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From mass production to mass customisation

Author : Paige West, Editor of DPA & Connectivity

08 May 2018

Paige West, Editor of DPA & Connectivity, spoke to Alan Conn, Managing Director, B&R Industrial Automation about the move towards mass customisation and how smart factory motion control solutions from B&R help companies strive for that ‘Batch Size 1’ production.

For today’s generation of digital natives, the ability to personalise the products they buy is increasingly expected as a given. To keep pace, the makers of these products need highly flexible manufacturing systems that are at the same time efficient and profitable. This introduces a whole new set of demands on the OEM machine builders that supply the processing, assembly and package lines.

The demand for personalised products and commodities is growing exponentially. Every customer is unique, which means the operating conditions and manufacturing process for each customer’s product may be different. The challenge for industry begins with how to accommodate this demand in a productive and efficient manner. The answer is simple: we need smarter and more flexible machines.

Historically, processes and packaging lines have been monolithic. They’ve been designed to do one thing, quickly and repeatedly, in high volume but this kind of model won’t work with mass customisation demands. Smart factories must be built on smart machines that deliver infinite production customisation, without defects and with high availability. Take a beverage manufacturer for example, with fluctuating demands for various drinks – triggered by the season, special promotions, popularity etc. – the machine manufacturer needs to be able to change the size or shape of the bottle, or move a three ingredient process up to four ingredients in a timely and efficient manner. So, there is a need for a transport system that offers a flexible, low cost alternative to meeting customer demands.

Introducing ACOPOStrak

ACOPOStrak is the latest innovation from B&R Industrial Automation and has been designed and developed to specifically satisfy the need for adaptive, connected manufacturing and extend the economy of mass production down to batches of one. Parts and products are transported quickly and flexibly from processing station to processing station on independently controlled shuttles. These shuttles are hot-swappable and can be replaced in seconds, in a live power environment. It’s an open-ended system, so depending on the overall length, there’s no limit on the number of shuttles. The core of the track system is a linear motor assembled from four types of modular segments: a straight segment, a 45° segment and two 22.5° segments – one curved to the right, the other to the left. 

Product flow can be divided to pass through multiple processing stations and then merge further down the line, giving machine builders complete design freedom. The fully electronic diverter technology is what makes it so easy to divide and merge product flows to bring in high productivity. This configurable track solution minimises cabinet space requirements, reducing the overall footprint and even allows the footprint to be configured to suit the production environment and floor space. 

ACOPOStrak is capable of 5 g acceleration and reaches top speeds in excess of 4 meters per second with a minimum product pitch of 50 millimetres. Its smart system software features built-in integrated collision avoidance to aid with autonomous traffic control and simulation functions let machine builders test the process before deploying it on the real hardware.

The ACOPOStrak solution is targeted mainly towards primary packaging and processing applications in many industries such as food & beverage, medical devices and consumer goods. It’s protected by stainless steel housing that meets the stringent hygiene requirements of primary packaging.

Bottling on demand

Giving companies the option to design the ACOPOStrak into their machines will enable them to produce a wide range of product variants on a single line. This is demonstrated effectively through the KRONES product testimonial; thousands of bottles are produced per hour as normal but the added flexibility of the ACOPOStrak allows each bottles to be individually filled with different coloured liquids, enabling a full production flow to be scaled down to Batch Size 1.

ABB robots help to make a complete “manufacturing cell”

In isolation, the ACOPOStrak is ideal for many applications but for others an integrated robot will provide much needed benefits, allowing for flexibility in the machine and manufacturing cell design as they can be synchronised with the shuttles on the track to provide a complete sequence step such as:

• Processing of products on the shuttles (e.g. glue dispensing, drilling or parts assembly)

• Placing or picking product on & off shuttle (e.g. from standard conveyors or product containers)

• Adding or removing shuttles due to changing production speeds; for maintenance, or to switch to a different tool or product fixing on the shuttle

As B&R operate in open standards, the ACOPOStrak is able to communicate and integrate with other robots too, through standard communication protocols.

The ACOPOStrak is a purely B&R designed and developed product but being part of ABB gives the company a unique opportunity to integrate a complete robotics track solution. One year after announcing its acquisition of B&R, ABB is to invest €100 million in Austria to build a state-of-the-art innovation and training campus at the home of B&R in Eggelsberg, Upper Austria. ABB have also placed direct investment in B&R’s Gilgenberg site, which is where the ACOPOStrak system is manufactured, all of which confirms B&R’s positon as the machine and factory automation business unit within ABB. 

The future of smart factory motion control 

As ACOPOStrak evolves, open connectivity will become even more important – standards such as OPC UA and OPC UA TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) will allow for real-time data exchange. There will also be a demand for higher payloads to accommodate a wider range of applications and a higher IP rating to accommodate medical, pharmaceutical and some food applications. 

Smart factory motion control brings you key advantages: maximum availability, high-speed transport and positioning, rapid changeover and high quality fault-tolerant. The ACOPOStrak boosts overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), multiplies the return on investment and accelerates time to market. So, if you’re looking to produce small batches efficiently and benefit from the higher margins of personalised products, extend your digital transformation to include smart motion control solutions.

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