Category “Creative Thinking”

Tie Rod Frame vs. C-Frame

April 9, 2014 by Nick

Winner: Tie Rod Frame

Tie Rod Press with Dial TableIn the past, the C-frame press design made it easier to feed in product or change dies. The downside of the C-frame is deflection – where the frame will bend outward under the pressure of the load – which
will cause deformities in your part, and ultimately lead to inconsistent and erroneous parts. In our ammunition case manufacturing equipment we need absolute precision and a lot of force. So we needed a better solution.

The result is the development of a modular H-frame frame press. The H-frame consists of blocks, tie-rods and spacers. With this press we are able to achieve .001 shut height accuracy with 20 ton’s force; and due to it’s modular design we are able to mount the press to an automated dial table and index parts through it.  Now, with the ability to run parts through an H-frame press we can produce precision parts with high tonnage and minimal deflection in an automated application.



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Setpoint used Picatinny Mounting System for 10 Minute Tooling Changeovers

December 18, 2013 by Setpoint

In the military, soldiers need to be able to change optics, lights, and accessories on their firearms quickly and efficiently. In manufacturing, we should be able to change tooling on our production machines quickly as well to give them maximum flexibility, but that is seldom the case. By drawing inspiration from firearms, Setpoint is making tooling changes simpler and faster than most of us would have ever imagined.

Setpoint has a revolutionary ammunition loading machine that combines speed, capability, usability, and versatility with tooling changeovers that are ultra-fast. Some ammunition producers avoid changeovers because they’re slow and complicated, and it’s easier to have multiple machines than to change the tooling. Setpoint’s lean approach maximizes flexibility, so quick and simple changeovers were a requirement for our system.

Picatinny Mounting System

Our engineer Aaron Stampick developed an idea to use the Picatinny mounting system used by the firearms industry for a solution. Picatinny rails and mounts allow any scope, light, or other accessory that is built to the Picatinny Military Specifications to fit together properly and consistently. The system is inexpensive, readily available, standardized, and accurate.  Many manufacturers of Picatinny rail-based optics mounts advertise that their products return within 1/60 of a degree of the original mounting orientation.

Picatinny Mounting System

Setpoint’s new machine uses Picatinny mounts with a cammed throw lever so that tooling changes take seconds and require no tools. Repurposing an existing technology provided a fast, simple, reliable, and very cost-effective solution to ultra-quick-change tooling. Setpoint continues to find more ways to utilize the Picatinny mounting system, allowing quick-change tooling throughout the entire loading machine.

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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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Discovering and Resolving Problems

April 1, 2010 by Brad

In any organization that intends to exist for an extended time period, learning is critical. Not repeating mistake allows a business increased profitability. Someone once said (I can’t remember who) something like – “the school of hard knocks is a hard school to go through, but only fools return”.

Over the years Setpoint has been, is, and will continue to be an engineering centric business. Most of the projects we build have never been built before; most are completely clean sheet designs, meaning that no one is quite sure what this machine will end up looking like. This means that there will be multiple iterations as we develop the machine. It is critical to our success that we discover our mistakes as soon as possible to reduce our costs. The table below illustrates how critical it is to discover the problems as soon as possible.

When Mistake is Discovered and Fixed

Relative Cost to Fix

Designing at the white board $1.00
Designing in CAD system $10.00
During build of machine $100.00
During debug phase $1,000.00
After installing at customer site $10,000.00

Over time we have developed some unwritten rules that we use to help us down the development path. For this blog we sat down and wrote down the ones that matter to Setpoint.  These are in no particular order:

  • Right to left thinking – What are we really trying to solve here?  What must be solved, what would be nice to solve, what doesn’t matter if it is solved? What happens if we just leave it alone?  Is it really a problem?

  • Stop to think and drive towards root cause or what really needs to be solved, it is too easy to get caught up in ‘noise’.  Always ask the five whys

  • Evaluate and Prioritize: does this need to be resolved this instant, don’t get caught up in minor issues and miss a fundamental problem – (forest for the trees). Most problems don’t have to be solved this instant – a little time and thought usually pays big dividends

  • Take a system view of problem, don’t resolve one problem and create 3 others because you isolated the problem and disconnected it from how it has to interact with the rest the system

  • Don’t get designed into a corner, you may need Plan B – in fact it usually helps to have more than one legitimate idea as you move forward. This helps avoid sticking with a solution too long that should be discarded.

  • You can’t ‘will it to work’. And ”it might work” generally means it won’t work

  • Document all important work in a simple manner…your memory’s not that great and often results in faulty assumptions that somehow get turned into facts. Always pull the data to see what is really going on. Many so called facts are generally assumptions…if in doubt, treat it as an assumption and react accordingly

  • Turn the problem objective into a math problem if possible. Typically the guy with the equation wins.  It is easy to argue about subjective ideas like – that’ll never last, that’s not strong enough, or that’ll never make cycle time. Facts should rule in those kinds of discussions

  • When debugging, only change one thing at a time if possible…seems slow but it’s much faster long term. That way you know what worked and what didn’t.

  • When debugging, document a known ‘baseline’ that can be returned to when you’ve tried 4 things & you can’t get anything to work anymore, if in doubt go back to the baseline.

  • Sometimes the best way to improve the Design Factor of a system is not by increasing the capability of the system but reducing the requirement…sounds obvious but it’s not.

  • When working on timing issues never forget parallel operations are your friend…once again, not always obvious

  • Watch for unaccounted moment loading in a design.  Forces are rarely overlooked; however, moments are commonly ignored

  • Is the process defined?  Because a process has been duplicated twice in a lab doesn’t mean it can be automated

  • What’s the simplest thing that could work?

  • Given enough time and money you can solve anything, is regularly heard on the engineering and assembly floors, and it is the enemy of profitability.

  • If you had to contribute your paycheck towards it would you still solve it that way?

  • And finally – What would Steve do?
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Value Curves

February 11, 2010 by Brad

As a pretty consistent reader of Harvard Business Review magazine, I find that there are many articles that are good and occasionally there articles that are very stimulating and worth remembering. Those articles make me think and give me new ideas to consider as we steer our business to be more successful. One of those articles that I read many years ago was, “Value Innovation – The Strategic Logic of High Growth”. It comes from the July/August 2004 issue. It is authored by W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. I pulled it up again and read it as we are trying to chart some new courses in our business. In addition to that article, they also have written a best selling book named Blue Ocean Strategy, you may have heard of it, it is also worth the read.

In the article they point out that most industries compete around the same points of competition and it becomes a race where everyone makes incremental changes in how they compete, but not very often does anyone truly have a breakthrough in how they approach the marketplace. The basis of the article is that incremental points of competition pushes the products or services towards commodity pricing and fights over small changes in market share, no big gains are possible with this strategy.

If you want to make major changes in your industry you have to think differently. Below is an example of their value curve research.

Value Curve

Every industry completes on certain factors. I’ve labeled this example with 6 factors that are along the X axis., there may be more or less in your industry. If there are too many, I’d suggest you boil them down to the few that really matter. It will be hard to figure out what to do if you have too many. Factors vary by industry, some may be the same and some will be unique to your industry. Examples of factors may be cost, features, size, quality, etc. Spend enough time to make sure you really have what the points of competition are, not what you wish they were.

Along the Y Axis we have a relative scale – from high to low, expensive to cheap, many features to few features, etc. depending on what the factor is, you get the idea.

In this example the existing competition is the blue solid line. Based on the factors you can see that the factors fall in different places to the relative scale. In a typical industry the competition will nudge these factors incrementally up and down the relative scale trying to gain market share, but not changing the Value Curve in any significant way.

In this example, a newcomer arrives with a completely new strategy. This is represented with the pink dashed line. You can see that this strategy completely redefines the blue value curve in which the current players compete. Pink is significantly changing how they are going to compete by significantly changing the relative value of factors 1, 5, and 6. If they are successful they should enjoy success and their research says they will enjoy many years of uncontested competition.

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5 S Process in an Assembly Shop

December 10, 2009 by Kara

Recently we talked about the 5 S process developed from the Toyota Production System.  Some believe that the 5 S process can only be implemented in a manufacturing environment and do not see the benefits of using this process to improve their work environment.  Here at Setpoint we have our design engineers in an office environment and our assembly technicians in a shop environment with both areas using the 5 S process.

We made a video and put it out on YouTube to walk through our shop and show how the 5 S Process can be implemented in an assembly environment where we build one machine and ship it, then build a completely different machine.

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An Interpretation from an engineer’s perspective

October 12, 2009 by MarkM

of “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam


I am only one member in a mechanical design team of seven engineers, together we are neck deep in machine design and mechanical problem solving.  I started reading this book with hopes of picking up good ideas to apply in a group setting when we are at the whiteboard solving design issues. I have found the book to be somewhat interesting, but not enough to press my colleagues to read it.  The book has some good ideas in it, such as the SQVID method of imagining.  In summary, the SQVID method gives you five questions to ask and mentally process before drawing a picture.  These five questions are:

  • Simple or Elaborate?
  • Quality or Quantity?
  • Vision vs. Execution (do you want to depict where you’re going or how to get there?)
  • Individual attributes vs. Comparison?
  • Delta (change) or Status Quo?  (In Dan’s words: “The way things are versus the way they could be.”)

Dan is not simply suggesting “a few good ideas” in The Back of the Napkin. He has created a text book to guide you into learning a powerful and disciplined approach to visual problem solving that works well for Dan. Trying these ideas once isn’t difficult.  To implement these into your person, make them habit, and integrate them into your mental framework, and restructure your ability to solve problems may take years of self discipline. For example, the <6><6> rule: “For every one of the six ways of seeing, there is one corresponding way of showing. For each one of these six ways of showing, there is a single visual framework that serves as a starting point.” Email me when you’ve managed to get a good grip on that one.  Next, consider Dan’s Four Cardinal Rules for Better Looking:

  1. Collect everything you can
  2. Lay it all out where you can look at it
  3. Establish fundamental coordinates
  4. practice visual triage

These four things make perfect sense, but memorizing them in one day is not enough.  Carrying around index cards with notes to remind you how to do it is impractical.  The challenge of rebuilding your mental stairways to solve problems, to restructure your thought process and become fluid at this can be the challenge of a lifetime. The truth is, you probably already do these four things and just don’t realize it because it happens so fast.  But Dan did an excellent job of capturing this process on paper where you can read the steps and do a self evaluation.

Many times as I have pondered Dan’s ideas, the recurring message I get is – in summary: “You don’t think very efficiently, try my way, it’s better.”  If you consider yourself an efficient thinker, this book will make you reconsider because Dan illustrates how his methods can be applied universally.  The book is not compelling to the merely curious, there is nothing ground-breaking for the visual thinker, and the ideas are not easily accessible in many ways to the analytical thinker.  For example, the Bird Dog Drill on page 75.  If any analytical person makes it to page 75 of Dan’s book, they will find this drill to be a tall challenge because it’s an exercise in endurance and continuity of visual thinking.  That being said, I am about 75% through the book and still not sure if I have already passed the “meat & potatoes” of Dan Roams’ core message.  If I did . . . what was it? 

It’s almost like Dan is telling me: “This is so easy, if you could just be cleverer by using a bit of visual ingenuity, you could draw a picture and this complex problem would suddenly become clear.” Or “Why are you making this problem so difficult, just draw an efficient, well conceived, simple yet calculated, and well diagrammed picture.”  . . .  My thoughts exactly, “do what?”

To be honest, I don’t know if I will finish it anytime soon.  Not that the book isn’t good, it’s just not groundbreaking and easily applied. But it’s interesting if you are a visual thinker.  In reading this book I feel like I am being told that to be a good problem solver I must remove my old problem solving tool belt and strap on a new one that only has a single marker in it with instructions that simply say, “Think differently, and draw more efficiently.”

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Deciding on the Direction for your Company

August 6, 2009 by Brad

Companies that remain static and don’t evolve will eventually lose their profit margins and sink into oblivion. At Setpoint, as we try and adapt to the changing landscape I have noticed several things in dealing with deciding our company’s direction.

First, change is hard. It is much easier to continue doing what has been done in the past, even if it is not getting the results it used to, and rarely have I seen an idea that just works right out of the gate.

You can’t do everything, and if you try to, it will result in spreading your resources (money, time, people) so thin that you cannot be successful at anything. One of the hardest things is, deciding what not to do. It is difficult because you tend think that you are potentially leaving money on the table, and you may be – but you are doing it to pursue a better idea with more potential.

We have found that some feel more passionately about an idea than others, so we have developed a rule that is simply “whoever has passion about an idea gets less than 50% of the vote”. This helps us make more objective decisions. Key message is, don’t be so in love with a strategy or idea that you can’t dispose of it when all the facts point that way.

You never have perfect information before a decision needs to be made. As a result, assumptions are made in order to make progress. The problem is, unless those assumptions are tracked and noted they tend to become facts over time, and often those assumptions are wrong. You have to revisit assumptions to validate, modify, or eliminate them to reflect new information you now have. Not doing so can lead to less than desirable outcomes.

At Setpoint we try and follow the philosophy of “fail faster”. In other words, if something is not going to work the sooner you identify it the cheaper it is for the company in terms of money, time, and people. Most ideas can be validated or eliminated without much cost or time if the key issues have been correctly identified. The few key remaining ideas can then claim your valuable resources.

The shorter iteration cycles the better; the clearer the objectives, the easier it will be to identify the key issues that need to be proved out in order to validate the direction.

These are some of the techniques we are using at Setpoint to decide our companies direction.

This process is an ongoing part of a healthy company’s life. So get on with it.

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Outsourcing IT Management

June 25, 2009 by Chuck

Information Technology (IT) has become a necessary component of today’s business culture.  If you own a business with more than 5 employees, it almost becomes a necessity.   In some form or fashion, you’re going to have to come up with a game plan to maintain and replace your current systems.  What works best?  Let’s talk about that.

If you’re a business with less than 100 computer using employees, you may find a lean philosophy will maximize IT efficiency as well as effectiveness.   Why?  Here are several reasons.

  1. Computer usage has become a common part of American culture.  Almost all sectors of professional life involve the use of a computer. When it comes to small IT tasks, just about any computer hobbyist at a company could manage and maintain software and hardware inventory, the ability to change a forgotten password, and add a printer to a workstation.  Depending on time availability of that employee, he or she could also handle email accounts and basic web site changes.
  2. Microsoft Windows is very stable.  I know, I know… you’ll always have a small percentage of PCs that will tend to crash.   This is more about the law of averages than the quality of Windows.  Generally speaking, a well made, properly installed Windows XP or Vista (and soon to be Windows 7) PC with up to date antivirus and antispyware software will be very solid.  The small stuff is usually easy to fix but what happens when you get a virus or spyware on your computer?  That’s when you need an IT professional.
  3. Difficult server, router, and security tasks are infrequent.   Don’t get me wrong, the need for expert IT professionals is still necessary and vital to the health of any business, but in order for an IT person to be proficient and up to date requires both constant training as well as exposure to these types of problems.
  4. Attrition of employees.  Generally speaking, good employees tend to be here today, gone tomorrow.  Just about every employee is looking to increase his or her leverage in the current job market.   Hey, if you could get a better paying job, with more benefits, and a better boss – wouldn’t you leave?  Of course you would.   Well paid professionals that outsource (in my experience) tend to stick around for much longer periods of time.
  5. The high cost of professional training and equipment.  Training and professional trouble shooting equipment range in the thousands.
  6. Managing and providing HR benefits.


What then do businesses need to outsource?

  1. File, print, email, web, and SQL server installation and maintenance
  2. Routers and firewalls
  3. Security implementation policies and procedures
  4. Remote computing access
  5. Budget planning and new business solutions
  6. Workstation hardware and software policies


After owning my own IT Company for 11+ years now, I have found that companies that outsource their top level IT needs save money.

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