Do You Think About Conveyance in the Early Stages of System Design? Here’s Why You Should.

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Did you know that 85% of designers don’t consider their conveyance platform – or how they are going to move a part from station to station – during the first phases of their design process?

The SuperTrak team recently did a survey asking industrial automation professionals when they think about their conveyance platform while designing their automation that generated some interesting insights.

Most engineers do not consider conveyance at the beginning

Some of the answers we received were:

  • Later – individual station function would be more important initially
  • Conveyance is secondary and is selected to meet the needs of the process serviced by that conveyance
  • Need to understand independent processes and how they relate to each other before choosing a conveyance method
  • Later in the process – we started off with a simple solution and left it open to improve later

The takeaway is that conveyance is not the first thing that people are thinking about during system design.

Interestingly, when we asked this same question to our in-house engineers who are responsible for designing complete automation systems across a number of industries, we got a much different answer – the answer we predominantly received from them was that conveyance was a starting point in their system design.

So this got us thinking, what could account for this discrepancy?

Digging Deep

After some digging and talking more in-depth to our engineers and survey respondents, it became apparent that our in-house team is working closely with the SuperTrak platform almost daily. They had gained an in-depth understanding of the functionality of a smart conveyance platform and how it could impact their overall system design. Whereas others who weren’t as familiar with the technology or worked with different forms of conveyance in the past hadn’t necessarily experienced or weren’t aware of the value that a smart conveyance technology can offer.

Well….we’re about to change that!

 

Our primary objective has always been and will continue to be, helping our customers realize the value that smart conveyance can bring them and how it can ultimately enable them to build and deploy, better, higher-performing automation.

When we shift the conversation and bring a focus to conveyance or what we like to refer to as the foundation of your automation, we ultimately see a transformation in the way the entire automation system is built and the way it performs. This in turn has significant implications on the overall business.

 

During the webinar, “Is Conveyance Gating Your Growth,” SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ GM, Simon Drexler, talks more about how when you think conveyance in the early stages of system design it can be an enabler in effectively scaling your business.

 

Industrial System Design

Let’s look a little closer at the design of your system.

In its most basic sense, conveyance can be defined as the movement of products from one location to another. During your automation system design, conveyance is one of many elements, but as our survey showed, designers often look at destinations first. They look at what they need to do at each process stop first, then determine how to move the “widget” from station to station.

 

While you’re not alone in this thought process, the end result can sometimes have undesired outcomes. These undesirable outcomes can look like cycle times that take longer than necessary, a larger factory footprint than you can afford, or an increased need for manual labour. The system you design may achieve the outcome you created it for but when conveyance isn’t considered during the design phase, it can have unintended consequences.

 

Beyond Industrial System Design

As you can see above, your conveyance platform impacts nearly every aspect of your automation system. From cycle times to required maintenance, to required tooling, your conveyance platform impacts the design and performance more than any singular

 

component of your automation cell.

This means it has a significant impact on your:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Infrastructure

In order to achieve the goals you set out for your business, you must have a plan or strategy in place which takes into consideration all of these elements. Since your conveyance impacts or touches every element of your strategy (people, process, infrastructure), this is typically a good starting point.

People Process and Infrastructure

Let me explain.

People: The technology you choose will have a direct impact on how many labourers you need and the skill set they will require to design, install and operate your equipment.

Process: Conveyance defines the system flow and directly affects the simplicity or complexity of the process changes. It can also act as the conduit to collect information about the overall system status and the parts being produced in order to improve bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Infrastructure: Once you understand the motion capabilities (speed, direction, velocity, etc) of your conveyance, you can more accurately determine what needs to be built on top of it. This will also help determine the shape, size and overall footprint of your system.

How it impacts your people

You can easily see that there are differences in the technologies that are needed based on the conveyance selected in order to achieve similar outcomes. This means that there will be a difference in the skill sets needed and different training requirements for operators. Because there are different technologies, there will be different spare parts and maintenance schedules required. Your choice in conveyance has now impacted your people.

How it impacts your process

The conveyance platform will also impact the components within the system, which will drive differences in the process as well. How quickly we can produce components and at what quality level are significantly impacted by the technology we include in the system.

Something simple, like how fast the conveyance system can move will change what other technologies are available for the application.

How it impacts your infrastructure

Again looking at the example above, if we look at the infrastructure investment because the system and technology choices are different, they will have different levels of CapEx required, as well as a different amount of required floor space.

The foundation of your automation, also known as your conveyance platform, has a ripple effect on the rest of your automation cell, your tooling, the speed or cycle times, the space or footprint requirements on the factory floor, and the list goes on. Looking back to our survey, we too often see companies underestimate the impact that their conveyance can have on overall system design and how it can impact larger business decisions and the ability to achieve their goals.

The fact that SuperTrak is easily redeployable is also playing a significant role in the decision-making process for manufacturers. Now more than ever, the ability to adapt to uncertain market conditions is highlighted by constantly evolving customer demands and success depends on your ability to quickly and easily adapt your processes. We talk more about this in the webinar, Automation Under Uncertainty.

By focusing on your conveyance early in the design phase, you transform the way your automation systems are built, making it easier to not only design but also to develop and deploy.

Now that you’re thinking about your conveyance, it’s time to pick the option that’s best for your application. Check out our blog, “The Right Applications for Smart Conveyance” to learn more and access the go-no-go guide we use with customers to determine if SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ is a fit for their application.

5 Ways Your Choice of Conveyance Impacts Your Automation

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Conveyance is motion. Conveyance – or how you are getting parts from point A to point B – is often an afterthought when it comes to automation design. Station design and throughput goals often take precedence but there are several reasons why conveyance should be considered right from the start.

Here are the 5 ways conveyance impacts your automation design.

Motion

Conveyance is motion; it moves a part or workpiece from station to station. Most conveyors are passive. They don’t contribute to the process itself and just move the part from A to B.

However, there is another type of motion available to modern manufacturers. Smart conveyance where the motion can be active, meaning it has an impact on the process itself. From a conveyance perspective, this would include things like:

  • Indexing parts on a shuttle to utilize one piece of tooling to work on multiple parts.
  • Changing velocity and acceleration (i.e., unsecured parts placed onto a shuttle may require a lower acceleration until they are properly secured)
  • Utilizing the conveyance as an axis rather than adding additional actuation to the station design
  • Heating/Curing/Cooling – (i.e., slow down shuttles as they move through a heating tunnel)
  • Pressing parts together
  • Camming (i.e.,utilizing an external cam to move the shuttle shelf into the required position for station processing)

Footprint

SuperTrak Case Study Download

The size and shape of an automation system is directly impacted by the type of conveyance selected. If you use active motion technology like smart conveyance, you may be able to reduce the footprint of your system by utilizing certain tooling to do more work that can reduce the number of stations you need to achieve your desired output. One customer we worked with was able to reduce their footprint by 44% using our SuperTrak CONVEYANCE™ GEN3 platform that uses smart conveyance.

 

Process

Conveyance is a process connector, so it has a significant effect on the process itself. Does it need to be scaled in the future? Will your process need to adapt and change as you iterate on your product? The right conveyance selection provides the flexibility to enable future business considerations.

 

OEE

The three major factors of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) are impacted by your choice in conveyance.

1. Availability

Conveyance ties your entire system together. If your conveyor is down, your entire system is down. If your conveyor is constrained to synchronous motion and one element of your system is down, your entire system is down. A conveyance option that allows for asynchronous motion can help increase machine availability and reduce downtime.

2. Performance

Getting parts into stations fast is essential to maintaining cycle time. Shuttle exchange times (the time it takes one part or shuttle to leave the station and the next to be ready to be worked on) are important to optimize as much as possible to avoid station starving and bottlenecks. Synchronous conveyance is constrained by your slowest process and directly impacts your performance.

3. Quality

Automation depends on highly repeatable processes to ensure quality.  Repeatable means predictable and can ensure that products are assembled properly. Conveyance plays a role as it brings parts in and out of stations and positions them properly in line with the tooling.

Aggressive cycle times often overdrive automation components, negatively impacting quality. Having a conveyance that can deliver parts with speed and repeatability can result in much higher quality metrics. Conveyance is also responsible for routing good parts and bad parts around a system.

Data:

Your choice in conveyance can also impact the type of data you have available to you. Conveyance connects an automation system together and touches every part of it. Conveyance can act as a conduit to collect information about the product and the process and you can then aggregate it, and provide an easy interface to access it for analysis.

 

Considering these factors at the beginning of an automation project can significantly impact performance, cost, and scalability. All these factors contribute to the overall success of your system, and you can’t afford to leave them to an afterthought.

 

Ready to see the difference smart conveyance can make to your system?

Request a simulation today!

 

Uncommon Tactics to Increase Throughput

So, you’re facing an increasing demand for your product and now you’re evaluating different ways to reach these new goals. It’s a great problem to have but chances are you are already running your operation pretty leanThe common response to increasing throughput in automation is to add more tooling or to bring in additional machines. 

These tactics are tried and true, but they also come with their own challenges. More machinery means an increase in your floor space. Additional tooling can be additional costs creeping in in the form of maintenance and wear and tear. Not to mention that more moving parts means more opportunities for things to break.  But what are some uncommon tactics to increase throughput?

So how do you increase throughput in your automation? What tactics might you employ to increase your PPM?  

Here are a couple of additional ways for you to consider.  

 

Optimize Your Station Design 

Are you using your stations to their full capacityHow many parts are your stations working on per pallet?   

Your stations and their design determine how efficiently your part is assembled. If you can reconfigure your station to adopt a multi-up process, you can increase your throughput without additional strain on your system’s footprint.  

With smart conveyance options, you may also be able to use an additional axis of motion.   

Shuttle/Pallet as Axis

Use Simulation Software to Identify Bottlenecks 

Looking at the bigger picture of your system in action might help give you perspective and identify where you might be experiencing bottlenecks. A simulation of your system can also allow you to experiment with different configurations of your system without impacting production.  

Simulation on Paper

 

Think this is cool? Request your own simulation today.

 

 

 

Refine Your Repeatability to Reduce Defects  

Moving more parts through your system isn’t the only way to address increasing demand. Reducing the amount of defects your system produces will also help address this end goal. What does your system’s repeatability look like now? How could it be improved? While repeatability by itself won’t address the major struggle, it is one way you might not have considered. 

This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully, it has inspired you to think about uncommon tactics to address a common challenge.  

 

Your competition is already using smart conveyance to implement these tactics. Are you? 

 

 

 

Types of Conveyors: A Look at Benefits and Limitations 

 

When you are building out a new system, you’re likely trying to figure out what type of conveyor is going to be best for what you’re trying to do based on three major constraints – the motion you need, the footprint you have to work with, and the process requirements. All of this while trying to figure out how to optimize OEE and ROI over the lifetime of your product.  

The type of motion you chose will act as the foundation for your future success. How you move your product through your process will affect your performance, the quality of your product, and the availability of your system.  

So let’s examine some of the most common types of conveyors.  

 

The Indexing Conveyor: 

Indexing Conveyor

This type can be beneficial to use when: 

  • You need synchronous motion 
  • The system cycle time is ≥ to the slowest station cycle time 
  • If your process doesn’t require you to move your product through the system faster than your slowest station is able to go 
  • There is enough floor space to accommodate a constant pitch across the entire system 
  • You have enough floor space to play with that allows for this larger system to operate 

This can be limiting when: 

  • A variable pitch could speed up cycle times.
  • Floorspace is limited 
  • Cycle times vary from station to station 

    Power and Free Conveyor 

Power and Free Conveyor

This type can be beneficial to use when:  

  • Variable cycle times are required. 
  • Shuttles (or pallets) to be stopped anywhere on the system using some form of actuation (i.e. stopper cylinder) 
  • Synchronous and asynchronous motion are required. 
  • Shuttles aren’t required to move at the same pace and faster processes can be accommodated 

This can be limiting when: 

  • Your engineering support is limited.  
  • These systems can require a lot of engineering (mechanical, electrical, & controls) for the utilization of stopper cylinders and shuttle sequencing

Indexing Dials / Dial Table / Rotary Table 

Rotary Dial

This type can be beneficial to use when: 

  • You have limited space 
  • The Indexing Dial is fairly compact when it comes to space. You can fit many nests on to it and place your tooling around the outer edge, taking up a smaller footprint in comparison to linear systems.  

This can be limiting when: 

  • Your stations need to move at different speeds 
  • With this option, you’re limited to synchronous motion therefore production can only move as fast as your slowest process. 

Conveyor Comparison Chart

 

We’re challenging manufacturers like you to rethink how you approach movement and your system as a whole. Go beyond a simple conveyor and learn about what an entire smart conveyance platform can bring to your business.  

Learn more about Smart Conveyance and what it might do for you here.

 

Case Study – Growing Together

When a medical device company wanted to test and launch a new product, they knew who they needed to work with …

  • Industry: Medical Device Manufacturing
  • Location: United States of America
  • Challenge: Scaling a new product while going through FDA approval

In this case study, you’ll learn:

  • About the specific challenges they faced
  • About the process they went through
  • About the results they achieved

Download the Full Case Study To Learn How They Did It!

Scaling in Medical Device Manufacturing

Executive Summary:

During product development, a leading medical device manufacturer partnered with the SuperTrak™ team to implement the GEN3 platform as the foundation of their process.

While the manufacturer sought FDA approvals, they identified that SuperTrak™ could be used during early-stage process development and that the track’s modularity would also allow for future growth as market adoption grew. 

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 business.com, 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.

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.

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:

1.Simulation
2.Configuration
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.