Jumble fever

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 July 2006



Loughlin, C. (2006), "Jumble fever", Assembly Automation, Vol. 26 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/aa.2006.03326caa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Jumble fever

Jumble fever

Readers of my editorials will be well aware that I am an advocate of self-sufficiency and have a gut-reaction opposition to the general trend towards globalisation.

One of the prime reasons given for having your products manufactured offshore is that the cost of labour is cheaper. High tech machinery costs much the same wherever you buy it so it is primarily the cost of employing people that drives companies to look beyond their factory gates.

If this is the case, and if you consider that farming out your operations may not be in your best long-term interests, then you have to come up with a plan that includes your financial survival.

One logical move is to reduce the labour input and one area in which manual labour is still widely employed is in this issues theme of “Parts Feeding and Parts Presentation”.

The electronics industry is already pretty hot in this area, the ever diminishing components are supplied in reels with each item located in a preformed hollow and capped off with a tape that keeps them in place. For those who have not seen them the appearance is very much like that of a reel from a Hollywood movie with indented pockets where the image would be.

Larger components are supplied in waffle trays which also serve to contain and partly orient the parts. These various systems do not aim to perfectly locate the components to micron accuracy but they do present them the right way up and in a known (+/-10°) orientation. This is sufficient to allow a pick and place mechanism to grab a part and present it to a vision system, which then tells the machine the position and angular offsets that are needed to place the part to the very high levels of accuracy that are required by today's pcbs.

All the above is fine and dandy, but once the parts become much bigger than a golf ball then there is a tendency for all semblances of order to be dispensed with and our tape and waffle techniques go out of the window to be replaced by a bucket.

There is an argument that once you have a part in a known position and orientation that you should never let go of it. This makes good sense, and is perhaps the ideal, however, in reality it is difficult to achieve in practice as parts are frequently created at one location and assembled at another. So the two options you have for larger components are either:

  1. 1.

    place them in some sort of holder; and

  2. 2.

    dump them in a bucket and sort out the mess later

Option (b) is often the preferred route as holders can be expensive and difficult to re-use so they effectively become “use once and throw away” items, which is hardly a responsible approach given our diminishing resources.

So what can we do about it, other than employ people to sort out parts from a jumbled heap? A few options present themselves. One is to develop a low cost method for transporting parts that keeps them reasonably well located and which uses recyclable materials. Wood pulp-based pre- formed carriers spring to mind – a sort of 3D version of MDF. Another is to use high tech intelligence to either design clever mechanical sorting systems or give robots the necessary vision to locate and grasp randomly orientated parts.

I am sure that other alternatives are available and many are component specific, but the real message is not to suggest what we should do but to emphasise that we cannot afford to keep doing things the way we do now.

Clive Loughlin

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