The future is still with us. One day at a time. Each of us has a hand in it. We should be encouraged that every one in engineering positions can can take part in the rebirth of cool in American manufacturing. One small machinery project, new product development project and one new manufacturing process innovation at a time. That’s what has made American manufacturing a power house in the world economy.
I have recently had the opportunity to work on a new piece of machinery that winds cotton filters for water treatment. The company that makes filters has been in the business for 40 years. They have existing machinery that makes filters using mechanical means that has worked well in the past. But mechanical set-up for a new filter size is extremely time consuming. When something fails in the machinery it is usually catastrophic, and the repair can take days or weeks. Accuracy is pretty limited as well.
Recognizing the problem the customer has attempted several times to come up with a new way to make the filter. But not having a background in mechatronics, they have not been successful.
I looked at the machine and realized that this is a simple 1 – 1/2 axis motion control application that can be easily implemented on a single axis servo amplifier/controller. A simple follower axis that runs back and forth along a programmed length while the winder turns. That’s what the customer is after. The project is almost complete and I will report further on our results as soon as the machine is complete.
The amazing thing is the benefit of the mechatronic solution. The elimination of scrap or defective products, electronic setup and tear down for production changeovers, elimination of gauging, consistency of wrap. It’s all the stuff that manufacturing is about.
The customer could buy cheap machines from China. I went on the web and looked at alternatives. But the Chinese machines aren’t configured to make the large filters that my customer’s clientele uses. There are more sophisticated winders available from Europe, but they are kind of pricey, and there are similar limitations. One thing that’s really missing is you can’t network them and maintain productivity records or generate any traceability of part production. When you run a business that’s doing several million dollars a year, and you looking to grow the business, keeping track of how you are doing is important. So we built Ethernet compatibility into the specification so the customer can keep track of production and measure productivity.
The coolest thing is, we get keep about 20 people employed whose jobs might otherwise be at risk to foreign competition. And because of a little cost-effective innovation at the plant floor level, we have the chance to increase market share, profitability and employment in a community that is really hurting. Sometimes when you think you are just “doing your job” you can end up being a blessing to other people that you may not even know.