important questions to ask yourself are:

  1. What data is most important to my operations?
  2. How can automation help me in that area?

For the design, integration, and refinement of processing equipment, the SuperTrak team believes the part flow data is the most critical aspect when driving toward a centralized operational data model.

The reasoning is that material flow data is more easily acquired, and while not perfect, gives a very high fidelity understanding of the overall automation process.

Start with your Material Flow

Taking the example to a plant level, if you know where every part (or processing batch) of parts is within the process, you would have a strong understanding of processing times and, therefore, process bottlenecks in the value stream.   Focusing in on an assembly cell, you can get the same understanding without needing to understand what is actually happening in the process itself:

Part Flow



This is important because you may have a process that is difficult to outfit with sensors to capture data automatically.  That may be an older piece of equipment or a step that varies significantly based on SKU, or for any other variety of reasons.

Making your material flow smart provides us with:

  • Uptime
  • Downtime
  • Inventory location
  • Units produce / throughput
  • Cycle times per stop
  • Quality (if transport to inspection/defect is also tracked)

Material flow data is a powerful tool for an entry into Industry 4.0 as well as process and automation design in general.  The need for not only data but information within an Industry 4.0 implementation is paramount to its success and I believe that material flow data is the most straightforward way to provide high fidelity information throughout the value stream.

A SuperTrak Conveyance™ simulation offered through integrated TrakMaster™ software is so powerful early in the automation design lifecycle because it serves as a validation step before detailed design work.  The same principle is true within a process that has people moving product manually or with a forklift, packages moving through a logistics center, or AGVs moving product around a facility.

One of the most interesting challenges of the current industrial revolution is that we are 5 years into it and it is still difficult for many to have a definition of what it means to their business.  I think this is because the definition of Industry 4.0 and its success will vary depending on the goals of the business.

I always come back to the goal for manufacturers, and that is making our processes more efficient so that we can better serve our customers. Industry 4.0’s role in that, is to provide better data for better decisions by centralizing our operations data in one place.

There are many companies on the leading edge of this revolution.  The ideas shared in this blog and many others are not imagined, which should be exciting to some but maybe a little unnerving to others. That is to be expected about major changes though.  I will close this version of Around the Trak with one of my favorite quotes because I believe it is at the heart of what drives us to pursue revolutions in the first place:

You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete. – Buckminster Fuller

Like what you read? Be sure to join us for ATS’s virtual automation expo on December 2nd & 3rd for live sessions and interactive webinars from other automation thought leaders. REGISTER HERE!










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.


 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.

Reducing the Impact of Market Uncertainty in Automation

Decision making under uncertainty is a challenge we all face every day in both our personal and professional lives.

Our team has addressed the topics of uncertainty and risk previously in a webinar, Automating Under Uncertainty as well as an article published in ondrug delivery.

In these publications we focused on three sources of uncertainty:

1. Product
2. Process
3. Sales forecast

Automating Under Uncertainty

While we touched on external factors in the sales forecast, our discussion was focused largely on the voice of the customer and changing tides in the marketplace. What we are observing now, particularly in the Life Sciences world, is external and unforeseen factors impacting the decisions we make in our working lives. The most obvious example today is how, many of us in the life sciences (or associated)fields are working tirelessly to be part of the solution to the global COVID-19 crisis, which is layering a fourth factor (environmental) onto the sources of uncertainty in our professional lives. I’ll talk more about the causes of uncertainty and the impact they have on manufacturing’s ability to scale in my next webinar, 3 Practices to Reduce Risk when Automating Under Uncertainty.


“By definition there are no longer any ‘best practices’ that can guarantee success for an organization; there are only good practices that we can stumble upon through experimentation.” – Alison Randel


While COVID-19 has accelerated change in a number of areas within the industry, the primary principles for addressing uncertainty haven’t changed.

Here are the 3 primary practices that I recommend to help minimize risk in an undefined circumstance:

1. Start with the end in mind
2. Select solid foundational technologies
3. Minimize customization

SuperTrak’s parent company, ATS Automation, put these principles into practice when executing a large automation program utilizing the SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ platform for Tessy Plastics. Having a clear vision of what we needed to do, utilizing proven technologies, and re-configuring stations rather than redesigning them have empowered the deployment of a system at a pace previously thought unachievable.

Let’s take a look at each practice.

Start with the end in mind

Starting with the end in mind allows for more effective process development, especially in the regulated world, because as we invest in equipment to support each of the various volumes (validation, clinical trial, human trials) we want to be sure that we are building our knowledge base in support of the system which will ultimately manufacture the good. This practice makes regulatory steps more straightforward and streamlined at each step, while also driving the effectiveness of the specialists needed to build the manufacturing process.

Select solid foundational technologies

Sound foundational technologies are useful in the life sciences market because they provide building blocks to anchor your overall system design. Consistency, reliability, and cleanliness are vital requirements as we assemble life-critical devices. Driving minimal floor space within a cleanroom, high throughput rates, and fine process control are enablers for the investment in automation. There is a balance to be had in regulated industries between trusted components that we’ve used in certification and the modernization of technology through new standards. Leaders in the space are finding means of driving innovation while respecting the knowledge base that has been built over time, which is often done through new strategic partnerships such as the one the SuperTrak team recently formed with Vention.

Minimize customization

Reconfiguring rather than re-designing helps to reduce the risk in an already challenging field. Adding market and environment risk into the Life Sciences field can impact the business case for an automation investment. However, a reduction in NRE by careful consideration of market available technologies can help to improve the value of the investment. Our team has noted that standardization is a trend that has been steadily increasing within our partner base and one that we are observing continuing to accelerate. With growing uncertainty around the market, labor force, and other external factors, standard technologies allow for higher agility and lower risk on the manufacturing floor.

With the above in mind, we have re-tooled our automating under uncertainty webinar to focus on the specific challenges of life science manufacturers and what they can do to reduce their automation risks. 3 Practices to Reduce Risk when Automating Under Uncertainty leverages decades of experience as well as a broad understanding of current global trends to walk you through how a focus on configuration, not customization can truly help you reduce your risks while you invest in your automation.

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.



Around the Trak: Why standard technology platforms are on the rise

There is a clear commitment in the automation space to push innovation and new technology forward.

In last month’s Around the Trak Blog, New Technology and Change Management, we highlighted several strategies and best practices to ease the challenges associated with implementing new technologies and help drive this change.   

The other side of that discussion is who is responsible for deciding on what technologies to implement into the automation processes and what impacts the technologies will have on the business.  

One thing that is becoming more prevalent in manufacturing organizations large and small, is the creation of an overarching technology owner.  The responsibility of this role is to identify technologies that can be standardized across groups in order to support the overarching business strategy. 

In order to do so, the technology owner:

  • Researches technology and evaluate business impacts
  • Completes initial trials
  • Begins the change management process internally 

Because there is one technology owner, manufacturers looking to automate are starting to realize the potential of integrating standard technology platforms across their organizations. 

The rise of  technology platforms

Technology standards in manufacturing are not new but they are becoming more widely accepted.   

Governing bodies like UL, CE, etc. are in place to define a set of requirements and formalize minimum performance and safety needs.  The implementation of standards both in technology and process across global organizations intuitively should unify the workforce.  However, that has rarely been the case historically, as mentioned in a post on entitled “Balance the battle between process variations and standardization.”

“90 percent of the organizations I know have failed at standardization,” says industry expert Steve Stanton, Managing Director, FCB Partners. “Doing business in our global, tech-driven and consumer-oriented world is becoming more and more complex.”  - 

Despite implementation challenges, increasingly we are seeing many organizations continue to create and push for technology standards in their teams. There is a growing realization that when done well, standards can drive efficiency and support strategic objectives. Companies are creating centralized teams of experts within their organization to set company-wide standards for use of technologies across processes and geographies. These central groups are driving momentum for technological efficiency and easing change management challenges for companies large and small.    

To see evidence of this, you need to look no further than the local job postings.  You will see several postings for directors of automation standards and leaders for global automation implementation with a primary objective for standardization.  

 A balancing act 

Integrating standard technology platforms across a series of teams within an organization is a balancing act. It is important that we acknowledge that before getting into why they are beneficial and how best to move forward.  

The implementation of standards goes through the typical change management process but also has to manage two additional challenges: 

  1. The perception that standardization can be limiting to teams in some areas of the organization.   
  2. Balancing what is needed today with future requirements. 

Both challenges can be overcome by combating organizational myopiaMyopia is generally used as a marketing term used to describe a company that focuses on their needs instead of defining the company and its products in terms of the customers’ needs and wants. It results in the failure to see and adjust to the rapid changes in their markets. 

In a more general sense, marketing myopia can be seen across many organizations and the way they operate. Too often, businesses lose sight of what their customers need, and as a result, organizational priorities suffer.   

In order to succeed, organizations must overcome myopia and collectively continue to look for the most efficient and effective way to serve their customer.  

With this in mind, we must treat the different groups inside our organizations that are impacted by technology standards as the customer. We must never lose sight of what those internal customers need as well. 

 Take a look at the landscape of newly successful companies of the present day and you’ll probably find a future pigeon or two in the bunch. But you’ll also be able to pick out the companies that are built to last in the very long run, not because of the technology they’ve built, but because of how they focus on solving pain points within their customers’ journeys”. – 

The challenge in avoiding myopia is ensuring that everyone impacted by standards truly understands the business that you’re in and how a standard improves your ability to execute on that business.  That technology standards are removing the pain points in the journey.  This is a direct call back to the fundamental importance of “the why” when driving change. 

The best example I have observed recently is a team of designers within a global organization coming together across three different geographical sites to standardize on a common frame design for their automation.  

Historically, there have been challenges creating standards because a design approach or specific geographical requirements always lead the conversation to a dead end.   

In this case, however, the team saw the potential for supply chain savings and organizational efficiency by overcoming the historical hurdles.  A compromise was found and now all sites order the same component, from the same supplier, leading to a consolidation of spend and an alignment of design practice.  

The critical few 

The critical few is a driving thought process for whatever change you are trying to make.  

The idea was popularized by John Katzenbach in addressing organizational culture change in his book “The Critical Few”.  It is very important when discussing the standardization of technology that the focus in on areas that really drive impact within the business. Trying to standardize all aspects of a process will ultimately result in being one of the 90% of companies that fail at standardization.    

The critical few are unique to each business, they cannot be defined in an article or short post.  They depend on the strategic objective, the specific customer requirements, and the resources available. Many business leaders understand this and it is why we are seeing the creation of an overall organization technology owner.  That role puts the owner in a good position to identify the critical few and focus on the most impactful places to standardize.  

A recent conveyance example I encountered was where a company didn’t have the machining resources available to create large dials and as a result, always needed to outsource this aspect of their business. Because they did not have ready access to the required resource, their integration would often be delayed due to the implementation of change.

The designers saw the opportunity to standardize on the SuperTrak GEN3™ platform understanding that they would most likely see an increased material cost upfront but realized that the downstream benefits of responsiveness, labor efficiency, and project control would justify the business case for standardization. The balancing act here was very apparent with benefits vastly outweigh any downside.  

 The overall benefits of standardization 

The example above drives home some of the key benefits we see from standardization: 

  • Design throughput increases due to known modules to begin with.
  • Speed to market increases due to expertise and control reside internally.
  • Cost reduction occurs due to an increased volume and consolidation of spend. 

When reviewing the value stream and process for equipment creation we can identify additional advantages. The “Deviation Spiral” below taken from Benjamin Brandall’s article, “Why Process Standardization Improves Quality, Productivity and Morale”, outlines how process standardization is associated with leaner, more functional performance, meaning your organization can cut waste and do more with available resources. 

The deviation sprial

The same benefits outlined by Brandall, hold true in equipment design and implementation.  The driver behind standardization is that the organization becomes more efficient as a whole because there is an expectation across groups what tools are available to them.  What tools are in the toolbox per se.  This reduces the amount of deviation throughout the entire value stream, which increases the efficiency of the organization as a collective and ultimately improves our ability to serve customers. 

The ideal state is a world in which the design, supply chain, integration, and support teams are all working with components they are familiar with.  While each stakeholder may have preferences based on their specific requirements, the value stream is more efficient when we are working with an aligned set of expectations.  There is less uncertainty to work through, less training to overcome, and a generally more straightforward process for change management.

The constraints of standardization that I hear most often are the form factor, interface, and function are defined which can create challenges in specific examples.  Looking at the deviation spiral as well as the two examples highlighted, you can see that there is often a case where the benefits will outweigh any concerns.  

Another common rebuttal to standardization is that it will stagnate or curb the creativity or innovation within the business.  Driving innovation is something that I am personally invested and passionate about.  I have had the opportunity to visit and speak with many people and organizations about how they drive technology development.  I have not personally encountered a situation where standards diminish innovation.  In practice, the largest driver to stagnated automation is a lack of time to step away from the day to day and work to innovate. 

We commonly hear the term “firefighting” used to describe our workdays.  Utilizing standards is a method to drive efficiency and reclaim some time in our day to focus thought on what comes next, rather than what is in front of us.  This ultimately drives more creative thought, not less. 

 Communication is key 

There are a number of benefits that we’ve highlighted in the use of standard technology platforms.  While there are tradeoffs, I believe they are generally summarized by more effective communication and expectation setting across large organizations.   Any downside of settling on a technology toolbox is typically offset by an aligned understanding across a broad team of experts the toolsets that are available to them. Alignment of expectations accelerates time to market, reduces maintenance and supply costs, and allows for more mobility throughout the organization.  With the business climate ever-changing, these benefits will serve companies more effectively than ever before.  

Technology standards within organizations are one of the more challenging implementations of technological innovation and change management.  They are also the most fruitful which is why we are seeing a rise in standardization in organizations large and small.   

Leaders should focus on standards that will drive the business strategy and improve the customer journey. The “critical few” platforms selection will help align the various stakeholders across the organization and set you up for saleable, repeatable, and most importantly, sustainable success. 

 Learn how your organization can experience the benefits of standardization by utilizing SuperTrak CONVEYANCE as the foundation for your automation.  

 Get in touch with the SuperTrak Team to discuss:




Around the Trak: New Technology and Change Management

Change of any kind is hard for a variety of reasons. Successfully implementing new technologies follows the same basic change management principles you may see elsewhere in your business.

We need to overcome inertia in people and companies, which can occur for a number of reasons. Without getting into all of the drivers of inertia (perhaps another time), I’ll walk through some change management best practices for leaders and change drivers that aspire to use technology as a differentiator for their business.

Strategic team building

 A guiding principle to change management that I’ve observed builds on a concept highlighted last month in my strategic partnership blog.  Everyone that is needed to successfully introduce new manufacturing technology likely isn’t on your team, or maybe even a part of your organization.

“The team of experts needed is unlikely to reside within one place”

Working for a world-leading automation company, I regularly interface with organizations implementing new technologies. One of the biggest pitfalls I see many of them make is that they often mistake the team that has identified and developed the technology as the right team for implementation.

Understanding that change is hard because everyone doesn’t see the world, in the same way, is fundamental to being an effective change driver.

The companies that we see drive seamless technology implementations, understand that the ball will be passed from one team to the next.  That everyone plays their role both inside and outside the company.

Successful change drivers develop strategies and communication plans from the outset of the project to transcend barriers in the broader team and leverage their partnerships to bring expertise when it is needed. Breaking down barriers and driving alignment on the definition of success is critical in driving change.

‘Why’ is critical

One of the best examples of change management I have observed, was the use of a completely new technology, with the goal of accelerating the implementation of a brand-new production facility. The leader driving the change made certain that communication across all stakeholders, those responsible for executing the project and those impacted by the project down the line, was a key priority.

Outside of the standard project kickoff (PKO) and division of tasks among the project team, in this example, communication kickoffs were set up with all the major groups impacted in the days following the PKO.  Key partners were brought in for the kickoff meeting and then stayed to present to other groups.  Communicating the vision of the new facility, the reason the technologies were selected, and how they would be helpful in the facility startup was key to their success.

Reflecting on why this path was so effective, it highlights that while the change driver may not be in sales, you are selling an idea when driving change.

To drive change you must sell an idea

The more effective you can be at explaining why you are making the change, the more likely you are to succeed.

Simon Sinek very famously explains how starting with the ‘why’ helps to inspire change. His TED talk “Great Leaders Inspire Action,” does a good job of illustrating that as leaders you need those responsible for change to understand the purpose of what they are doing.

While most of his talk is regarding people buying products, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, the principles for driving change are the same.

You are about to drive a cross-functional team of people with a variety of viewpoints, goals and backgrounds. To get the team aligned, they need to understand why you are proposing to change the status quo.

“We’re doing this to save money” is unlikely to inspire the commitment required to transform, but explaining how the new technology will enable them to better perform their job to reach their targets which will in-turn help the business reach their financial goals, would be a better approach.

Focus your efforts on providing broader context into how the change will help your overall business, then speak individually with the key team members about how the change will help them as well.

Create early momentum

I truly believe that building early momentum is one of the greatest factors in driving success in a big project.  That belief was created early in my career with one of my favorite examples of change that I have observed.

While consulting with an early-stage company that was about 18 months into their journey, the CEO wanted to pivot the company to focus their hardware in a new market. In order to do so they would require integration with a new partner.

The CEO was convinced that this was the only way their business would succeed long term, as currently they were running out of time to show financial success.

What, in my belief, made them successful, was that the CEO understood that the team would be skeptical at the change, had a good understanding of the amount of work a new partner would require, and was sensitive to the fact that the team knew they had minimal time left to prove success.  The CEO knew that the largest challenge would be convincing the team that this task was in fact possible.

To combat the perception that this task was insurmountable, the CEO meticulously mapped out and communicated an execution plan that targeted a major win every two weeks.  Her fundamental belief was that metrics drive behavior, and it was her job to choose the right measures in driving change.

The team was split into two main areas (technical and go to market) to focus on two interlinked tasks at a time. Success was not achieved if either group didn’t hit on their part of the plan in their two-week sprints.

The ultimate goal of the plan was to break the very large challenge into achievable, digestible milestones.  Once a certain threshold was met by either team, their KPI would shift to something that was a little closer to the overall goal of revenue derived from the new market.

It was amazing to see the momentum shift in her team from skeptical optimism to full steam ahead after the first two milestones were completed.

The fundamental understanding of needing to drive early success as well as what was needed to drive a major shift in approach is something that will never be lost on me. With my SuperTrak team, I often use the term “start the snowball rolling down the hill” in my day to day activities when driving transformational change.  This example above is the one that started me using this term because the two-week milestones built momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill.

6 Tips for Building Momentum During Change Posted by Sallie Sherman in Sallie’s Corner

It is much easier for a large group to rally around a large initiative if there is early success toward the much more challenging objective.  Setting objectives that are relevant to the short-term success of the project are equally, if not more important, than the ultimate objective.

Teams of people can do amazing things if the task at hand doesn’t appear insurmountable.  Those that drive change well understand this. Find ways to create early wins that accelerate progress to the end goal and demonstrate consistently that the team is winning.

 You’re all in

As a driver of any change, including the implementation of new technologies, you need to ensure that you’re all in.

You’re going to experience challenges along the way, because change is hard… period. Whether it is with good reason or not, someone will highlight a reason why what you are trying to do won’t work.  It is too hard, not worth the time, too risky, etc.  When the challenge arises you need to never waiver, or you give credibility to the primary alternative… which is to do nothing.

Every time the SuperTrak team has observed effective change, it is always spearheaded by a passionate leader who has a deep belief in the technology and its positive impact on the company.

Full commitment extends to two additional areas:

  • First – effective change requires that the other leaders in your organization are committed too.

This includes those senior to you, but more importantly your peers that will help the illustrate commitment throughout a cross-functional team.  Doubt in the initiative arising from a leader will fuel more inertia and severely diminish its chance of success.  Having a strong “why” for taking on the initiative will help gain commitment. 

“Only 30 percent of change programs succeed.”– John Kotter, Leading Change

  • Second – commitment and excitement is easy at the beginning. The testing commitment comes when times get hard.

Forbes actually lists change “battle fatigue” as the number one reason change fails. The article details organizational change examples, however, it’s relevant to driving change within organizations. Commitment from the change driver can never waiver until the objective is met.

Implementing any new technology in your company should be looked upon through the lens of change management. Not only for top-level buy in, for but implementation and adoption success as well.

If I ‘m being honest, if you don’t believe in the change you’re trying to make you’re likely not the best person to drive implementation.

“If you don’t believe in the change you are trying to make, you’re likely not the best person to drive implementation.”

The opportunity is likely there to be a supporting member of the team and not the lead, or potentially choose a different path to achieve the goal  If you are not all in, I recommend that you take a different path.

Change isn’t finished at the goal line

After the team reaches the initial goal, you deserve to celebrate and get a pat on the back. This is clearly a big milestone which like John says, should be celebrated. However, the work is not done and it’s your job to make sure momentum doesn’t fade.

Many companies become overly satisfied after a new technology is first implemented and run the risk of not realizing their ultimate goal.  Until the new technology has been institutionalized, there is still change to drive. Once a new line is running, for example, there are processes and workflows that need to be adopted by a new set of stakeholders.

Build this into your plan as the change driver.  In order for transformational change to take hold, you need to evaluate what happens when the team members not involved in the initial implementation begin their work.

One of my favorite implementation examples is one where the core integration team also had a KPI regarding the number of internal hours were needed for one year following the change.

Having the team understand up front that this was one of the measures of success, was the driver to implement good training practices and communication up front, and more importantly maintained a sense of ownership after the system was up running.

In a majority of the cases where there is difficulty integrating change, there is a perception of ‘throwing something over the fence’ for the next team to deal with.  If this takes hold in your group, the difficulties that inevitably arise become more difficult to overcome.

New people, with different viewpoints and experiences, are an opportunity to continuously improve on the work you’ve just accomplished.  Plan for this, continue to celebrate wins and sustain momentum.

Even the best laid plans face challenges and you cannot account for every hurdle you may face but planning for change is essential to success.  While the pillars of change I have outlined above may not be all encompassing, they are a good place to start and I have seen them work several times amongst change leaders looking to implement new technologies in their organizations.

If you’re looking to implement new automation technologies in your business, the SuperTrak team can walk you through steps to achieve initial buy-in all the way through to achieving optimal functionality from your conveyance platform.

Our large team of engineers and support staff are there to take you from design to build to perform.

Get the ball rolling by reaching out to

Around the Trak: Strategic Partnerships

Welcome to Around the Trak

Welcome to the very first installment of Around the Trak. I have been debating starting this blog for quite some time and finally took the leap!

I am fortunate that during my engineering and automation career, the roles that I’ve had have allowed me to travel the world, working with some truly incredible and forward-thinking people. It is the experiences and conversations that I’ve had during this time that form the basis of the Around the Trak blog series.

One thing that is evident to not only me but to most people in the industrial automation space, is that the automation world is changing and our work with SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ puts us at the foundation of that change.

I want to use this forum to share thoughts about what we see, common patterns that we discuss, and provide guidance where we feel we can.  If you are a leader or a change driver at a company that aspires to use technology as a differentiator for your business, we truly hope that Around the Trak helps.

An emerging strategic pillar: Partnerships

The rate of change is ever-increasing due to our progressively deep integration of technology.  We often look closely at how we work when we discuss this trend (ie. smartphones), however, technology has also greatly impacted what we work on as well.

Companies are starting to narrow in on the unique value they offer to the market, their core competency, as growth initiatives for the 2020’s take shape.  Leaders have a much better understanding that automation is a necessity in many processes today but to successfully unlock the true potential in the investment, many system components require successful integration across the business.

Technology partnerships and “frictionless business” have been highlighted by Forbes and have been a fixture on Accenture’s annual technology trend reports since 2018.  Accenture highlights survey results where 36% of businesses report working with double or more partners than they were two years ago.

businesses have more strategic partners

The most effective deployment of new processes and technology we’ve observed is the result of a broad team of experts aligned to a clear, central goal.  The challenge we all face is that the team of experts is unlikely to reside within one company in today’s environment of interconnected systems and deep technology integration.   Increasing the difficulty for us all is that as the technology rate of change increases, system complexity continues to increase as well.

The value of strategic partnerships

The Integrated nature of these challenges is leading us to be more comfortable with the concept of strategic technology partnerships because we are all working toward a larger goal but focused on the area where we provide expertise and value.

Leaders are understanding that the challenge is too tall to take on alone.  To drive change at the rate that is needed, we need to be looking to form the right team for the central goal.  This is a requirement of many of today’s larger strategic opportunities and the closer our teams work the higher the rate of success.

I have observed new business models forming (example = “as a service” in unique areas) as well as areas where former competitors have found ways to work closely at delivering higher customer value.  This is a good thing for our industry as ecosystems of like-minded companies and individuals will lead the market.

A recent, top of mind example, is the partnership that ATS formed with.  This is a partnership where two companies’ core competencies serve different phases of the automation cycle.  Vention offers a platform for ideation and quick turnaround equipment, whereas ATS offers turnkey, factory-wide assembly automation solutions.  They began working together to improve the customer experience for both companies. Vention and SuperTrak CONVEYANCE partner

I believe the larger trend that drives our focus toward partnerships is the labour shortage that affects so many industries, not just manufacturing and I often cite a recent study published by Deloitte, the skills gap may leave 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028.

Increasing skills gap

As leaders and drivers of change, we need to be laser-focused on how to achieve the greatest impact with the team that we have, which emphasizes a definition of our core competency.  Those that define their competitive competencies well are far more open to working with partners on a deeper level because of a strong appreciation for each other’s strengths and market. I believe the Miller Heiman Group describes this well in their customer relationship hierarchy seen below.  The image highlights that deeper relationships (level 4 & 5) make important contributions to each other’s mutual success.

This partnership trend is certainly aided by the fact that we are all working to solve a problem larger than any one company.  The common vision is to drive industry forward with more effective technological solutions in order to minimize the labor shortage impact on our ability to service the customer.  This challenge is leading to a new climate where companies are finding deeper ways to work with each other to solve overall system problems.

The openness to partnerships may be the trend that excites me the most as we look forward.  I have a passion for solving problems with new technologies and doing so quickly.  Focus is driven when companies have a better understanding of their core competency and focus drives efficiency.  Therefore, working closely with partners has the potential to unlock greater rates of change in technology adoption because we can all focus on what we’re best at and scale it through standard practices.

Partnerships can bring challenges, particularly around communication, but I believe this new climate of openness with each other will put these communication issues behind us and integrate technology adoption further into growth strategies moving forward.  The potential challenge is vastly outweighed by the upside.

If you’ve experienced being part of a strategic partnership, share your experience in the comments below and help the conversation going.

I look forward to hearing your feedback as I continue with Around the Trak. Connect with me on LinkedIn – Simon Drexler and let me know what you think!

My top 4 takeaways from ATX West

ATX West, one of the Nation’s largest annual automation technology trade shows has a lot to take in. I’ve been fortunate to attend the conference multiple times and participate in the expo portion of the event and this year I had the opportunity to speak at the conference (more on that in a bit!).

One of the things I like most about this event is the amount of new and innovative technology that is on display. But this also means that due to the sheer size of the show, it’s easy to have that feeling that you didn’t quite get the chance to see it all.

I won’t tell you that I saw it all, but I will say that I made a solid effort at getting a well-rounded overview of what was on display.

After talking to people walking the show floor, visiting numerous vendors and interacting with conference attendees, I have put together my top 4 biggest takeaways from the show.

Takeaway #1: Labor or labor shortage was a large topic of discussion. 

Studies show that the gap between labour demand and skills availability is growing. A closer tie between people and technology will help us fill the growing need for workers and continue to drive the development of more collaborative technologies and not just collaborative robots.

About 50% of the presentations within the Smart Manufacturing summit touched on technology filling the current labor shortage. If you missed my session, which goes into detail on how collaborative technology plays a vital role in filling the labour shortage gap, stay tuned for our upcoming webinar on emerging collaborative technologies and the increasing need for connectivity.

Takeaway #2: The softer side of robotics on display.

More than collaborative, a number of new products were on display that work to make the touch of a robot more gentle or compliant for delicate moves.  ATI’s LCC is an example of companies working to make the traditional industrial robot operate more like the human hand.

Another example, I saw was in the West Pack show section, were solutions focused on soft foods like the Fanucs’ new DR3i robot for soft fruit handling.  Increased compliance is driving new applications of industrial robotics that were typically reserved for the human hand.

Takeaway #3: Market demands are challenging today’s manufacturing.

Today’s consumers demand customized products, immediately. To meet these demands, manufacturers must be able to adapt their processes to allow for high-mix, low-volume production.

These applications have historically been challenging to automation, however, at ATX I saw many new products that are helping to re-imagine industrial automation by offering new, more flexible ways to automate.

Flexible picking, highly capable vision, and flexible platforms are allowing automated solutions into the manufacturing facility where we may not have seen them been before.

This case study is an example of how one company was able to introduce smart conveyance technology into their automation to update their processes, reduce their footprint and increase their OEE.

Takeaway #4: Automation is becoming more accessible and easier to use.

Gone are the days when you needed an engineering degree and many years of in-depth programming experience to be able to implement basic automation.

Many products I saw were highlighting new interfaces that require “no programming” or all in one packages to ease integration.  Automation product providers are pushing hard to make their technology more accessible to the market.

More than that, services such as Vention’s Machine Builder, provide immediate online access to a comprehensive library of public automation designs and allows inexperienced users to receive fast concept validation.

Now that we’re back and in the midst of a Canadian winter, I’m already thinking of warmer days ahead as we start to plan for our next big show in June at Automatica.  But I’m curious, what were your biggest takeaways from ATX West? Leave me a comment below!

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.