Category “Custom Automation”

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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History of Setpoint Ammunition Manufacturing Equipment

May 28, 2014 by Nick

Ammo Case Forming MachineIn the early 1940s, mass-production ammunition manufacturing systems were complex assembly lines of crank presses, leather-belt driven lathes, batch processing, and loose tolerances. Quality was literally “inspected into the product” by humans sorting through all the finished cartridges, gauging and measuring to determine if a given part was “within spec” and then discarding the ones that fell outside of the established ranges. Sixty five years later, by 2007, this antiquated manufacturing process…….was exactly the same.

In 2008 the US Army commissioned Setpoint Systems to look at the entire process of case manufacturing from a whole new perspective. Utilizing lean manufacturing principles and over 20 years of automation experience, Setpoint Systems developed an automated case manufacturing system that has finally ushered the ancient art of case forming into the 21st century. By combining key principles of renowned lean manufacturing principles with our extensive automation experience in aerospace, automotive, and medical industries, Setpoint Systems has now set the bar to an unprecedented level for precision case manufacturing. And not only are the cases that come out of the Setpoint system more precise and consistent, they’re cheaper to make too. And the benefits don’t stop there.

By design, the case line equipment is able to produce parts at whatever rate of demand that the market currently dictates. This allows you to quickly eliminate all those nasty hidden inventory costs and the space required to store it. Think of it as “Just In Time Ammo”.

The Setpoint case forming system is controlled with industrial Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), consequently, modifications to processing parameters such as changing pocket depth, head diameter, and/or Case Cell Electrical Paneloverall length (OAL) of the cases can be achieved with mere computer key strokes rather than specialty tools, skilled labor, and a week of down time. Sounds more like a true 21st century process now, doesn’t it?

By integrating all the case forming processes into one machine, a whole litany of product inspections are also able to be integrated into the process. This eliminates the need for human inspections after the processes are complete, and consequently provides a level of quality assurance never before realized in the industry. Because these automated inspections are completed in real-time, during the process, the chance of passing inferior parts downstream is virtually eliminated. Setpoint’s proprietary in-process tracking logic ensures that every part meets or exceeds quality standards after each step of the process, and that non-conforming material is immediately recognized and properly dispositioned out of the system. The end result is a higher level of quality and consistency and therefore, more cost effective manufacturing.

Benefits of Setpoint Ammunition Manufacturing Equipment


Throughout the engineering and design process, Setpoint thoroughly examined every step of the legacy case forming process. Each individual sub-process was completely dissected and examined in great detail. The team was looking for ways to improve on the existing methods, as well as ways to integrate all of the processes together in a single-part flow process. The results of this effort were all of the aforementioned process enhancements, as well as a dramatic decrease in the amount of space required for a case line system.
Some of the specific improvements of the Setpoint case forming system worth noting are:

  • Reduced scrap production
  • Reduced labor requirementsFinished Brass Cases
  • Reduced inventory expensesFinished Brass Cases
  • Increase in product quality
  • 70% reduction in floor space requirements
  • Increased equipment up time
  • Increased flexibility in production and planning
  • 3 washes eliminated
  • 97% reduction of manual transportation
  • In-process automated quality inspection


Setpoint has taken lessons learned from the LCAAP project and refined each process for our second generation case manufacturing equipment, to consistently manufacture brass cartridge cases to an even higher quality standard than current Mil-Std.  In addition to case manufacturing, Setpoint has taken the time to understand and refine the process for taking the finished case to fully loaded ammunition in the development of the ammo primer and ammo loader.  Now you can set up your ammunition production from start to finish with Setpoint.

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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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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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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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Using Creative Thinking Every Day to Solve Problems

April 9, 2009 by Bryan

Who has heard of the acronym TRIZ?  Until a few months ago, it would have meant nothing to me except as four nicely arranged capital letters.  Honestly I still don’t know what the terminology of the acronym is because it is derived from a Russian phrase meaning “Theory of Solving Inventor’s Problems.”  I do, however, have a basic understanding of the principles of TRIZ and how to apply them.  TRIZ is a bunch of principles that can be used to solve any problem that you may encounter.  This applies to work, home, play, or anywhere else.  TRIZ was developed by G.S. Altshuller, a Russian, as a means to solve problems.  There are 40 TRIZ principles that can help you out.  You can Google TRIZ to find out more about TRIZ and its uses.  For now, I am going to relate a recent example where we have used the principles of TRIZ.

We are currently in the design phase on a fairly large machine.  Space and cost are issues with this project.  The machine will be building parts that have a very defined manufacturing process with many steps.  For us, we have mimicked the original process as best as we could.  Our machine started out with 3 dial tables, with each one costing a sizeable chunk of cash.  After laying out the machine and realizing that we had many open stations, we decided to change the order of operations, cleared this with our customer, and placed a particular operation up closer to the front of the process.  This allowed us to remove a dial table from the machine saving us some much-needed real estate, and a bunch of money. 

These principles have become a part of our culture here at Setpoint.  I am quite certain that when this decision was made we were not intentionally applying a TRIZ principle, even though we did.  The principle we applied was Merging.  We took a similar process and placed them side-by-side.

There are many more examples of where we solved a problem by applying a TRIZ principle on this project.  What we have learned is if you get to a place where you are stuck, pull up the TRIZ principles on the net and go through them one by one and see if one of them will help solve your problem.

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Project Management: The Balance of Time and Money

February 24, 2009 by Bob

Managing a project consists of many tasks that need to be scheduled, delegated to the members of the team, completed, and followed up on by the project manager in order for the project to be successful.

One of the main tasks of the project manager is to track the overall progress and profitability of the project by the total hours and cost of goods charged to the project compared to what the bid has allotted.  At Setpoint we have an open book policy for all projects.  Anyone can go to the team board and see exactly what the progress is of any project at any time.  This board shows the project revenue, the bid cost of good sold (COGS), actual COGS, project gross profit (GP), earned GP, percent complete, the week’s hours, the week’s GP, the week’s GP per hour, and the GP per hour to date for each project.

Reporting these numbers can sometimes be a tightrope walk for the project manager who reports the progress of each of his projects to management and the team of assemblers and programmers working on them.  The management team wants answers to why the progress of the project is behind the forecast numbers he gave them at the beginning of the month.  The assembly and programming team members working on the project are wondering why the hourly rate is so low or they are expecting the percent complete to be much higher.  There are usually good answers for both teams.

As a project manager, I take the conservative approach.  Sometimes a projects progress is well ahead of the hours that were in the bid, and sometimes the cost of goods is less than what is in the bid.  This doesn’t often happen, but when it does I don’t like to take all the “good news” on the progress report until I am sure that all the parts have been accounted for in accounts payable and the majority of the debugging has been done on the machine.  Some people might call this “sandbagging,” I call it proper project management.  Can you be too conservative?  Sure you can.  But I ask you this; would you rather take all the “good news” at the point of discovery and find out later that one of the key, and very costly, components was not accounted for or was overlooked in the procurement state?  Maybe you find out the scope of the project was not communicated to the programmer correctly and you now have two more weeks of programming to do.  This is usually not the norm, but it happens.  You now have costs or time you need to “give back” on the next progress report, or several reports, making it look like you have made no progress when the team is still working hard on the project.

Yes, in reality the end result should be the same; but let’s say your team can earn bonuses for completing projects ahead of schedule and below cost.  I for one do not want to get the team excited about their efficiency and the prospect of getting a bonus for their efforts one week just to have it taken back the next.  It doesn’t help the morale of the team.  There is a “happy medium” for claiming the ‘good news” that differs from project to project.  This is one of the hardest tasks to conquer for a project manager.

So call me a “sandbagger,” I’m ok with that.

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