If Brenton Engineering had adhered to traditional outsourcing decision-making, the company may have obtained the outsourced component it wanted, but not the one it needed for improving competitiveness. Instead of make-versus-buy calculations based primarily on cost and risk for outsourcing a highly engineered component, Brenton added considerations of higher overall engineering and fabrication productivity, along with faster time to market, for both quotations on new machines and manufacture of sold units. The results proved advantageous across the board.
Outsourcing Toothed Belt Slides
Brenton is one of North America’s leading case packing and palletizing original equipment manufacturers through its ProMach brand, and its M2000 is the company’s top selling side-load case packer. Known for its short installation time and intuitive operation, the M2000 also offers high OEE through fast, accurate changeover. This 35 case-per-minute unit packs products in wrap around, knock down and regular slotted cases, as well as trays.
M2000 case packers can support up to three toothed belt linear slide systems—a cantilevered Y and Z axes system for loading cases, a single Y axis for gluing case flaps, and cantilevered Y and Z axes for tamping down flaps after gluing. These slides must be fast, accurate and rigid for long life and high performance under 24/7 operation.
Each slide may have up to 70 different components, 40 of which are manufactured by Brenton. Some of the components are sent out for anodizing, adding time to the manufacturing process. The high number of linear slides required each year, the number of individual parts, and time for assembly made linear slides candidates for outsourcing.
A traditional decision-making process would weigh the following:
- Production cost
- Extra labor cost
- Monitoring cost
- Storage requirement cost
- Waste product disposal cost
- Product purchase price
- Sales tax
- Inventory holding cost
- Ordering cost
Another traditional way to decide on outsourcing slides would be to weigh benefits against risks:
- Cost savings
- Supplier has advanced skills
- Focus on key competencies
- Lack of control
- Loss of intellectual property
- Loss of flexibility and responsiveness
These traditional concerns do not mention time, nor is engineering overhead designated as a consideration. The reason that time to market and engineering productivity entered the equation for Brenton is that each M2000 is customized to meet unique package and long-term production requirements. For example, Y/Z axes may be loading packages of identical dimension but with significantly different weights and production speeds, so the slides would be different in each machine.
Creating systems with either one or two axes also requires time and effort in terms of performing computations, providing drawings, formulating quotations and the back-and-forth of communication between OEM and supplier. Finding an outsource supplier offering slides that would stand up for years, and a supplier that could meet product engineering and manufacturing commitments in short timelines, were outsourcing hurdles.
COVID-19 Issues Triggered a Change
COVID-19 has given manufacturers new considerations. On the one hand, reduced density of workers on the shop floor lowers the risk of exposure to airborne virus contagion. On the other hand, customer demand is high, and more resources are needed to produce products. The answer seems to be to incorporate automation and/or outsource where it makes sense to lower the internal workload.
The other major problems manufacturers are wrestling with include rising supply chain costs and slower overall supply chain delivery. No respite is expected to either problem for the foreseeable future.
Labor and supply chain issues were top of mind when Brenton began exploring the option of outsourcing the linear slides. With 40 individual pieces to manufacture in-house and up to 30 to purchase, outsourcing looked like the strategy that would allow Brenton to reallocate scarce labor resources and decrease time to market. Through outsourcing, Brenton wanted to accomplish the following:
- Free up the fabrication department for other work
- Lower labor across multiple departments
- Improve turnaround time both for quotations and for manufacturing new M2000s
- Lower hard and soft costs
Engineering a Partnered Solution
Over nine months, the team within the Brenton Research and Development Engineering Laboratory evaluated linear slides from multiple vendors. Festo, a preferred supplier to ProMach, provided Brenton with its EGC toothed belt linear slide for Y axis consideration. The EGC features speeds up to 10 m/s, acceleration of up to 50 m/s2, repletion accuracy of up to + 0.08 mm, stroke lengths up to 8,500 mm and flexible motor mountings. Flexible motor mountings were important to Brenton as the company is standardized on Allen-Bradley servo motors.
Festo also supplied the lab with the ELCC cantilevered axis tooth belt slide for Z axis consideration. The ELCC features high rigidity, small moving mass and vertical load capacity of up to 100 kg. While not a core product with 24-hour guaranteed shipping, this slide would still have assured availability.
Festo also assigned John Bauer, a packaging end-of-line application engineer, to support Brenton personnel during the testing and application stages.
Brenton personnel from many departments visited the research lab during the testing process to observe the comparative tests and then provide feedback based on their needs. The Festo slides proved to be superior in terms of product quality and rigidity.
Faster Time to Market, Improved Engineering Productivity
The research and development engineering lab staff then turned their evaluation to the critically important considerations of time and effort to acquire the slides. Brenton looked at the flexibility and capacity of the supplier to provide many different configurations of slides relatively quickly and the complexity of ordering custom configured slides. Brenton evaluators looked into how fast 2D and 3D drawings could be delivered as well as how long it took to acquire quotations.
Reorder was another issue; if a custom slide had to be replaced, the teams looked at how difficult it would be to order a replacement part. For several suppliers, the time between order and receipt of drawings and a quotation were measured in weeks.
Using Festo’s Handling Guide Online to order single and multiple axis slides takes an average of 20 minutes. The tool only required the engineer to plug in parameters and the software did the rest. No calculations are required of the engineer. At the end of each Handling Guide Online session, the engineer has a quote and 2D and 3D drawings ready for download. This allows designers to work on the project while the slide is manufactured. Applications engineers preparing quotes have what they need in minutes.
Parameters that need to be entered into Handling Guide Online include:
- Axis type, including single or multiple, belt or screw drive, gantry or cantilevered
- Actuator orientation, horizontal or vertical
- Axis information, including tooling load, product weight, force required, stroke and repetition accuracy
- Information on dynamics, including cycle time, dwell, max speed, acceleration and deceleration
- Center of mass
- Environmental factors such as temperature, particulates and washdown
- Motors, drives and controls for Festo or customer supplied units
Before the end of the Handling Guide Online demonstration, one Brenton Engineer opened a project and began designing a slide. The implications of faster design freeing engineers for other duties excited the entire management and lab team. The demonstration, plus the fact that the Festo slides were so robust, was a turning point in the evaluation.
Brenton engineers used Handling Guide Online to specify slides that were installed as test cases in a few M2000s. Brenton selected the Festo EGC for the Y axis and the ELCC for the Z-axis for the three areas on the M2000—case loading, applying glue to the case flaps and tamping the flaps down. Festo provides the axial motor mount kits for the Rockwell servo motors.
By outsourcing the slides, Brenton now handles eight components instead of 70 when assembling and installing slides, significantly decreasing fabrication and assembly time and cost. Due diligence in outsourcing paid off for this nine-month research and development effort. Brenton believes that outsourcing done with care and with a view to productivity and assured supply produces significant competitive advantages.
Dave Christian is research and development engineering manager at Brenton Engineering, and Jesse Tintes is industry segment sales engineer for end of line packaging.