Category “Automation Integration”

Modular Design Provides Versatility

October 8, 2014 by Nick

Several months ago, we talked about the modular H-frame press we developed that allows a dial table to index parts through it.  In our ammunition case manufacturing line, we need to perform high tonnage pressing processes on small brass tubes to create a primer pocket and stamp the head and we need to automatically feed the brass tubes through the press.  Because of the need for extreme consistency in each part we knew a C-frame press would not work due to deformities caused by deflection.  Our pocket and head machine is up and running so we thought we would show you our modular H-frame press in action so you can see  just how they work.

Our pocket and head machine uses two linear actuators powered by a servo motor that provide 20 tons of force each.  Setpoint’s modular press frame allows a dial table to index parts through the press giving us the speed and ease of feeding that is typical of a C-frame press, without the deformities caused by deflection under the heavy load required to press and stamp the brass case.  The result is a case line that produces match grade quality brass every time, no more inspecting for quality level.

Our press is not only for ammunition case manufacturing.  Setpoint is able to utilize this press for any manufacturing application that requires quick feeding, high tonnage pressing and precision made parts.

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Cycle Time vs Throughput

October 16, 2013 by Clark

Over the years we have built thousands of custom equipment solutions for a wide range of manufacturers, spanning a wide range of industries. Each time we engage in a new project, we have to address the issue of machine cycle time. This is the primary number by which customs gauge the overall Return On Investment (ROI), of a capital piece of equipment.

The tendency is to try and push a machine to produce at a higher rate of production, therefore, increasing the company’s overall throughput and reduce the overall time it takes to realize the return on the investment of that piece of equipment.

The primary issue with this philosophy, is that throughput is only one part of the overall equation necessary to understand the true value or ROI that a specific piece of machinery may offer.

The following example illustrates this specific issue:

Cycle Time vs Throughput Chart


Even though machine #1 runs at a higher PPM (Part Per Minute) due to the lower OA, the #2 machine actually out performs it, even though the machine’s cycle time is almost 17% less PPM.

We have found that machines run best at a specific cycle rate. Once you push the machine’s cycle time over the threshold of capability, you start to see a drastic drop in overall machine uptime and thus overall throughput. This phenomenon is similar to a Formula 1 race car performance. These cars are pushed so close to the edge of technology and speed that a high percentage of the time, they don’t actually finish the race they started.

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Updating Automation Equipment

September 27, 2013 by Kara

One of our customers brought us a challenge, business is booming, the current manufacturing process can’t keep up with demand and floor space is at a premium.  They need a solution that’s small and fast, they challenged Setpoint to use the same footprint and double the throughput.

The first thing we looked at is the robot they’re using.  Right now the process uses a robot that moves in an arc to pick and place parts.  It’s fast but because it follows an arc rather than a straight line, fractions of a second are added to every movement.  Which adds up when you’re moving thousands of parts every hour.

We’re switching out their current robot with a Fanuc Spider Robot, seen in the video below.  With this robot we’ll be able to shave off fractions of seconds in each movement. This robot moves in straight lines, speeding up the cycle without sacrificing accuracy.

This customer will get the speed they need in the small footprint they want. Of course other changes will be made as well but getting the right robot is the key.

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Taking a Problem and Finding a Solution

September 16, 2010 by Scott P

Setpoint Systems builds custom automation solutions and in the process there are problems that come up where a creative solution can come in quite handy.  Recently we used a creative solution to fix a problem of excess energy with servo motors.  Many people don’t understand that one of the issues faced with running motors and servos at high speed and high cycle rates is the deceleration. As if accelerating to speed were not bad enough, you have to be able to stop the thing as well. Accelerating requires extra current, but in decelerating, there is a lot of energy that has to be disposed of somewhere. In fact, the energy available in an object in motion increases with the square of the velocity. If the velocity doubles you increase the energy by 4X. All that energy has to be absorbed by something.

Commonly in servo drives and frequency drives that excess energy shows up in the form of excess DC voltage on the DC bus. If this voltage gets high enough, the drives are designed to protect themselves, usually by declaring a fault and shutting down. Well, now that’s really convenient, eh? So the question that begs to be answered is: What do you do with all that extra DC voltage? Most drives have some sort of internal method of absorbing the extra energy, frequently in the form of a resistor circuit. This feature allows the excess voltage to bleed off to ground at a reasonable rate. If the DC voltage climbs too high or too fast, such that the bleed off circuit can not absorb all of it, then the drive faults. Let’s add more resistors! That will usually work.

However, on a machine that I was working on recently we sized a resistor to handle the excess energy of a VERY LARGE servo press that had to stop VERY fast. The resistor recommended by the vender was 48” long. No that’s not a misprint.  That is four feet long, for a resistor! We didn’t like that option. So our vender recommended that we look at a product from a company named Bonitron. They make several sizes and flavors of devices that take excess DC energy, chop it up and spit it back out onto the three phase AC line. They call them Line Regen Modules. By using a diode module, also from Bonitron, we were able to hook multiple drives onto a single DC bus without back feeding into each other and feed it into the Line Regen Module. So far, it’s working great. I am quite impressed with the capability of these units. Check them out the next time you see a “DC BUS OVERVOLTAGE” fault, it was a great solution for us.

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Lean Automation Equipment from Concept to Machine

May 13, 2010 by Kara

Being in marketing has its advantages.  I get to watch our engineers work on complex projects every day and since I am the one that puts movies together, I decided it would be cool to watch them go from a clean sheet design through to the machine being assembled by the shop.  When the engineers started working on a concept for a new machine I took pictures every day of the white boards where they were sketching out their designs.  They start here so that they don’t have to keep going back and changing a model in SolidWorks.  Then when they did start to design on the computer, I had the lead designer take a picture every day of the machine.

It was really cool to see the design changes that resulted in a much more compact design than the original idea that they started out with.  After the machine was fully designed I hooked up a camera to take pictures at intervals throughout the day to watch our assembly crew put each component onto the table and see the machine come to life.

This clip takes a machine from concepts on a white board through design and build of a machine.   I hope you enjoy it.

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Non Destructive Testing (NDT) in Modern Manufacturing

August 20, 2009 by Roger

Do you really want to just “hope that it’s right”?!?!


Over the past 30 years or so manufacturing processes and techniques here in the US and abroad have improved significantly, giving us a higher level of quality and consistency in the products that we build, as well as keeping manufacturing costs (and in turn, retail prices) down. One of the key items that has evolved significantly in the last 3 decades is the use of non-destructive testing (NDT) integrated directly into the manufacturing process. NDT is not really a specific type of testing per se, but more of a mentality. The philosophy is that you are able to inspect for critical defects in components or workmanship, often in areas that cannot be seen by an unaided human eye, and during the inspection you do not damage or destroy the part in any way. Some of the more common techniques of NDT are Real-Time Radiography (X-ray), ultrasonic testing, eddy current technology, magnetic particle testing, and liquid dye penetrate testing. While each of these various methods are very different in their core technologies and application, the end goal of each is the same: Verify and validate component quality in areas that are difficult or impossible to see otherwise without damaging or destroying the part in the process.

Industrial radiography started to show up in mainstream manufacturing shortly after the end of WW2, and we’ve been finding new uses for it ever since. A very good example (and one of the more mature applications) of this is the use of radiography in welding inspection. It’s very easy for a welder to lay a very pretty cover pass over inferior root and/or filler passes. With just a visual inspection, the weld in question would probably pass with flying colors. But once you shoot an x-ray of the weld, all the ugly stuff inside is on display for the whole world to see. Critical welds in building, bridge, and pipeline construction have long been inspected in this manner to confirm that the finished weld is a solid structural union of the parent metals.

While NDT solutions have long been a key part of manufacturing, it wasn’t always real-time feedback as it now can be, and it wasn’t always integrated directly into the manufacturing process. ‘Spot check’ NDT procedures were once the norm (and can still be found in many manufacturing processes today), where a small percentage of parts were randomly NDT inspected after completing the entire manufacturing cycle. If all of the parts pass the spot check with flying colors, life goes on as usual. If failures showed up during NDT analysis, then things get complicated. Huge lots of parts need to be quickly quarantined and 100-percent NDT inspections on the quarantined lots will usually follow. Needless to say, NDT spot checking any of your mission-critical components post-manufacture is a sketchy thing at best and a costly nightmare at worst.

Using a lean automation mindset, integrating “100 percent” NDT inspections into critical processes allows validation of component quality prior to adding any additional value to the part. Rejected parts are offloaded at the point of failure instead of later down the line, with no additional work being performed on the flawed part (and consequently no additional costs absorbed). This also minimizes or completely eliminates the need for component backtracking or quarantines of part lots that would normally occur if a problem wasn’t caught and dealt with at the point of failure.

Critical components such as automotive safety components, implanted medical devices, and many other complex manufactured items have long relied on integrated NDT solutions to assure reliable, life-saving performances over and over again. If your mission-critical manufacturing process truly is a matter of life and death, it’s very probable that an integrated NDT solution in your manufacturing process may be a wise investment for your company.

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What is Six Sigma and How Does it Apply to Automation

July 9, 2009 by Justin

Six Sigma helps to achieve an increase in quality by eliminating defects and variation while increasing yield.  Automation is not only a good way to increase production, but it helps meet the criteria of Six Sigma.  One of Six Sigma’s goals is to get rid of defects, and defects are anything that could lead to customer dissatisfaction.  With lean automation, productivity will increase along with customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction is a major goal in Six Sigma. Therefore the product that comes off the line must be free of defects. There are many ways to identify and remove product with defects.  One way is to have a final inspection of the product.  This method is usually done by people with instruments or other devices to help them spot the defect. This is not the best method.  Even with instruments, humans make mistakes.  An automated process could have inspection stations set throughout the process.  This method allows the inspection to be simplified since the machine is only looking for one defect at a time.  Since the inspections are placed throughout the process we can tell the machine to stop doing work on a defected part.  This not only keeps the machine form doing unneeded work on a defected part, but also helps identify where in the process the defect took place.

Automation not only allows you to inspect the product throughout the process, but it allows you to get rid of some inspections.  For instance, consider a cylindrical part that needs to have a feature accurately placed in the center. An inspection could be set up to measure the concentricity of the outside of the cylindrical part and the feature, or there could be a guide for the punch tooling built in such a way that it is impossible to place the feature out of the tolerance range. This is only one of many ways to eliminate an inspection.

As stated earlier, eliminating people from doing the inspection is a good way to eliminate defects from making their way to the customer.  The same principal goes to the actual process of making the product. One of the steps in Six Sigma is to eliminate variation.  An automated process will do just that.  The machine will make the product the same every time. For instance, say that a step in a process is to place and fasten a screw in to place.  A person would place the screw in and torque it down differently every time.  If the screw was not torque properly the product could have a failure.  With an automated process the screw would not only be torque to the right value, but verified that is was torque correctly.  This is just one simple case, but it shows how an automated process would eliminate variation.

Automation and Six Sigma are a good fit. Automation helps fix the root cause of a problem, and eliminates defects and variation by simplifying the process and taking out the human errors.

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Does Automation Make Sense?

June 4, 2009 by Kara

If you have a process for assembling or inspecting your parts, how do you know if automating the process makes sense?  Setpoint has been discussing this question with companies since 1992.  In our YouTube clip, Does Automation Make Sense, Clark walks through the issues a company needs to look at before automating a process.  In order to solve your problems, you need to know what they are.  Watch the video below as Setpoint discusses the steps of getting all the issues and opportunities out, setting a budget, determining your ROI (Return on Investment), and more so you can decide if automating is right for you.

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Starting Up a New Machine

February 19, 2009 by Chad

First of all, be safe.  There may be a lot of different people working on the same project, so you might finish wiring the panels and pneumatics on the machine that someone else started.  After the machine is complete and before you power up the whole machine, start your check out by pulling all the fuses, circuit breakers and such one at a time.  This way you can check different parts of the machine at different times, which can save you from running into bigger problems.  If you just power up the machine without doing this step and there’s something wired wrong, you could create a problem throughout the entire machine.

When you power up the machine, check the voltage one step at a time by plugging in the fuses and circuit breakers for the area you are checking one by one.  Check each component for their power, check the D/C (direct current) power the same as the A/C (alternating current).  If it doesn’t smoke you did a Good Job!

If it does smoke, look for what smoked.  Look for blown fuses or circuit breakers and such.  Look for incorrect wiring or voltage.  If the problem is found, fix the problem.  If no problem is found it could be a defective part.

Troubleshooting is just that, looking for the problem and going step by step to find out what is causing the problem.  Each machine is unique and different, sizes and ranges of voltage can differ as well as components.

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Lean Systems and Waste Elimination

February 12, 2009 by Tanya

Waste elimination is one of the most effective ways to increase the profitability of any business.  Processes either add value or they add waste to the production of a good or service.

To eliminate waste it is important to understand exactly what waste is and where it exists.  While products significantly differ between factories, the typical wastes found in environments are quite similar.  Anything that is unproductive, or doesn’t add value that a customer will pay for is considered muda or waste.  For each waste there is a strategy to reduce or eliminate its affect on a company, thereby improving the overall performance of the company.

Inventory is a waste that you see in many companies.  Inventory is the amount of materials or work-in-process (WIP) within the system.  Materials or work-in-process that hasn’t been sold to a customer represents unrecognized value.  Accelerating the process of converting raw materials into a product or service helps increase cash flow.  Reducing inventory or work-in-process reduces lead times and the amount of labor and capital.  There are many reasons why companies have excessive amounts of inventory, but in a lean system the reasons need to add value.

Examples of inventory waste could include some or all of the following:

  • Parts not needed (over-orders or not figured out yet)
  • Material ordered too soon
  • Material and tools on hand but not being used (spares)
  • Material and tools not needed (extra)
  • Material and tools over-purchased
  • Material and tools purchased for “just in case”
  • Material and tools lost, or not returned
  • Not returning excess for return credit back to a vendor
  • Not completing paperwork associated with returns to vendor (RMA)
  • Over-purchasing of supplies, forms, envelopes, marketing material, etc.
  • Storage and movement of over-supply
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