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The System Integrator’s Role in Recovery from Pandemic-Driven Disruption

Thus far in 2021, you have not had to look hard to find a manufacturing business with a “Help Wanted” sign adorning their frontage. Here in northeast Ohio, talk radio has become a sounding board for business leaders to vent on a common theme: “We are unable to fill our demand due to labor shortages bottlenecking our operations.”

"Now Hiring" banner in front of a business

The root cause of our current labor shortage problem is beyond the scope of this article, as well as, outside the influence of the typical business manager. Here at Steelastic, we know through contacts within our automation supply chain, that many manufacturers have reacted to this problem by streamlining labor intensive operations with automation. This is accomplished by integrating sensing technology and/or material handling, including robotics, into their existing production systems.

Steelastic

Keys to System Integration

Over the past 51 years, Steelastic have forged a name for ourselves in engineering and manufacture of high precision, tire component production lines, citing nearly 800 installations in this time span. Eighty percent of these turnkey systems entail integration of mechanical, electrical, and software systems to the end of encapsulating horizontally spaced rows of steel tire cords with rubber in a continuous process.

Steel tire cords

In this experience, we have learned that system integration requires an extensive collection of tools and skillsets. To name a few of these keys:

  • High proficiency in mechanical, electrical, and software engineering fundamentals.
  • Knowledge of industry standards, especially safety related.
  • Intimacy with numerous software interfaces.
  • High skill level in fine tuning of hardware, including troubleshooting.
  • Continual awareness of the offerings of the automation market.
  • Longstanding relationships with the suppliers that serve us the solutions that we make our livings from integrating together.

Steelastic’s reputation is founded in a niche area of tire manufacturing, but we are well equipped to take on the broader challenges of numerous markets.

Automation Integration Examples

Proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control integration

Armored drain cableA drain cleaning equipment manufacturer uses a spring coiling machine to produce their armored drain cable. Part of their process involves induction heating of the cable once it is downstream of the coiling operation.

Historically, part of the operator’s responsibility was to measure the cable temperature, then adjust the heater output as necessary for the cable to achieve the required temperature. As the line speed varies, the heater output must be readjusted to maintain the required temperature. This manual, “open loop” process was eliminated by sourcing a sensor that could accurately measure the temperature of the cables reflective surface, then integrating this feedback into the heater output control.

From the customer’s perspective, this operator task was eliminated. The integration enables the employee to accomplish other tasks, and it reduced the level of “knowhow” required by the position, potentially making it easier to fill in the future.

The first key to getting this done successfully and in short order was Steelastic knew who to call to obtain a sensor that could accurately measure the temperature of this reflective surface. From there, our core skill set of setting up a PID control was deployed.

A typical manufacturing operation contains hundreds of similar labor streamlining opportunities throughout their facilities.

Unloader integration

There are countless examples of industrial production systems that require an operator to stand at the downstream end of the line, perform a “last-ditch” spot check that the product is defect free, and intervene in the event that a “bad one” comes through. This scenario is an unenviable task, filled with potential for errors, and a classic opportunity for automation enhancement.

Automated robot checking for defectsSteelastic routinely develop unload solutions for our production lines. We have hundreds of examples of both integrated “catalog” material handling and vision components, as well as, custom designed gantry and end effector tooling systems. Our broad experience with the non-liner materials utilized in tire production have made us accustomed to handling difficult to manipulate objects and materials.

From the customer’s perspective, this type of integration often eliminates the need for an employee to man the end of the line and will improve the quality level, considering that machine’s minds do not wander, nor become distracted by Instagram posts.

The keys to success here include:

  1. Knowledge of the sensing technology that will best replace the human eye which will net the pass/fail signal. This entails, not only, knowing the options available on the market, but also, how to tune and program these devices. Programing often involves development of complex algorithms that effectively teach the system to interpret what a “bad one” looks like from the data that is output from the sensing technology deployed.
    Cognex
  2. Proficiency with the software technology used to coordinate the servo motors used to power the specific material handling device employed to remove the “bad one” before it is mixed with the “good ones”.
  3. Experience with the design of the tooling necessary to accurately and repeatably pick and place the product requiring handling.
  4. Most importantly, high competency in the practice of implementing this type of integration without putting workers in harm’s way. This requires proper utilization of safety devices in adherence to industry standards.

automated integrations

In closing, the pandemic has clearly disrupted our near-term world; however, it will likely have lasting effects on the workplace, in terms of where personnel do their work, as well as what duties they are charged with out on the production floor.

Is your business ready to streamline labor intensive operations with automation? Contact us today.

Author

V.P. of Engineering, Jack Papes has been a passionate designer of machines and systems for the past 33 years and has enjoyed the pleasure of leading the Steelastic-RMS engineering team since 2014.

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