Flexible Automation Solutions
Despite the high cost of customized automation equipment for each new application. After the life-cycle, the automation equipment would typically be placed in storage until someone figured out how they could re-purpose it (which did not happen very often). This approach is described as Fixed (or Hard) Automation, which could be defined as when an automation application is customized around a single product and a specific task.
This is a very common practice in automation. As an engineer, we see an application or challenge and design custom tooling and fixtures to perform a job without taking into account future requirements. For each new part or product, you need more custom tools, more floor space, and more changeover time. This requires lots of integration and programming adjustments as well! As more and more manufacturers start to face the challenge of low volume and/or high mix of parts, a more dexterous and flexible solution is required.
Rather than completely redesign a process, flexible automation allows for the re-tasking of existing equipment to handle other tasks. While Fixed Automation may be less expensive in the short term, the cost saving on future production lines by using this type of Flexible Automation can be quite significant.
What is Flexible Automation?
Flexible Automation is the ability for a robot or system to be quickly and easily re-tasked to change product design for both low and high mix manufacturing. When properly utilized, a Flexible Automation cell can evolve with your process and demand, reduce and fix production costs, improve quality, and eliminate health and safety issues.
A great example of flexible automation is at the state of the art Tesla Motors Factory in Freemont, CA. As Chris Anderson says in his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution;
"Tesla has built the most modern factory in the world. It happens to build cars, but it could build anything. It is not just automated, it’s a veritable robot army. Hundreds of general-purpose KUKA robots do everything from metal-bending to assembly. Flat-topped robot vehicles carry car chassis around, charging themselves on inductive pads as they go. Robot painting arms from Fanuc can open car doors to spray around them, and then close them again when they’re done."
Combining decades of experience, we integrate technology-driven best practices, and build reliable, user-friendly systems that help clients earn and maintain a competitive advantage.
For further information, or to discuss your specific needs in greater detail, please contact Saturn Automation today.
Control System Integrator
Benefits of Using a Control System Integrator.
You need all your plant’s systems to work together. When systems aren’t integrated, costs increases and resources are consumed. This is where control system integrators come in.
Automation and control system integrators typically are independent entities that use technical and project management activities to integrate commercially available hardware and software from multiple suppliers into a solution for an end-user. System integrators’ technical expertise commonly includes electrical design, engineering, programming, testing, commissioning and ongoing support. Some integrators focus narrowly on industries, applications, or brands, while others maintain a much broader focus. What they have in common is that they provide control, automation, and information solutions for manufacturing, industrial, and clean water processes.
Here are benefits derived from using a control system integrator.
Saving personnel costs: Control systems technology is very broad in nature and constantly advancing. Having sufficient expertise on staff, and keeping those staff members educated on new technologies and equipment is an expensive process. By using an independent system integrator, you save the cost of hiring, educating, and evaluating your staff. Additionally, there are many industry standards, such as ISA S88 on Batch Process Control or Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that apply to automation and information systems that an end-user client may find challenging to stay ahead of with their own staff. A system integrator makes the educational investment.
Improving the quality and reliability of the integration project: No one person or company knows everything. The system integrator often brings to the table an understanding of mechanical, process, and business intelligence issues and knows how to integrate those disciplines into a working system. A common mistake in manufacturing and process industries is that managers wait until later in the project development to contract a system integrator, thinking they have little to offer upfront, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s best when system integrators are involved in the earliest planning stages so they can contribute their knowledge and expertise and save costs and improve outcomes.
Applying current industry standards in safety, environmental, and modern technology: Examples of these standards are networks, cyber security and interoperability of equipment. End-users can rely on system integrators to get updates on topics such as machine safety, process safety, international programming standards, networks for intelligent instrumentation and so on.
Bringing innovation and experience from working across industries: Most system integrators work in multiple vertical industries. An integrator may gain experience in an application such as batch processing, material handling, or pumping in one industry. Then have a project in a different industry where that experience can be applied. Their inherent exposure to different industries results in a breadth of knowledge that can’t be learned through training or from a magazine. It comes from doing projects. System integrators learn to recognize when the experience gained in one application and industry can be applied in another. Your project benefits from this breadth of experience.
Knowing how to manage project risks: Risk is the most significant enemy of both the system integrator and the project owner, so it is taken seriously. Recognizing project risks comes with experience and is a natural process for integrators. Risk mitigation begins at the planning phase of a project and emphasizes once again what was mentioned above, namely the importance of a system integrator being involved in the early stages of a project. Risk mitigation benefits everyone involved in your project.
Providing proper documentation for future reference: It’s common for internal staff to move onto the next project and not properly provide drawings, software code, and operations manuals. The staff often has good intentions of doing the documentation, but it just gets pushed to the background with hopes of doing it later. But later never comes. Since final documentation is typically included in the contracted scope of supply for the system integrator, the integrator is held accountable for providing it, and the end-user client can be assured of getting it. Proper documentation is important for maintenance, support, and scalability. And because documentation sometimes gets lost or damaged, access to replacement documentation over the life of the system is also beneficial.
Choosing the best hardware and software for an application: Knowing what products are available for an automation solution is important. And knowing which ones are the best solutions is equally important. Independent system integrators are not tethered to any one automation supplier, so they act in your best interest when making selections. And as system integrators, they know how to integrate – how to make best-in-class products from multiple suppliers work in tandem. It’s difficult for in-house staff to have such broad product/component knowledge in order to get the most cost-effective solution selection.
Providing expert technical staff on demand: End-users sometimes have a temporary need for additional staff to assist internal staff when there are too many concurrent projects. Most system integrators can provide engineers, designers, programmers, and so forth during those busy periods. Coming from a system integration company, the personnel are effective immediately after safety orientation. When the project load diminishes, they simply return to the integrator. You benefit from having the expertise without incurring the overhead costs.
In summary, control system integrators can provide numerous benefits compared to using in-house staff. Select an integrator qualified for your particular project. Involve them early in the project. And hold them accountable for meeting the scope of work and other commitments for deliverables.