Companies Looking to Design and Build Their Own Automation Equipment Might Do Better Working With a Contract Manufacturer

May 3, 2010
Companies looking to design and build their own automation equipment might do better working with a contract manufacturer
Pat Phillips
Engineering Manager
Haumiller Engineering
Elgin, Ill

There was a time when manufacturers knew their products best and would build their own assembly equipment. But today, changes have made designing and building in-house assembly-automation equipment more difficult. Demands for shorter runs, higher volumes, more size and shape variations, and more-complex assemblies, not to mention much leaner staffs focused on core competencies, have most companies looking beyond their walls for assembly-automation expertise.

Outsourcing to contract manufacturers that specialize in high-speed assembly equipment can yield much better results than could be achieved in-house. These benefits include faster, more-accurate, yet smaller equipment.

Engineers at firms focused on assembly automation usually have a store of knowledge and experience from their work on many different systems. They can apply that expertise to quickly meet the requirements of a given application. Their experience is also valuable in addressing the pressing demands of today’s consumer product and medical-device markets.

For example, a decade or more ago there were a limited number of spray-can tips. Today practically every spray-can-making company has an array of tips with different designs and aesthetics. Having a separate machine assembling each type of tip a manufacturer might handle isn’t feasible. A single machine that can assemble every tip is ideal. But designing such a machine takes highly specialized expertise.

Working with automation contract manufacturers doesn’t mean in-house design teams are completely separated from the development process. On the contrary, assembly-automation designers need specific data from customers to ensure the machine fits the application and will be built on schedule and on budget.

In general, contract manufacturers might be asked to develop equipment for an OEM or for a “job shop” where the firm makes parts for several OEMs. Each has different needs.

Job shops are often crowded with machinery for making a wide range of parts. When it needs specialized equipment for a part, available space and machine footprint become a primary concern. So the contract manufacturer can make the machine small enough so it fits on the floor and be bypassed when not in use. The busy production environment of a job shop also makes ruggedness and durability important.

In OEM facilities, equipment is more standardized and permanent. To maintain consistent production, outsourced equipment will need to be more carefully integrated into the workflow.

Either way, automation contract manufacturers need to understand the production environment if they are to deliver machines that meet the clients’ needs.

Contract manufacturers also need to know what level of performance the machines must have. This includes major factors such as output speed (parts per minute), efficiency, and safety. From there, it breaks down once again into the differences between job shops and OEMs. Engineers from OEMs often provide the most-restrictive specifications. There may be a need for user interfaces, alarm messages, wiring specs, PLCs, control platforms, machine access, methods and materials of construction, and many other elements that must conform, even down to the paint color.

All these specs provide more compatibility and communication between machines, and help operators already familiar with similar machines.

Job shops often provide specs that focus solely on the major issues: output, efficiency, and safety. In many cases, the only other issues are size and on-time delivery.

Whether job shop or OEM, the more specific the requirements, the higher the price may be on the final equipment. So ensure all requirements are really necessary. This lets the contract manufacturer build the machine in the most efficient and cost effective way possible. md

Haumiller Engineering ( builds high-speed automated assembly solutions for industries such as consumer-packaged goods, medical devices, and various others.

Copyright 2010, Penton Media Inc. All rights reserved.

Edited by Stephen Mraz

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