Of Safety, Sustainability and Integrated Architecture

Nov. 12, 2009
Machine Builders Say an Integrated Architecture Helps Meet End-Users' Expectations Over the Life of Their Machines

Machine builders know what they need to do. Build machines that improve productivity and, while they're at it, find the means to reduce the total cost to design, develop and deliver this high-performance equipment.

At Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair 2009 event this week in Anaheim, Calif., a range of panel discussions and presentations with global machine builders, users and system builders discussed these issues and how an integrated approach can affect future successes.

Even defining "machine performance" has its nuances. "You have to look at machine performance as holding market value," said Andy Pringle, engineering director at converting machine-maker PCMC. "Customers come to you asking for a machine that gives them a fair return based on the investment they make."

Roman Kaiser, president, Grenzebach Automation GmbH, put it simply: "Automation performance is giving the customer exactly what he needs and wants."

"From the customer standpoint, it's productivity," believes C.P. Fang, vice president, Crown Machinery. "From the OEM viewpoint, it's also about reliability, longevity, efficiency and ease-of-use."

Stepping outside the machine footprint, machine user Mike Sweet, manager corporate controls, First Solar, says it's all of those things, but also "how the machine plays with others. Because if you can't put it into your architecture, you can't get integrated data, you can't interlock processes together, you can't trust your process.

As a machine user that builds and assembles complicated solar arrays, First Solar needs its OEMs to provide a standard interface for their data gathering needs, or their cost of ownership and operation suffers. "A uniform control platform is vital for us," says Sweet.

Issues that are driving OEMs' designs play to the strengths of an integrated approach. PCMC, for example, is introducing a new machine that offers preventive maintenance features that will monitor the machine and email the builder regarding worn parts replacement or drifting parameters, focusing on root causes of problems. "We want that information," says Pringle. "We want to service and support that machine long after the warranty period. That's a vital revenue stream for our business." Automation decisions also require avoiding "the 'magpie effect' of choosing that bright, shiny, new component that appears to save a few overall dollars at the bill of material level, but means adding a needless, new $1,500 part to have to support, says Pringle.

Rockwell Automation's Integrated Architecture makes it easier for companies like PCMC, said Pringle. "We serve big customers in our tissue business who spec out their machines carefully," he says. "We also serve clients that will take what you build as long as it reliably meets their needs." Pringle says they need an integrated architecture to keep it all under control and avoid the old blame game when something goes wrong.

Fang leverages Integrated Architecture to simplify Crown's parts infrastructure and to help modify machines in a timely manner, as customer needs change "sometimes in the middle of the build" without delaying deliveries, he says.

"There's no walking away from the machine for an OEM." PCMC's Andy Pringle was among the machine builders who discussed how Rockwell Automation's Integrated Architecture helps to meet end-users' expectations over the life of their machines.Carlos Hernandez, automation business director, SYCSA Silos y Camiones, sees the advantages of Integrated Architecture in making customer expansions a little easier. "A glass manufacturer started a new plant three years ago with four ovens and a growth plan in mind," he says. "The company added four more ovens with the same Rockwell Automation controls to the overall system in an integrated fashion."

Integration of safety functionality within the automation system has become an imperative for many machine builders.  "The legal system makes it very important," stated Pringle. "We can't not include it. There's no walking away from the machine for an OEM. We have to be very proactive on safety with upgrading the installed base as well as new machinery."

First Solar's Sweet talked of the need to work with his company's OEMs in safety initiatives that he calls First Solar's core values. "We've rolled out worldwide NFPA 70E, a standard that creates challenges of its own by how restrictive it is, so we've been working with some of our OEMs to design, for example, new controls enclosures in which all high voltage is restricted to one door with non-contact test points on the outside. Everything else would be 24 V controls, so you can lock the panel out in accordance with NFPA70E without PPE [personal protection equipment]." Without this, continued Sweet, you'd require a live-dead-live test. Something as basic as a blown fuse would require calling in a qualified technician to suit up and endure a lot of downtime.

This type of safety proactivity is not yet so common in Mexico and Latin America, said Hernandez. The entry point for these initiatives has started by highlighting energy-savings opportunities. "We've seen the advantages of using PowerFlex drives and smart SMC controllers and motors that also provide safety advantages."

The Asia-Pacific region is not emphasizing safety as much as Europe and North America, added Crown's Fang. "The real push for this comes from OEMs such as Crown," he says. "We have incorporated certain designs that incorporate safety, so the customer doesn't even have to ask for it. Sometimes they have concerns about being able to deal with it internally, but we also emphasize the improved protection of the machines themselves from damage in case of emergency shutdowns."

For Grenzebach's Kaiser, incorporating safety into the automation system is business as usual. "In Europe, as a CEO, I have a CE certification to sign. It would be big legal trouble not to be in compliance."

Patty Roberts, Rockwell Automation marketing programs manager, explained that the company sees the newer concept of "cradle-to-cradle" as a key trend that better describes machine users' sustainability expectations. "How do you take that machine and repurpose it, perhaps over and over, to make it more flexible and reusable for new requirements and not throw it out."

Andy Pringle pointed to another important factor in PCMC's design considerations. "Some of our large customers, such as Georgia-Pacific, P&G and others, move their assets from one facility to another to respond to demand and product changes," he explained. "So we have to provide a global solution with global standards. That customer doesn't expect to have to redesign that machine if he moves it. He also doesn't want to pay to do that, so we have to negotiate that into the initial costs."

Michael Senske is president and CEO at Pearson Packaging Systems. His company, like PCMC, builds to order with virtually no inventory, despite being in what he calls a low-volume, high-variability business. His company's product management group surveyed around 300 old, new and potential customers to distill their important needs and translate them into the actions that met their need for shorter lead times. "That was the number one request," said Senske.

"They obviously wanted increased reliability, but also identified unanticipated downtime as key factor, so they wanted our choices of components and sub-assemblies to be accurate and dependable." Next, they wanted more functionality for their dollar spend, and pricing actually came fourth on the list. "Although that's from the technical folks' perspective," he said. "It's an entirely different conversation with some purchasing folks."

Among Pearson's response to these needs was less design "freelancing" and much more use of common components and subassemblies to reduce and stabilize BOM and CAD library maintenance, and to reduce the number of suppliers and purchase transactions.

Finally, in an action that addressed both smarter, more productive assembly and demonstrated some sustainability success as well, Senske talked of how the company eliminated assembly prints. "When we hire machine assembly technicians, especially young ones, they've never seen a blueprint. Technical and vocational schools aren't teaching that. If you put up a 2-D drawing on an assembly board, and they're trying to interpret seven levels deep, it's very difficult and it creates a very steep learning curve."

Now, said Senske, every assembly bay has a computer workstation with Autodesk Inventor with a 3-D CAD viewer. The assembly technicians can manipulate views of the machine. They can orbit, they can flip, they can zoom the view and actually see individual components. It greatly reduces the learning curve and improves productivity and accuracy, with resultant improvement in delivery time.

"We used to spend more than $7,500 per month on assembly prints," he reported. "That's nearly $100,000 going straight to the bottom line by putting maybe 30 workstations on the floor. In addition, it reduced the recycling we had to do and the paper-use reductions help us score well with customers that grade sustainability initiatives as part of their evaluation process."