Category Archives: Automation

Building More than Custom Automated Equipment

At TCA we are dedicated to going above and beyond to help our customers succeed. We’re expert problem solvers, and understand that our value to customers goes beyond the delivery of new automated equipment. Over the years we have developed a multi-level approach to customer service that has enabled us to be a knowledgeable, accessible, and valuable resource to our valued customers.

Here’s how we can help:

Customer Support

First and foremost, we make ourselves available to customers. We have 24/7 phone support that is answered by knowledgeable and skilled technicians who will help solve your problem. Support is available in a variety of languages should you need it. We also have a number of our skilled technicians who are ready to travel to our customers’ facilities immediately. Our service team will travel anywhere in the world; if you urgently need us, we will respond.

Product Support

Every system we manufacture comes with the promise of support from TCA. Through extended system warranties, replacement parts or spare parts, TCA ensures your system is well maintained. In addition to our onsite customer support, we offer remote support systems for rapid troubleshooting. A remote connection device is available for the systems we build, allowing us to log in remotely to your system. This way we can either resolve the problem remotely or guide you to do it yourself.

Production Support

We understand that keeping equipment in production is critical to our customers’ success. That is why we provide a full preventative maintenance program to ensure the equipment is running optimally. Should they wish it, we can provide comprehensive training and documentation so customers can perform the preventative maintenance themselves.  In order to extend the lifetime of your automation equipment, we also offer equipment refurbishment and retooling.

If requested, we can assist in speeding our customers’ products to market by providing limited production, allowing the products to be qualified and marketed as early as possible.

At TCA we build more than custom automated equipment, we build relationships with our customers. Contact us today at 519-824-8711 to learn more about our world-class service and support.

The Question: To Retrofit or Rebuild

blog_retrofit

It’s a question we get all the time: should you retrofit your equipment or rebuild? Each time a customer confronts us with this question we examine the situation with one particular thought in mind: how do we best help customers conserve capital.

In order to find the best balance of costs, we try to determine the comparison of initial cost versus downstream efficiencies.  Simply, what’s going to cost our customers less in the long run.

Retrofitting Existing Equipment

Many times a customer will come to us needing to add a new part type to a production line or want to improve certain tasks in a process. Often, TCA can find a solution to upgrade tooling or certain components to minimize cost output. This typically works best for customers who have a product with a limited product life cycle or when the line that is being upgraded was built with modern design and programming principles.

Choosing to Build

Depending on the production environment, it may be cheaper for customers to redesign the equipment. By rebuilding the equipment, customers can typically resolve inefficiencies that they currently face. Customers likely will target reducing cycle time, eliminating operator input, reducing scrap, and improving future flexibility of the line.

When our customers come to us with this challenge, we examine all solutions available to try and give them the best overall picture of their options. If conserving capital today means continuously higher operations costs, we can examine how long it will take for a rebuild to pay for itself.

At the end of the day, the best solution is one where TCA can help customers achieve their wanted outcome at the best possible price. Contact us today to learn more about the options available to you.

Email: info@tcatech.com
Phone: 1.519.824.8711

 

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: TCA + ASSEMBLY AUTOMATION

assemblyblog

The business of designing and building custom industrial equipment is a complicated, detail orientated, and exciting industry to be in. Over the past twenty years in business, TCA has developed thousands of innovative and groundbreaking technologies for our customers. From material handling and machine vision, to leak testing and composites, TCA has a wide portfolio of experiences to draw from when designing new equipment for our customers. This blog series will highlight some of our current and past projects where we advanced automation standards.

First up in this series spotlight: Assembly Automation

In manufacturing, assembly refers to the process of putting together all components and sub-assemblies in order to create the end product. Arguably the most in-demand type of automated equipment in industrial manufacturing, assembly automation will help customers reduce man-power, increase throughput, and maximize efficiency.

WIRE FORM AND ASSEMBLY
form-assblogDesigned and manufactured by TCA to produce concrete-forming ties, this 10′ x 25′ wire form and assembly machine has the capability to process wires with walls of 200, 250, and 400 mm, with a 1/2″ hexagon across the flats and 120 or 210 mm end lengths.
Offering high throughput operation, this machine features a hopper that holds up to 1,000 raw wires. TCA designed and built the 80 ton servo forming press to deliver highly accurate speed, motion, and position control in order to keep the parts within tight tolerances.

Two cold forming operations (coin & bead forms) are performed as a one-up forming cycle in the press. Dual thermal-upset hex form positioning slides are also servo-driven to maintain the same accuracies throughout the entire process. A chain conveyor moves the formed ties and stages the packaging boxes to further speed operations, and floor mounted perimeter guarding completely ensures operator safety.

TCA was able to design, build, test, and install this high speed automation system in 24 weeks. We provided a fully programmed Allen Bradley interface and PLC, and commissioned the system at the customer site.

SUB-ASSEMBLY LINE
sub-assblogA customer in the automotive industry needed a second assembly line to handle increased production volume.
TCA’s challenge was to use as much engineering as possible from the existing TCA-designed line so the two could efficiently run in tandem. Working from the customer’s part specifications, we created 3D designs for all the components and arranged the second line in a Z-configuration to facilitate loading and changeover. In addition, we designed a second flux supply line with a separate set of tooling to enable both lines to operate independently.
Occupying a 20 ft x 30 ft footprint, this assembly line has three main subsystems – a feeder, flux applicator, and a stacker. Handling 6 parts per magazine, 6-axis robots are used to feed the parts to a servo index conveyor for pick and place transfer – a careful process monitored by machine vision cameras.
Next, a dual-head spray system electrostatically applies the flux while a reclaiming system removes the excess. After air drying, the parts are fed to the assembly system, 2 per magazine in a nested position.

Want to learn more about TCA’s assembly automation solutions? Email info@tcatech.com today.

Machine Safety: How to protect your workers and your bottom line

SAFETY

Whether you are looking at purchasing a large automated production line or are investing in new machine work stands, something that is likely top of mind is whether or not the equipment is safe. Even the most simplistic automated function can be hazardous if proper safety protocols and tools aren’t in place.  So how can you make sure operators are protected from harm, and the company is protected from liability, all while reducing costs? The answer is simple – design it to be safe in a smart way, not necessarily the standard way.

Many companies have long adopted machine guarding and fencing as standard safety protocols for their machines. This approach to safety can at times greatly hinder worker productivity, increase downtime, and increase machine footprint on your shop floor.  Newer technologies such as light curtains and area sensors, when implemented correctly, can save you valuable time when experiencing downtime.  While highly discouraged, machine guarding can easily be overridden to allow workers to enter the cell without stopping the machine. Light curtains and other presence sensing technologies have a safety redundancy built in, ensuring that if breeched, the dangerous machine activity will immediately cease.

It is important for any machine builder to be experts at performing safety assessments right from the project proposal, into design and build, and through run-off and training. By utilizing a combination of trusted perimeter guarding, fixed guarding, and presence sensing technologies, companies can be assured that what they are getting will pass even the strictest of safety regulations.

Want to find out how to cut project costs and increase operator safety? Call one of our experienced machine designers today +1.519.824.8711.

A History of Automation: Not as Recent as You’d Think!

Automation and control systems have greatly impacted the world we live in. Designed to create better, more efficient machinery, the history behind automation actually began much earlier than many people think. Early societies in Arabia and Greece both used simple forms of float-valve regulators for things such as water clocks, water tanks, and wine dispensers. Here are some of the most notable automation and control systems throughout history:

Ktesibio in Alexandria

Ktesibio in Alexandria

400 B.C.

Believed to be the first feedback control device, Ktesibio in Alexandria, Egypt had a mechanism designed to not only fuel, but regulate, a clock using water as fuel. It was so accurate that it wasn’t until the 17th century that the pendulum clock would replace it.

 

Cornelis Drebbel

Cornelis Drebbel

1620

Cornelis Drebbel operated a furnace using a feedback loop, which essentially turned into the world’s first thermostat.

 

 

Historical Incubator

Incubator

1683 – 1757

Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Reamur of France proposed designs for being able to control the temperatures in incubators. His design was based on a closed-loop feedback process.

 

Steam Engine designed by James Watt

Steam Engine designed by James Watt

1745

A feedback mechanism was patented in 1745 by Edmond Lee. It was originally designed for sails on windmills, helping them to tent. But later, the same idea was used with a steam engine governor. In 1788, James Watt used this feedback mechanism to provide control of a throttle, although it wasn’t exact. From this time forth, continual patents would continue to improve a more precise design.

 

Elmer Sperry

Elmer Sperry

1907 – 1914

Elmer Sperry invented an early version of an active stabilizer, used for stabilizing ships and for putting airplanes on autopilot when flying long distances. Although there were hiccups along the way, by the early 1930s, “negative feedback” was being understood. Near the end of this era, the communications boom was also starting, with both wired and wireless systems emerging.

Vintage Power Plant

Vintage Power Plant

The 1920s

SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) were first introduced and used at substations with high voltage located next to power plants, in order to control and monitor from the control room in the power plant. Later, in the 1960s, these SCADA units were placed remotely and used remote terminal units (RTUs) to better serve the industry. Intelligent Electronic Devices (IED) used microprocessors and ports for communication to power the components.

Original AT&T Logo

Original AT&T Logo

1935 – 1950

Some refer to this time as the “Classical Period,” in which four large groups were simultaneously working on controls or control theory. AT&T, Builders Iron Foundry Company, Foxboro Company, and Servomechanisms Laboratory (MIT) were simultaneously working on issues like moving targets, gun aiming, target tracking, and platform stability.

Vintage CNC Controls

Vintage CNC Controls

The 1950s

Modern controls began to show up. Control engineers’ understanding started to expand as awareness of measurement errors, noise contamination, and uncertain environments were acknowledged. At this time Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) had evolved from Numerical Control (NC). In 1959, digital computers which were able to completely control industrial processes were being worked on.

Siemens_ESM_TP80

Siemens Industrial Internet

The 1960s

Direct digital control (DDC) used a control algorithm discreetly, but due to their cost microcomputers took over during the 70s. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) helped to streamline the automotive industry and although it was originally too complicated for users to alter, changes turned the PLCs into a ladder configuration which controllers and electricians could change or fix.

Allen-Bradley PLC installed in a control panel

Allen-Bradley PLC installed in a control panel

The 1970s- 2000s

The 1970s would introduce a remote I/O, the 80s would link PLCs to PCs, and the 90s would have fieldbus protocols and ethernet and TCP/IP connectivity to PLCs. Controllers would be embedded with web servers in the 2000s.

 

Many advances have been made throughout the history of automation, such as improved quality, increased predictability, improved consistency and increased output. New technologies are being developed and refined every day, making it an exciting time to be working in the automation field.

Robots. Friend or Foe?

Robotics

Robonauts: The next frontier?

Robonauts: The next frontier?

Hollywood’s fascination with the danger and threat that robotics pose has led to wide speculation on the merit of robotics in everyday life. Will robots steal our jobs? Are robots going to take over the future? As the use of robotics become more wide-spread in our everyday lives, people have started to embrace the use of advanced technologies to take over menial or repetitive tasks.

The Industrial Manufacturing sector was one of the first to realize the advantages of robotics, and has been deploying the technology for quite some time. This investment has paid off for many companies, in particular the automotive sector who reported increased sales from 19,300 to 69,400 in 2013 due entirely to robotics. The key users of robots are USA, Japan, China and Germany.

Robotics in Everyday Lives:

  • Over a million robots are in use and almost half of them are used in Japan
  • Over two million “Roomba” robotic vacuum cleaners are in use.
  • Studies showed that people were emotionally attached to these
    “Roomba” robots and even gave them a name.

Reference: http://discovermagazine.com/2007/apr/20-things-you-didnt-know-about-robots/

http://www.howitworksdaily.com/top-5-facts-robots/

Made in Canada Robotics Advancements

Kidsarm

Kidsarm Surgical Robot (Image via NASA)

Kidsarm Surgical Robot (Image via NASA)

The first visually guided surgical robot hand was created in Canada which was based on the model called Canadarm. This medical robot was meant to help children in reducing the need for invasive surgery.

This robot is skilled to function in miniature and elusive places and is beneficial in terms of providing accuracy and agility.

Facts about KidsArm:

  • The Canadian Government funded this project.
  • The federal government donated 10 million to the SickKids foundation in order to support this endeavour.
  • This venture was part of a plan to bring medical professionals, engineers and software developers together to work as a team to achieve a higher purpose.

 

Reference: http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=946009

http://www.sickkids.ca/AboutSickKids/Newsroom/Past-News/2010/KidsArm.html

Dextre

Dextre Space Robot (Image via Getty Images)

Dextre Space Robot (Image via Getty Images)

One of the most refined space robot is known as “Dextre.” This is a handyman robot created in Canada to make sure the International Space Station is in proper form. The key purpose of Dextre was to perform the routine maintenance tasks.

Reference: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/iss/dextre/

Future

Aibo Robotic Dog

Aibo Robotic Dog

The increased use of robots in everyday life like vacuum machines, lawn mowers and even pets has proven the success of robotics. Sony is a good example of success because after introducing the first robotic dog called “Aibo” have gone further to introduced a humanoid entertainment robot called “QRIO.” There were a lot of other creations as well by various companies such as “partner robots” to help the elderly in daily life along with robotic car races.

With so much potential and the keen interest of researchers, the future looks to be filled with new possibility for the field of robotics.

Reference: http://www.electronicsteacher.com/robotics/interesting-points.php

 

 

4 Reasons to Choose a Single-Source Automation Supplier

We recently saw an article in Fabricating & Metalworking Online that we think will definitely resonate with our fans. The article, “How to Select a Single-Source Automation Supplier,” offered in-depth advice on what to look out for and how to choose a capable partner. We felt this was an important message to share, and decided to recap some of the main benefits here in our blog.

The Benefits of Single-Source Automation

  • More Streamlined: Rather than having to review and then select multiple vendors to work on a project, you’ll be able to manage each stage of work through a single point of contact. This reduces the chance of miscommunication between different departments and provides for easier planning each step of the way, since all workers are in one central location. Anyone who has ever planned a large event will be familiar with the challenges of coordinating multiple vendors. Think of single-source automation as your all-inclusive package deal.
  • Accountability: If more than one company is working on a particular project and something fails, it can be difficult to determine who is at fault. When working with one main supplier, there is no shirking of responsibility. For this reason, suppliers may be more likely to double check their work to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
  • Expertise: Unlike manufacturers that only focus on one particular product or service, a single-source provider has extensive knowledge of the entire system. If anything is off, they will notice and be able to fix it.
  • Speed and Support: Most people want things to be done quickly. If you’re coordinating multiple providers and having each one do their jobs independently, it will slow things down. By having everything done by one supplier, things can keep moving at a brisk pace since nobody has to wait for their turn to come up. And, once everything is done, you’ll know exactly who to reach out to with any questions or issues that arise in the future.

Are you looking for a single-source automation provider? If so, give us a call at 519-824-8711 or let us know by reaching out via Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you.

A Look at What’s Driving Expansion in the Automotive Sector

Chrysler's Windsor Plant

File Photo from CBC News of Chrysler’s Windsor Plant

Recently, Chrysler announced a plan to invest $2 billion on retooling its Windsor, Ontario assembly plant. This major expansion aims to boost production of one of the brand’s most popular models, the Town and Country minivan. And more importantly, it will facilitate the development of a planned hybrid minivan. The modern shift toward greening production and creating more energy efficient vehicles has played a major role in Chrysler’s announcement, as the expanded plant and capabilities will allow the company to create more sustainable car models. This should increase the company’s market share with evermore eco-conscious consumers.

Shifting public demands aren’t the only reasons for automotive industry growth. In fact, newer technologies are playing a large role in factory expansion. As automated systems continue to get more advanced, the prices of many industrial robots are actually coming down. And as the market becomes more saturated with these products, the playing field is leveled for manufacturing plants of all sizes. As automation on the shop floor increases, production cost decreases. In Canada, by the year 2025 industrial robots are expected to cut costs by about 24%, and in the United States, costs are expected to be cut by 22% thanks to robotic systems.

Robotic manufacturing systems offer a number of benefits for automotive companies, not least of which is their ability to “learn” new processes quickly. Once a robot is programmed to perform a certain task, it is able to do that task right away – unlike human workers who must receive adequate training in order to pick up a new skill. This allows manufacturers to maximize productivity by incorporating robotics where they make sense, while retaining high-skilled workers who can work alongside and program the robots. And by improving productivity, robots reduce manufacturing costs, enabling companies to continue making products here in North America rather than losing business to lower cost offshore competition.

And once automotive parts are manufactured, an additional layer of quality assurance can be added by incorporating an automated inspection and marking system. These systems can perform a wide range of tests, including leak and flow testing among other applications. All together, these systems create a comprehensive automated process that increases efficiency in automotive manufacturing.

To learn how TCA Technologies can improve your automotive manufacturing process, please feel free to contact us for more information and provide us with details about your current production needs.

Making the Case for Automation on the Plant Floor

Design & Manufacture of Assembly Fixtures for the Electronics Industry

Automated Assembly Fixture Equipment

Many industries have been feeling the effects of a skilled labor shortage. Not least of which is the manufacturing sector, which is struggling to find qualified workers who can replace an aging workforce nearing retirement. To combat this manufacturing skills-gap, many companies are looking to robotics. But it’s not just a worker shortage that’s expanding the role of technology; robots on the assembly line are also helping to boost productivity overall as they work alongside people.

A GIGAOM article cites many companies that are finding success with automation on the plant floor. Tesla’s automated assembly line in particular has gotten much attention, with robots that are able to perform multiple different tasks. This lowers the cost of production by reducing the amount of machines necessary to do each task, which then helps to bring down the price of the electric cars being produced.

GKN Aerospace is also looking to improve aircraft manufacturing through new advancements in automation. The goal is to reduce production time by 30% without sacrificing part quality. The work is being done in collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Sheffield University and Nikon Metrology.

The automation process is designed to be efficient, consistent, and easily transferable to future aircraft structure development. Major aerospace manufacturing companies are already on-board with the project, which aims to pave the way for future production methods over the next few decades.

TCA Technologies looks forward to seeing more examples of automation in the news. We’re also excited to play a role in the design of advanced industrial automated equipment. To learn more about automation in manufacturing, please feel free to visit us online. You can also request a quote to see how our solutions can improve production at your plant. We look forward to coming up with a custom solution to fit your needs.

Customized Conveyor Solutions Using Standard Products and Unmatched Expertise

Custom Conveyor for Automotive Assembly Line

Custom Conveyor for Automotive Assembly Line

When a customer comes to us with a unique assembly line project, we’re always up for the challenge. Recently, TCA faced a number of challenges in the design of an assembly line for an automotive components manufacturer. Floor space was limited, the production cycle time was aggressive and the parts were conveyed on large custom pallets. This meant that the system in-feed could not be handled by a typical power and free accumulation system.

TCA met these demands by designing and producing a custom pallet transfer conveyor. The solution combined the speed of an indexing conveyor with the flexibility of a pallet conveyor. The result was a high speed indexing belt design capable of transferring the large pallet .8m in under 1 second while allowing pallets to engage and disengage as required. This provided the reliability and speed of supply required to feed the assembly system.

Using a standard indexing belt from TCA’s preferred belting supplier allowed for a shortened lead time and considerable savings. But the positional requirements of the process required more accurate locating than the belt alone could offer. TCA developed and implemented a simple solution by incorporating a lift-and-locate system in the conveyor structure. These lift locates were designed with very short strokes to minimize cycle time impact, falling well below that of other standard pallet conveyor vendors. Since the system was designed to be positioned anywhere along the conveyor structure, the design and build cost of controlling the positional accuracy of the stations serviced by the conveyor were drastically reduced. The addition of the external lift and locate system also allowed for increased running clearances of the conveyor drive dogs and pallets underside; long term this means more cycles between inspection and service.

While other conveyor vendors can supply standard conveyance with a fixed product selection, TCA was able to supply a custom solution to a unique challenge using standard product and creativity. The result is a tailored solution at a standard product cost to the end user. The conveyor has already completed over a million cycles and is still performing according to customer demands.

Innovative custom designs can take full advantage of standard resources while maximizing return on investment. At TCA Technologies, this is always our winning formula.