Chicago does assembly twice in one month

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 March 1999



(1999), "Chicago does assembly twice in one month", Assembly Automation, Vol. 19 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited

Chicago does assembly twice in one month

Chicago does assembly twice in one month

IMTS '98 joins ASSEMBLY EXPO as twin September venues in Chicago, IL, for automated assembly technology. Assembly technologies have come into their own as a very important part of manufacturing. This year the 1998 IMTS show featured a separate factory automation pavilion devoted to exhibits of automated assembly systems and related subsystems such as grippers, modular structural elements, conveyors, slides and controls.

Factory automation helped make the 1998 International Manufacturing Technology Show bigger in every way than any previous show. More than 125,000 toured more than 1,400 stands occupying more than 1.4 million sq.ft of exhibit space.

Not to be outdone, ASSEMBLY EXPO featured an operating electronics assembly line. Attendees watched a hand-held digital electronic compass being produced. The line included SMT placement, odd shape placement, double-sided board, soldering and inspection. At the end of the line each person received a just-assembled compass as a gift. ASSEMBLY EXPO '98 covered more floor space than ever before and set a new attendance record, even though it did not enjoy the attendance synergism of previous show partner, the coil winding Expo.

The outstanding 60 per cent growth in turnover at Automated Tooling Systems (ATS), the major Canadian custom assembly system integrator, created an upbeat tone for both exhibitions. Another major worldwide assembly systems integrator, DT Industries of Springfield, MO, is also reporting significant increases in sales turnover. Both firms have capitalised on synergies from recent acquisitions and the implementation of innovative new sales strategies to grow much faster than the market in general.

A current electronic circuit board production slump has depressed all types of circuit board production equipment spending. An oversold personal computer market, reduced military spending and a move to contract electronics manufacturing has slowed PC board production equipment purchases.

Subsystem suppliers are offering smart modular conveyor or transport sections. This concept is much more popular in Europe than in North America. Some assembly system integrators with a European connection are also offering modular assembly stations which third party integrators can use to design and fabricate an operating system more quickly. Several robot manufacturers are offering automated robotic assembly cells for the same purpose. The robot suppliers see the cell approach as a means to increase the dollar value from each order. A typical robotic cell includes the robot, a modular transport or conveyor section, parts feeding capability and a cell controller. Modular cells will assist in the development of computer software based design and simulation programs.

Assembly systems exhibitors at both shows focused on both electro-mechanical assembly and welded assembly. The industry is viewing manufacturing as a more complete process, which includes the traditional metal cutting, stamping and forming, as well as product assembly with mechanical fasteners and/or welding technology. Spot and arc welded assembly system technology is found in the production of automotive white body, mechanical structures and appliance cases and metal office furniture.

Automated quality assessment of spot welding is now possible with sensors to detect welding tip failure, improper pressure or out-of-specification energy pulse. System control computers or PLCs monitor every spot weld and immediately signal a warning if parameters are out of tolerance.

To improve spot welding reliability, sensor suppliers are offering fast acting and more intelligent water loss detectors. Many high power resistance welding heads include water cooling to draw off excess heat build-up. Loss of the cooling water can quickly result in damaged parts, welding control malfunction or incomplete spot welds. Water loss can occur due to tip failure or supply hose rupture. Tips fail as the result of material loss in the normal course of operation. Each spot weld causes the loss of a small amount of metal from the tip. Hoses fail from flexing and from elastomer deterioration in the adverse spot welding environment.

Vision system exhibitors are showing faster, more accurate inspection abilities. Odd shaped part robotic pick-up through the use of vision technologies continues to enjoy increasing acceptance, replacing vibratory feeding. Adept Technology displayed a new vision guided part pick-up robot with production rates much faster than its previous offerings.

Real time vision guidance for robotic movement is still in the development stage. The robotic guidance currently offered still employs the frame grab technique and subsequent motion command computing. Assembly system integrators are still digesting advanced vision inspection and not moving ahead with real time guidance yet.

Gripper and exchange unit developments are moving in a number of directions concurrently. New grippers to handle much heavier loads are sharing display space with new smaller grippers and lower cost, more moderate duty grippers produced from fibre reinforced plastic. These new sizes and types are necessary to meet demands of new applications being served.

Exchange units with improved connect-through capability and load capacity are being introduced. One innovative exchange unit serves as an electrical and pneumatic service connector to a dial index head, replacing slip rings and slip couplings. The advanced docking port provides more reliable means for delivery of command signals and air supply. Each index of the rotary table presents a different mating connector half to the stationary service port.

CAD design and simulation of automated assembly has not progressed past the module stage. Robotic module simulation is available but integrated line design and simulation have yet to appear. Software industry officials who were interviewed indicated that progress is slow and trails considerably the system design and simulation capabilities now in wide use for metal cutting systems and automated material handling systems.

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