Insights and strategic suggestions from Allied Automation professionals on key trends and challenges related to the automation industry.
This should not come as news to CED members, but perhaps the essential step any startup company can take to ensure success is to partner effectively. The great entrepreneurs know to surround themselves with quality vendors early. This policy extends to manufacturing – having a number of resources at hand will help make the manufacturing process efficient and effective.
Entrepreneurs can look in several places to locate the experts they need. CED is a terrific start. Another valuable resource is Wake County Economic Development, a program of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce devoted to economic development initiatives in Wake County. The Internet affords today’s entrepreneurs tremendous search capabilities to point startups to the very best partners.
I find that it works well to contact people who are in a similar field but do not specialize in the area in which you are looking for help. These contacts usually can recommend a company or individual with the needed expertise. For example, if a startup needs a specialized friction material made, it could reach out to clutch companies; two or three of those companies might recommend the same source for special friction material, and the “expert” materializes.
It is important to note that the partners an entrepreneur might select need to have that person’s best interests in mind. The personal relationships developed can be truly invaluable. Meeting with key contacts in person and ensuring that both parties see eye-to-eye on goals and approaches to problem solving is critical to building the trust necessary in any fruitful partnership.
One of our customers recently partnered early with Allied Automation, as well as a molding group and an extrusion company. The product development team already had a prototype product in testing and needed to finalize the design for a launch. We were able to work with the design group and others to fine tune the design for mass production. The molding company was able to provide input on features, which saved money on mold tooling. And the extrusion group was able to set realistic expectations for part tolerances that could be maintained long term and cost-effectively. We added certain features that allowed for more cost-effective parts feeding and more reliable assembly of components. This early partnering resulted in the successful launch of a product on time and on budget. The long term prospects for production and sales look good – the assembly is designed around real world manufacturing tolerances, and the tooling, from molds to extrusions to automated equipment, has been simplified as much as possible.
Here are some key tips that entrepreneurs should consider as they prepare for the manufacturing process:
Consider all phases of product development. A weak link in the development process can create gridlock for the entire project. Companies should go over the entire product development process with a fine-tooth comb to create a balanced workflow that will not lead to any unnecessary spending. Entrepreneurs want to have expert oversight for every aspect, from concept signoff to getting the completed product out of the door.
Develop a manufacturable product. I frequently see companies that have developed great, useful products that cannot be effectively manufactured by machines. Consider taking products as early as the concept stage to a manufacturing or automation company to confirm that they will stand up to mass manufacturing.
Identify the expert groups early. There is immense value in pinpointing those partners who can limit errors or miscalculations in product development before they happen. For example, the introduction of an expert vendor into a product’s validation stage, such as a patent attorney, can help to establish a sound structure. We have encouraged our clients to address their product molds well in advance to ensure that they can be produced at a sufficient speed.
Do not sacrifice value through cost-cutting. It does not always pay off to be a spendthrift. Product development requires critical attention and care; entrepreneurs need to be able to recognize the scale of talent and the value of partners who can provide a seamless process. Do not use a graduate student with limited credentials for validation simply because that individual will do it at a low rate.
CED member and guest columnist Jeff Graham is president of Allied Automation, a full-service automation group based in Apex. If you have any questions about best practices in manufacturing and production, he can be reached via e-mail (email@example.com) or telephone (919-362-4440).
This white paper will discuss Allied Automation’s approach to successfully handling fragile parts within any production process. The paper will detail how Allied Automation makes the assembly of fragile liquid adhesive applicator products more efficient and intelligent through the use of an innovative multi-component system. It will explain the tangible benefits, efficiencies and reliability associated with using this custom system.
Handle With Care
Think about the last time you moved a box of glass or other breakables. Handle with care, the box probably warned you. Perhaps you have witnessed the repercussions of failing to properly adhere to that warning.
Fragile parts can be found in all sorts of products, from first aid and bee sting kits to cosmetics. They are responsible for making our lives easier, but they require special attention during any automated manufacturing process.
Fragile parts such as glass or clear plastics are common, yet integral, parts to many of the products we use every day. Allied Automation frequently devotes its systems, tooling – and energy – to developing manufacturing technology for products involving fragile parts. A number of industries require the automated handling, inspection, and assembly of fragile parts, and the level of care given to production processes can dramatically change when handling these parts.
Making The Production Process Fragile Part-Friendly
Allied Automation’s approach to system design is simple: because every company has different needs, our machines are customized to the exact specifics of each client. These custom applications tap the best technology available in order to create a positive automation process. We have spent more than 20 years working to provide reliability and efficiency to our clients’ automation needs, especially with regard to the handling of fragile parts.
Customized machines allow for greater precision and flexibility. When handling fragile parts, such as onion skin ampoules (small glass tubes containing fluid or powder), the automation system might need to move one ampoule per second. At this pace, the implementation of technology to avoid breakage and provide accessibility for cleanup resulting from product breaks or spills is absolutely integral to successful production. The most critical element within the process likely occurs when fragile parts are initially fed (“parts feeding”) into the machine. At this juncture, the risk of breakage or product damage is at its highest. To counter this, we conduct rigorous research and are extremely careful in selecting how best to feed those parts.
One example of innovative product preservation is the use of tooling nests to transport multiple glass components. Another “lesson learned” is to not give up quality in order to boost quantity – that is, we may prefer to avoid handling glass or clear plastics at extremely high speeds since the failure rate for broken parts can dramatically rise. To combat scratching or otherwise compromising fragile parts such as clear plastics, Allied will use Delrin or another polymer proven to be reliable in order to ease the process. We also may use brushlon materials in parts feeding equipment to prevent the parts from rubbing against abrasive surfaces.
Our Liquid Adhesive Applicator Product Machine
Allied Automation designed and built a machine that exemplifies our commitment to improving the handling of fragile parts. The system consists of an eight-station dial assembly machine operating in a four-part-per-station configuration, working in tandem with a recirculating puck conveyor system handling eight parts per puck. This machine assembles liquid adhesive applicator products – products that can be found in first aid kits, chemical applications and more. The machine’s dial system can process up to 32 assemblies, while the exit conveyor system’s pucks can move up to 800 parts. Only two people are needed to operate the entire machine.
The concepts behind the machine are highly customizable. This machine handles two product sizes – 52 millimeters and 72 millimeters in length, respectively, with a common diameter of eight millimeters – but we can make adjustments to allow for virtually any dimension. For this specific machine, we made throughput efficient by optimizing the design to handle the customer’s specific press fit and height tolerance needs.
We solved a number of issues in order to create a machine concept that could be easily adjusted and maintain certain specifications. One was the generation of static electricity; we found that parts feeding equipment for thin plastic parts created a static charge issue, and implemented changes to minimize this undesired byproduct. Yet another working solution was to develop a reliable delivery process for thin glass ampoules full of glue in a manner that does not impede production. And finally, we implemented nine assembly, inspection and test stations into the system, from sensors for inspection to a linear encoder-based contact probe measurement system with an automated calibration sequence.
The end result is a production rate of 4,200 parts per hour. At that rate, our machine was able to achieve 90,000 individual assembled products per day.
Successful entrepreneurs know to seek out quality partners early on in a project or a startup venture. Not only will partners help flesh out your ideas, but they can also help your company save money by providing cost-effective solutions from the start—solutions you may never have considered on your own.
In manufacturing, for example, having a number of resources at hand helps make the process more efficient and effective. One of our customers recently partnered early on in a project with us and also with a molding group and an extrusion company. The product development team already had a prototype product in testing and needed to finalize the design for a launch. We were able to work with the design group and others to fine-tune the design for mass production.
The molding company was able to provide input on features, which saved money on mold tooling. And the extrusion group was able to set realistic expectations for part tolerances that could be maintained long term and cost-effectively. We added certain features that allowed for more cost-effective parts feeding and more reliable assembly of components.
This early partnering resulted in the successful launch of a product on time and on budget. The long-term prospects for production and sales look good – the assembly is designed around real-world manufacturing tolerances, and the tooling, from molds to extrusions to automated equipment, has been simplified as much as possible.
Where To Locate Partners
You can look in several places to locate the experts you need. I find that it works well to contact people who are in a similar field but do not specialize in the area in which you need help. These contacts usually can recommend a company or individual with the needed expertise.
What To Look For In Partners
- Look for partners with a broad range of experience and understanding of the many facets involved with product development – product design, manufacturing practices, materials, etc.
- Create a team where everyone has a basic understanding of what the other team members bring to the table.
- Contact suppliers and vendors to find out who is experienced in implementation for devices or equipment. Your expert materializes when people start giving you the same name.
- Consider the patent aspect early on if you are developing a product. Talk to a patent attorney to get a flavor of the expenses and timeline involved. An attorney can also inform you about the next steps, such as raising investment capital.
Partners can help you identify timelines and estimate what it will take in terms of manpower, resources and capital to bring a product to market. If you are like most entrepreneurs, you have your own ideas about how to reach your goals. If you start down a path and bring a partner’s ideas into the mix quickly, it can save you time and money. And what you find out early on may save you from getting an unpleasant eye-opener mid-way through.
Jeff Graham is president of Allied Automation, a full-service automation group that offers a complete system integration of custom automation equipment from conceptualization through design and fabrication.
For more information, visit www.alliedautomation.com.