How to achieve high-performance automation in a smaller footprint

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Configuration Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling should be easy 

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

SuperTrak Conveyance - modular platform

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuperTrak GEN3-90-degree configuration

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

Other integrated features include: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Right Technology 

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

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

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

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

Good Practice #2 – Choose the right foundation. 

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

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

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

Achieving High Performance within a Defined Footprint Using Smart Conveyance 

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

Smart Conveyance enables numerous efficiencies in machine development to get to production fasterFrom simplifying tooling requirements to quick system assemblies, to intuitive and easy integration. Smart Conveyance provides significant value to machine builders and end-users alike because material costs and engineering hours can be reduced.  

This offers a solution that balances the overall cost of automation with market demands by allowing for reconfigurability and scalability. Check out the on-demand webinar to learn more about how smart conveyance can Fast Trak your machine development. 

Smart Conveyance Explained

Smart Conveyance provides value by incorporating a number of features into one platform, allowing a higher level of performance and productivity than that of traditional conveyance. Generally, it is powered by linear motor technology using a moving magnet shuttle system with encoders. This means that the system is a servo:  it’s fast, precise, and you have independent control of all the shuttles. Plus its flexibility enables process scalability and reconfiguration. You can see more examples of how traditional conveyance compares to smart conveyance here: What is Smart Conveyance? 

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

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

Is the Dial Dead?

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

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

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

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

  • Screwing
  • Pressing
  • Testing

But the Dial is Limited in its Functionality

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

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

The Case for Smart Conveyance

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

 

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

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

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

 

Individual Shuttle Control

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

Reduced Cycle Times

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

Floorspace Reduction

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

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

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

With an indexing dial, you get:

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

With a SuperTrak dial configuration, you get:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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!