Carriers replace festoons in automated storage

Weldon Solutions, York, Pa., makes automated systems for bakeries to facilitate pan storage and retrieval. New cable carrier systems eliminate space and clearance issues and significantly reduce installation time and maintenance requirements. Weldon uses plastic cable carriers and continuous-flex cables from igus inc., East Providence, R.I., on its automated storage systems. They replace festoon systems that required more space and frequent and costly maintenance. The previous systems involved cables dangling from above, which meant that any dust or dirt caught in the system fell on top of exposed food and containers. The cable carrier system eliminated this potential health risk because it can be mounted below the storage and retrieval system, keeping any contaminants on the floor.

Charles Gales, automation sales manager for Weldon, says, “The Energy Chain's open design works well: The carrier can easily be blown out with an air hose, helping our bakery customers maintain a sanitary environment.”

Since 2000, the storage and retrieval systems have been equipped with an Energy Chain feature called Auto-Glide, which incorporates a ribbed design along the cable carrier's inner radius that interlocks to create integrated channels for the carrier to glide along. It can also be equipped with a positioning guide and floor bumpers that prevent the top of the chain from derailing or misaligning. Here, Weldon is able to eliminate the need for a trough even with cable carrier travels to 125 ft. “We have been using the carriers for more than eight years now and none of them have been replaced yet,” says Gales. For more information, visit www.igus.com.

Perfect stamps for the stacks

Imagine the activity in a plant that stamps three million pounds of steel per week into motor bases, fans, covers, and other components. Motor-maker Baldor Electric Co. has a plant in St. Louis, Mo., that does just that. One of the most delicate (but speedy) tasks is stamping out motor laminations — the thin sheets of electrical-grade steel stacked to form stator and rotor cores. Here, the presses run from 100 to 400 strokes per min., depending on product size. However, as a steel strip progresses from one station to another in the stamping die, even small impediments can cause it to buckle. When this happens, components can be damaged and the die must be unjammed. Reducing these events is the main reason that Baldor recently began using a StreamView LR high-speed camera from Southern Vision Systems, Madison, Ala.

In short, the St. Louis plant is ramping up production to meet a 2010 energy-bill deadline. Higher-efficiency motors require more numerous but thinner laminations per motor, so Baldor purchased a new stacker from Machine Concepts, Minster, Ohio. After installation, it had to be timed to the press at 220 strokes per min.

The high-speed camera helped to solve two troubling production issues. First issue solved: Two of the machine's servomotors move fingers, which enter to support the stacking arbor while a finished stack is moved away. These fingers slip between press strokes without hitting the lamination that is falling down the arbor. By watching high-speed video, it was easy to determine when it would be best to make the fingers advance.

Second issue solved: When a lamination is cut off at the end of the die, it falls onto the arbor. To the naked eye, it looks like it simply falls. However, the high-speed camera reveals that the lamination actually moves down the arbor in waves, a bit like a leaf falling from a tree. This showed that the arbor had to be modified so each lamination was clear before the next advances onto the arbor. Camera footage also proves that the punch (that cuts the lamination off at the arbor) needed redesign.

Without the high-speed camera, all of this would have been pure guesswork. Yavuz Bilecan, the St. Louis continuous improvement manager, says, “The high speed camera will reduce troubleshooting time for the operators, supervisors, engineering, and tool room. I am excited to have it.” See a video of the lamination-stamping process at machinedesign.com/video/svsi.

Sequencing system speeds up snail mail

“Faster, better, cheaper” is a mantra shared by large public companies, small firms, and government agencies alike, including quasi-governmental agencies like the United States Postal Service (USPS). A new automated Flats Sequencing System (FSS) that relies on material handling automation technology from Lenze-AC Tech, Uxbridge, Mass., will help the USPS speed up delivery and reduce operating costs.

“Flats” is the term the USPS uses to describe mail pieces larger than letters, but thinner than small packages. They include oversized envelopes, advertising circulars, and periodicals that account for more than 25% of total mail volume. The new FSS will sort machinable flat-sized mail, up to 16,500 pieces per hour, into the line of travel that letter carriers follow to deliver mail. According to Lenze officials, the FSS includes 100 highly automated, advanced sortation systems, and there are plans to turn this installation into the world's largest single material handling project.

Motion control is a key aspect of automated sorting. Steven Smidler, executive vice president of Lenze Americas, states that a longtime partnership that includes MDCI Automation, Hatfield, Pa., continued to return successful results for the postal service.

“Working with the system integrators at MDCI, designers chose our components to optimize the automation in the sorting of flat mail,” explains Smidler. “The goal was to minimize human intervention, and our motion control products allow computers with sophisticated algorithms to communicate directly with the drives and instruct them on where and when to move the flats.” Lenze's products in the new FSS range from compact servos to gearmotors, networked for minimal wiring and maximum coordination and precise control. For more information, visit www.lenze-actech.com.

Uncle Sam validates automation profession

Coinciding with Al Franken's eight-month contentious ascent to the U.S. Senate, automation professionals everywhere can look themselves in the mirror and say, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” The Automation Federation reports that two groups within the U.S. government have formally recognized the automation profession. The first occurred June 30 when the Senate Committee on Appropriations included language in their 2010 congressional budget report that recognizes the importance of automation for the future of manufacturing in the U.S. The language directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) to consider the importance that automation plays in accelerating and integrating manufacturing processes. The language also encourages NIST and MEP to consult and collaborate with independent experts in the field of automation.

The second nod occurred July 16, when the U.S. Dept. of Education revised the 2010 Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) to include new codes for two automation professions: Automation Engineer Technology/Technician is described as “a program that prepares individuals to apply basic engineering principles and technical skills in support of engineers … engaged in developing, installing, calibrating, modifying, and maintaining automated systems.” Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering is described as “a program that prepares individuals to apply mathematical and scientific principles to the design, development, and operational evaluation of computer controlled electro-mechanical systems and products with embedded electronics, sensors, and actuators; and which includes … robots, and automation systems.”

Kim Miller-Dunn, chair of the Automation Federation, says, “Automation professionals everywhere should celebrate this recognition from the U.S. Senate and Dept. of Education. This language brings us one step closer to the recognition and esteem automation professionals have long been denied.” For more information, visit www.automationfederation.org.