See the bigger picture

Posted on 20 Jul 2014 by The Manufacturer

Robert Brooks, product marketing manager at Omron states the case for taking a holistic approach when looking at the aspects of machine building.

The pace of change in the machine building industry is always rapid and the technological advances over the past quarter of a century have resulted in unprecedented leaps forward in speed and productivity.

Exacting customer demands have also prompted innovations in machine flexibility and efficiency. UK machine builders are now under more pressure than ever to develop solutions that are faster, more efficient, more flexible and more reliable, while remaining competitively priced. The conundrum is how to incorporate the best that new technology has to offer, without significantly increasing the cost to the customer.

One of the key areas in which machine building has improved is speed. With manufacturers continuously looking at ways to improve production line efficiency, the preferred approach is to increase line speed, maximising the throughput of the machine to produce more products, faster. While automated inspection is now widely adopted in modern manufacturing systems as machine speeds have increased, vision systems haven’t been able to keep up and in some cases have become the limiting factor on a production line.

Recently launched, Omron’s FH vision systems are built for speed so bottlenecks caused by inspection solutions are now a distant thought.

When selecting the right technology for a project, machine builders must ensure that speed goes hand in hand with productivity; end-users will expect a machine which is not only fast but also efficient, accurate and reliable, producing quality products with a minimum of downtime. Omron’s new Sysmac automation platform, a complete family of automation products encompassing the machine controller, servos, inverters, vision, I/O, safety and robotics, communicates on a single, open high performance network – EtherCAT. Programmed from within a single software package, Sysmac Studio, it promises the highest possible performance while accelerating development time and helping to reduce and eliminate programming errors.

An efficient, integrated automation platform can bring numerous benefits to both machine builder and end-user alike, but it’s also crucial that today’s machines can adapt to different applications quickly and easily. With manufacturers constantly expanding and improving their product range, flexibility is key and machines that can facilitate production line modifications are more in demand than ever before. Omron’s new Fieldbusenabled N-Smart range of sensors can be configured automatically from the machine controller. This particularly benefits companies with high levels of product changeover, negating the need for manual reconfiguration during changeover periods which eliminates human error, reduces downtime and improves machine efficiency.

So, with speed, efficiency, productivity, minimal downtime and flexibility high on the agenda of today’s manufacturers, remaining competitive on price in the face of alternatives from low-cost economies would seem an impossible achievement for the UK machine building sector. However this is not necessarily so. The key to fulfilling all customer requirements – including value for money – is to approach a project holistically. When making their technology selection, machine builders should bear in mind the overall benefits of a system versus the price of individual components. It is therefore crucial to consider the lifetime cost benefits of a system to the end-user, not just the initial purchase price.

Fortunately, the latest automation technologies provide machine builders with all the tools they need to develop superior machine designs more quickly and cost-effectively.