Markets for everything from electronics to automobiles are changing rapidly, pressuring manufacturers to deliver quality and reliability at the lowest possible cost. This is leading manufacturers to continually explore new ways to improve their processes.
For example, the recent global supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic have placed huge stresses on businesses, favoring those suppliers that can recognize and adapt quickly by leveraging automation. The pandemic has also dramatically altered the availability of labor.
Fortunately, automation enables manufacturers to quickly change their product mix in accordance with changing material supply, as well as expand production capabilities an achieve greater production flexibility within the same facility footprint. It not only improves production speeds, cycle times and quality (while reducing costs) but also enables manufacturers to efficiently deliver and utilize expert talent in business operations in remote locations virtually anywhere.
The need to accommodate and interact with remote personnel, production systems and even downstream customers has driven the development of a whole new generation of automated solutions. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the role of operating remotely from a convenience to an imperative for huge groups of workers and businesses at all levels.
Operating remotely also creates special demands for security. It requires high reliability and even higher levels of security to ensure the integrity of software and databases managing proprietary operating information. It also requires safe, secure exchange data to satisfy product quality assurance and/or regulatory compliance.
To realize the potential of Industry 4.0, it is critical to deploy advanced automation in manufacturing processes. That requires identifying the most appropriate assembly and welding technologies for applications.
One example to illustrate what’s available among the broad selection of equipment for automated joining processes is Emerson’s Branson ultrasonic welders for plastic and metal, laser, vibration and spin welders. This range comes with infrared and pulse welders and offers a “process-neutral” approach to help ensure the right equipment for automated manufacturing applications.
1. Understand What is Coming in Manufacturing
To determine the right automated technologies for specific assembly requirements, it is vital to first understand the many trends driving the markets you serve. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and future demands of Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution are inspiring a new generation of “smart” equipment controls that can “learn” and use data and algorithms to interact with other equipment to ensure maximum processing efficiency. The need is global and is resulting in the development of equipment and controls that can:
- Generate, respond to and transfer data through global communications networks
- Deliver offline and real-time data analysis to improve quality and productivity.
- Link smart equipment, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and human management to improve quality, output, QC and changeovers.
- Leverage global capabilities effectively by choosing equipment and controls with the capability of accepting software upgrades and that support secure remote control, monitoring and management.
Trends in Manufacturing of Electronics, Medical Devices and Cars
The growing trend toward low-carbon energy solutions and next-generation products such as solar panels, electric vehicles and more powerful electronic devices has created the need for more powerful, energy-dense battery systems to provide reliable operation and long life. The automated assembly technologies that produce these batteries also need to offer advanced controls to monitor quality in real time that identify defective batteries before they reach the market and generate service failures.
Of course, these new and low-carbon technologies rely on not only better, more powerful batteries but also on automated assembly solutions to produce the smaller, lighter power supplies with embedded sensors and digital controls using the latest in advanced metal and plastic welding technology.
With the demand for medical devices exploding around the globe, the automated technology solutions used by manufacturers must ensure high quality, using process monitoring in real time by way of sensors, visual inspection or data analysis.
Because of the intense regulatory environment of medical device manufacturing—in addition to producing efficient, cost-effective devices—the assembly technology used must comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) CFR 21 Part 11 and the European Union’s (EU) Medical Device Regulation (MDR) that require every medical device produced be traceable in case of recall or failure, and supported by validated production-quality data that can be sent to regulatory authorities.
While the pandemic disrupted the supply chain for automakers and slowed production, there can be little doubt that in the future, demand for automobiles and a spike in production will put new and increasing pressure on manufacturers worldwide. When that happens, automakers will need to quickly expand their base of suppliers and put a premium on those that have the technologies in place to respond quickly with automated and scalable production resources.
2. Determine Your Application and Production Requirements
Three main criteria help determine your assembly requirements: product/application, manufacturing location and production rate.
Product/application. Some factors to consider are part size and geometry, materials, seal quality and cleanliness/purity—all of which help define which joining technology, frequency, power level and type of controls are needed.
Manufacturing location. A few things to consider include space requirements or limitations, new equipment installation or retrofit existing, noise controls and work area cleanliness.
Rate of output. Decide the rate at which you will be producing end products and select a joining technology that can meet those requirements.
3. Decide What Level of Automation, Ergonomics and System Connectivity You Need
Production rate. The first question you must answer is, “What is my production rate?” Depending on your answer, you can choose either semi- or fully automated equipment. The semiautomated system involves manual loading of parts. A fully automated, electronic welding system will likely use a multiheaded system with a rotary dial and a robotic welder that feeds parts using a conveyor.
Equipment mounting. When selecting a mounting system, it is important to strive for optimal ergonomics, either for a human operator or robotic system. Ultrasonic, laser and pulse welders, for example, can be mounted in a variety of ways, including as the familiar “all-in-one” benchtop-mounted units or, depending on automation requirements, a fully integrated welder with HMI, auxiliary box, actuator and power supply mounted together without a base on a column or a support structure.
Another option is to mount the actuator assembly away from other components and connect it by cable to the power supply, auxiliary box and HMI.
Connectivity. There are three basic levels of connectivity available for today’s assembly systems: USB/Ethernet connections, OPC-UA connectivity or the more advanced Fieldbus connectivity. The ability to collect, monitor and analyze production data is essential to MES in order to provide product validation and traceability through the factory data infrastructure.
4. Select the Technology Solution that Best Suits Your Application
Factors you should consider when deciding on your best joining technology solution are:
- Actuator size (standard or micro, depending on space)
- Cleanliness requirements (washdowns required, cleanroom requirements)
- Data management capabilities (collection, retention, traceability, security)
- Weld specifications (precision, speed, reliability)
5. Finally, Select a Technology Supplier You Know and Trust
The final step in assuring the automated joining solution you choose fits your application needs is to consider the expertise and reliability of your technology supplier. Key recommendations include:
- Use a supplier that offers the technology options you need to match your equipment to your application requirements.
- Select equipment that you trust can be adapted or updated quickly and cost-effectively in response to evolving marketplace and application challenges.
- Insist on prompt, reliable, expert customer service that includes technical support, training and regularly scheduled maintenance—and same-day delivery, if needed.
- Look for a supplier that can match your national or global footprint, so you know you have the support you need wherever you need it.
Patrick O’Sullivan is a product specialist for Branson Welding and Assembly at Emerson.