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Case Studies

Moving Automation Forward

Integrating the latest technologies to enable more output from a reduced footprint.

In 2012 a longtime automation customer approached Modular with a challenge: they wanted to increase production output of their primary product by 30% and cut the footprint of the machine in half. Given that the product is highly specialised, with varying properties and precise sterility requirements, the ask could be daunting to even accomplished custom automation engineering companies. For the Modular team, however, it was an opportunity to apply the exciting new technologies they had been exploring in R&D.

The customer is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumable medical device products. The engineers and designers understood the process and materials, and were familiar with the issues involved in mass production of small, specialised items in a sterile environment with lots of moving parts. However, scaling production while halving the footprint presented a new set of challenges and risks.

The Challenge

Increase production output of the primary product by 30% and cut the footprint of the machine in half.

“This time we knew how to automate the manufacturing of the product. We had already answered those questions,” says Martin Dolan, Chief Business Development Officer at Modular. “This was an opportunity to revolutionise that solution tremendously using new technology, which meant a lot of planning, prototyping and testing.”

In fact, the first two years of the project were spent on concept development, before any piece of the custom automation solution was built. Modular worked closely alongside the customer team, with weekly meetings throughout the first year, to define and resolve risks and design a solution that would work. Following their industry-leading proof-of-principle (P0P) process, the team stepped through the concept and design phase, moving ahead only when they were sure a risk had been properly addressed.

“There are numerous PoPs in this project,” says Dolan. “We do as many as it takes, and this project involved a lot of new technology doing a lot of new things.”

The Approach

Precise, methodical, with multiple POPs before finally incorporating the latest LSM®™ technology to deliver on the brief.

Central to the new solution is the cutting-edge linear synchronous motor (LSM®™) technology from MagneMotion. LSM®™ uses electromagnetic technology to offer intelligent, programmable control over independently moving parts of a machine. As a replacement for traditional pneumatic conveyor systems, LSM®™ is used to drive elements into a position rather than to a stop. This means, for example, that a series of palettes can be programmed to line up an inch from each other, wherever they stop, rather than having to stop at set positions.

“It’s precise, controllable and flexible, and that’s what we needed,” explains Dolan. “The rest of the solution is down to good design and engineering.”

Modular are incorporating a pioneering method of LED curing developed in-house in their Technology Centre, and the key LSM®™ technology which not only contributes to the streamlined footprint and increased output, but also makes the machine safer by eliminating the stored energy of compressed air and more cost efficient by reducing maintenance and energy used.

It’s a project perfectly suited for the Modular team’s precise, methodical, committed approach, and one that brought a welcome chance to explore and apply new technology. Once complete, Modular will have created the lynchpin of a solution that is essential to their customer’s future strategy—and fundamentally changed their approach to conveyors and motion for other solutions.

“The project is really ideal, in that we get to try out the latest technology available and develop applications for it,” says Dolan. “Not only did we reimagine how this solution can work, we added another capability to our team. Every time we do that, we and our work improve.” And every time Modular improves, their customers reap the benefits.

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This case study was written for Modular Automation, a global leader in automation technology. View the original here