Wednesday, January 10, 2024

How do you know if you're using the right automation partner?

Choosing the Right Automation Partner

A very candid look at knowing what's behind the promises you hear. 

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

Distributors, resellers, independent product representatives, solution providers, integrators, oh my. If you're a part of the plant engineering or maintenance ecosystem in any way, if your job role even loosely resembles process controls, your inbox, voice mailbox and phone are probably full of messages. 

People want to work with you. 

Let's start with the obvious. 

If you are approached by someone who is unprofessional, unethical, can't or won't keep their promises, or outright lies to you, don't walk. Run. 

I would like to make one thing very clear. We are not talking about that group. You know better than to work with a partner like that. 

So, who is left? The simple answer? A very long list of professional, personable, knowledgeable folks -  all of whom would like some of your precious bandwidth. We're talking about those persistent souls who probably have left you a message in the 30 seconds or so since you began reading this! People certainly do want to work with you. 

Things look very different through your lens. I'm guessing you don't have a ton of time. When you agree to meet with prospective automation partners, it seems like they all say the same thing anyway. How do you get past the sales pitch? How do you determine who will serve you the best, hopefully on a long-term basis? 

To say that "there is a lot at stake" is an understatement. The right partner can help you to manufacture smarter. They can help you make better decisions that greatly impact your facility. Maybe even your job. 

Any journey begins with a first step. When selecting an automation partner, that first step is often the most important one. Here's an honest exploration of a proven process you can use to ensure success. 

Let's dive in.  

Your path towards successful collaboration.

Here are some questions you can ask to find out if an automation partner is a good fit. 

1. What are your/your company's accolades? 

This single question will save you a lot of time. Has the company been featured in any success stories or case studies? Have they won any awards? Received any recognition? 

If the answer is "no", beware. If a partner is truly creating value in manufacturing plants like yours, it won't be long before the compliments start coming in. 

2. How long has the company you work for been in business? And how long have you been there? 

Don't get me wrong, truly talented industry champions do change jobs. There is nothing wrong with accepting a better offer. Still, you're looking for numbers that will make you feel comfortable in this area. 

3. Who is on your support team? 

This is a heavy-hitter question. Why? Many, if not most, partners rely solely on their suppliers for application assistance. That can be a big mistake. 

There are many reasons why that is true:

  • You're the middleman: There is not enough transparency, and you may not be involved enough in the process, particularly when there is an issue. 
  • Not seeing the big picture: While the supplier's employees are undoubtedly the best source for information about the product they manufacture, they often lack knowledge about the market as a whole.

While the supplier's employees are undoubtedly experts when it comes to their product, they often lack knowledge about the market as a whole. They will most likely promote their own brand instead of recommending what is best for your application. Plus, they won't have as much in-depth knowledge about how to incorporate various components into your application. FPE Automation has an award-winning, in-house, team of engineers to assist you. When we make recommendations, you can be confident that have your best interest in mind. Your success is our success.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

We asked people on the front lines of manufacturing about the latest trends: here's what they said - part 3

Industry Insiders Identify Industrial Engineering Trends

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

You Asked: We Answered - Part 3

Thanks for staying tuned to our You Asked: We Answered series of blog posts. This week, we have a whole new group of industry insiders weighing in on what they see as the latest trends in industrial automation. Let's dive in!

Stacey Stowell
QC Conveyors

One of the most impressive trends in automation is the innovation the automation industry continues to show in responding to labor shortages.  

From repetitive assembly tasks to packaging and palletizing, QC Conveyors has been a leading performer in creative labor shortage solutions. 

Stacey Stowell is in the impressive position of having risen through the ranks at QC Conveyors over the past 20 years to become Director of Channel Sales. That journey has given her a front-row seat as automation has evolved over the past two decades. Stacey has worked with some of the best and most innovative partners in the industry, giving her an excellent perspective on industry trends like these. 

Leena Antony
FPE Automation

A trend I have seen is an increased interest in product traceability. It is now easier than ever for customers to have a complete record of their product through every step of the manufacturing process. Zebra’s industrial scanners, RFID technology, and industrial barcode readers have given our customers the flexibility to upgrade their current processes with little to no downtime.

Leena Antony is an applications engineer for FPE Automation. It's a role that regularly puts her on the cutting edge of automation as she helps companies engineer next-level robotic and vision systems. Leena is also a certified Universal Robots CORE training instructor and has a Master's degree in industrial technology and operations from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Nick Hobbs
Apera AI

The big thing Apera AI is seeing right now is making existing robotic cells or manual processes better with AI-powered vision. Major automotive manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers we’re working with have achieved significant productivity gains and ROI. This extends to replacing older vision cameras with processes trained using AI. Manufacturers love these automation projects because production is being interrupted by robot faults or labor shortages, and they don’t have to think about it anymore.

Nick Hobbs has 13+ years of experience in automation sales and leads sales activities for Apera AI. Before joining Apera, he started the Indiana branch of a major systems integrator and grew the territory to be the largest in the company. Nick has a world-class collection of Air Jordan sneakers and is the winner of the Apera golf long drive competition.

Andy Zaske

Manufacturing will continue to require increasing levels of accuracy, repeatability, control and be environmentally friendly. This will increase the use of electric actuators to replace hydraulic and other fluid power actuators in many aspects of manufacturing. Further accelerating an already growing trend. At Tolomatic, we are also seeing an increasing interest in multi-axis actuator solutions that can be used in applications that require longer reaches or lifting larger loads or faster precision than more typical robots can. This will prove increasingly useful as automation of manufacturing continues to grow and evolve in North America.

Andy Zaske is a seasoned automation professional on the front lines of all things automation. He's not your typical engineer. Friendly, outgoing, knowledgeable and creative, having Andy on your team instantly elevates any project. He is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Tolomatic, Inc

Michele Leoni
Datalogic Automation srl

Machines are becoming more flexible and able to handle a wider variety of products. As a result, machine builders are looking for devices that can handle multiple scenarios and are easy and intuitive to configure. Datasensing offers superior, easy-to-use products such as the brand new SH4 Series, the world's first Safety Light Curtains that can be programmed wirelessly with an APP

Michele Leoni sends his thoughts from Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. His perspective, combined with the experience he has gathered as Product Marketing Manager (PMM) at Datalogic, provides us in the midwestern USA with a global view of automation trends.

Read what others had to say.

This is part of the "You Asked: We Answered" series of blog posts, brought to you by FPE Automation. If you missed the others, you can view part one here, and part two here

Do you work in industrial automation? If so, you probably have your own ideas about where smart manufacturing is headed. Would you like to contribute next time? If so, feel free to reach out to me @sandiaharrison with your brief, two or three-sentence statement and a lighthearted bio like the ones you see here. I'd enjoy hearing what you have to say! 

We asked people on the front lines of manufacturing about the latest trends: here's what they said - part 2

Industry Insiders Identify Industrial Engineering Trends

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

You Asked: We Answered - Part 2

Thanks to everyone for your overwhelmingly positive feedback after part 1 of the "You Asked: We Answered" blog series appeared in your social media feeds last week. To recap, it seemed to be ideal timing to ask several individuals at the front lines of automation what they believe to be the biggest emerging trends in manufacturing.

Here's what they had to say this time around: 

Zachary Thoma
Kawasaki Robotics

I would say it's all about non-proprietary connectivity right now. People don't want to be handcuffed by an OEM's restrictions or recurring licensing fees, they want something akin to the open architecture programming environment that Kawasaki Robotics offers.

Zach Thoma has been improving manufacturing processes and procedures all over the globe for twenty years. He enjoys fitting companies large and small with the right solution and making their processes better. Zach is the creator of the popular podcast series Bot Sh!t Crazy. He is also a strong advocate for mental fitness in the workplace. He is based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and is Midwest Regional Sales Manager for Kawasaki Robotics USA, Inc.

Kendra Patton

Manufacturers are feeling pressure to maintain production while balancing retention rates for employees. We see our customers looking for simple and user-friendly technology that can be implemented quickly without disrupting the current production. Focusing on simplicity for projects, the Robotiq Palletizing Solution continues to be a great fit for these initiatives within various factories. We see implementations that are easily repeated on additional lines within customer facilities which allows standardization throughout the facility.

When the sweeping movement toward collaborative robots (cobots) arrived with unprecedented influential force over the industrial automation industry, Kendra was there. Since then, she has worked with manufacturers on numerous, varied projects to eliminate specific pain points. Using cobots for over half of her career, she understands the market fit and technical needs for applications. As the Palletizing Expert at Robotiq, she focuses on end-of-line deployments using their palletizing solution featuring Universal Robots.

Wes Doty

We are seeing the continued prioritization of employee retention, and the “up-skilling” of current employees in an effort to retain top talent.  We at Mech-Mind Robotics have robust camera hardware, as well as a software suite that is intuitive enough for someone early in their technical career to grasp quickly to make an impact and featureful enough to keep a technical veteran engaged in their personal development, quicker deployment of machines and overall reductions in hardware costs. It’s truly a win-win for all.

Wesley Doty is best described as a motivational sales strategist, growth driver, player-coach and team builder. He is an experienced national sales leader with a demonstrated history of success in the industrial automation industry. He has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) focused in Sales, Distribution, and Marketing Operations, General from Purdue University.

Jomy Vadakumpadam
FPE Automation

I am seeing that our customers are looking to partner more with solution providers rather than purchase their automation products from re-sellers. They want to work with someone who can provide value more than just handling the transaction. For example, a robot purchase from Vendor A, PLC purchase from Vendor B, and a Vision solution from Vendor C can lead to a very complicated and potentially frustrating timeline to get these three technologies working together. At FPE Automation, we pride ourselves on being experts in all of these areas of technology. When you work with FPE, you can have the confidence that the Panasonic PLC we sold alongside to work with that Universal Robot and Zebra camera will work together and get set up with minimal startup/development time. 

20 years ago, fresh out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Jomy Vadakumpadam helped launch the first Automation Controls Division team at FPE Automation. He nurtured the ACD from its origins to the large, talented team of engineers it is today, all the while working with customers large and small to help them automate. For that reason, it's hard to describe the nuances of his considerable experience in the field, or the level of industry respect for his knowledge. Jomy's role is Vice President of Sales & Engineering.

Paul Powers
Zebra Technologies

Manufacturers are finding that they cannot ignore automation on the factory floor.  For some, what was once an industry term referenced at a conference, is now part of short-term initiatives.  With AI-based technology on the forefront of automating processes, we must challenge ourselves to the openness of evolving industrial progressions.

Paul Powers is Senior Channel Account Manager - Machine Vision & Imaging at Zebra Technologies. When first partnered with FPE Automation, Paul's extensive background in automation instantly made him an invaluable asset to our applications engineering team. With a natural talent for problem-solving and a great personality, it's always a pleasure to work with Paul on any vision or imaging project.

Additional Thoughts

I'll continue to reach out to others for their industry trend observations. Stay tuned for round three! 

Do you work in industrial automation? If so, you probably have your own ideas about where smart manufacturing is headed. Would you like to contribute next time? If so, feel free to reach out to me@sandiaharrison, with your brief, two or three-sentence statement and a lighthearted bio like the ones you see here. I'd enjoy hearing what you have to say! 

Friday, September 15, 2023

We asked people on the front lines of manufacturing about the latest trends: here's what they said

Industry Insiders Identify Industrial Engineering Trends

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

You Asked: We Answered

As we approach a packed trade show season, it seemed to be ideal timing to ask several individuals at the front lines of automation what they believe to be the biggest emerging trends in manufacturing. Here are their thoughts. 

Barrett White
Murrelektronik, Inc.

Machine builders are relying on IO-Link more than ever before. At Murrelektronik, we pride ourselves in conveying the power of this technology to our customers. Not only are our customers gaining more data at the device level, but they are also starting to realize the cost savings from reduced/simplified wiring, quicker deployment of machines and overall reductions in hardware costs. It’s truly a win-win for all.

Barrett White is a regional sales manager for Murrelektronik in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. In his role at Murrelektronik, he focuses on strengthening the connection between the control cabinet and the sensors and actuators in both machines and systems with proven concepts and technologies.

Daniel Kelly
Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)

There is a new trend that was actually an old trend that didn’t really catch on before COVID. That is Robots as a Service (RaaS). Manufacturers are still dealing with workforce shortages. And economic conditions are putting an even tighter grip on their wallets. RaaS has never been more appealing. MiR offers a RaaS option for our customers through our financing partner to ease that initial financial hit to their capital budgets.

Dan Kelly had been working in automation for some time. Along the way, he says, it "sparked a new passion in me for robotics and sent me down an exciting path in this industry. I can't wait for all the new adventures headed my way." Dan is a midwestern-based Area Sales Manager for Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR).

Brittany Carroll
IRIS Factory Automation

A trend we have seen with our Manufacturing customers is that this new generation is moving away from labor-intensive roles. 

IRIS Factory Automation has developed Automation solutions to combat repetitive high-labor jobs. In this, we have designed an appealing and easy-to-use interface and system to attract and retain employees with a more fulfilling role.

Brittany Carroll has dedicated her career to creating long-lasting relationships with partners and clients. She is a content creator and the host of the Automation Happy Hour Podcast. Brittany is a Channel Partner Manager at IRIS Factory Automation

Scott Massie
FPE Automation

Two of the biggest trends I see in manufacturing are I/O Link and electric actuators. I see engineering teams moving away from older solutions toward both of these, and getting far better performance across the board. 

Mac Valves has recently released their MIO-Link product, which takes a stack of valves and communicates on the I/O Link network….saving wiring time and troubleshooting time.

PHD Inc. has a broad line of long life electric actuators that have solved a large number of difficult applications in the marketplace for us. 

Scott Massie is an experienced regional application expert with highly specialized product training in several key areas. Although he wears many hats, his official title is Sales Manager, FPE Automation

Michael Walchli
Universal Robots

Due to the shortage of welders in the industry, collaborative robots are rapidly growing into the welding space. Universal Robots have taken their knowledge and utilized their partner network to fill the void with collaborative automated welding solutions.

Michael Walchlii has developed an established career in the mechanical and industrial engineering industry. He is a Channel Development Manager in the midwestern USA for Universal Robots. Prior to that, he served as an infantryman in the US Army,

Additional Thoughts

I'll continue to reach out to others for their industry trend observations. Stay tuned for round two! 

Do you work in industrial automation? If so, you probably have your own ideas about where smart manufacturing is headed. Would you like to contribute next time? If so, feel free to reach out to me@sandiaharrison, with your brief, two or three-sentence statement and a lighthearted bio like the ones you see here. I'd enjoy hearing what you have to say! 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

"It once had a bad name." Mining cleans up its act... is now at the forefront of environmentally-friendly production

Across the Country, Limestone Processing Plants Are Reducing Their Carbon Footprint with MAC Pulse Valves

The Mississippi River
Source: Mississippi Lime
By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

In a concerted effort to combat climate change, limestone processing plants across the country are taking significant steps to reduce their carbon footprint. One innovative solution gaining traction in the industry is the installation of MAC Pulse Valves. These valves are revolutionizing the way dust collection systems operate within these facilities, leading to substantial energy savings.

Limestone processing used to be notorious for its environmental impact, primarily due to the energy-intensive nature of lime production. However, with the introduction of MAC Pulse Valves, the industry is undergoing a transformation. These valves efficiently control the dust collector systems, vastly reducing the time they operate. By doing so, they not only enhance the overall efficiency of the process but also significantly cut down on energy consumption. All while keeping the air the workers breathe clean. 

Clean production due to a more efficient
dust collection system.

Across the board, virtually all limestone processing plants in the United States have made a commitment to sustainability. 

The adoption of MAC Pulse Valves is a testament to the industry's dedication to environmental stewardship. As limestone processing plants across the nation embrace this technology, they are not only improving their environmental footprint but also setting an example for other industry sectors. With such innovations, the future of limestone processing looks greener, aligning with the broader goals of reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding our planet's health. 

At FPE Automation: assembling, inspecting and testing
the more efficient valves prior to installation.

Retrofitting a Dust Collector: What's Involved?

Retrofitting a dust collector involves several key steps, starting with an assessment of the existing collector's performance and condition. Inefficient valves stick, break down frequently and run continously, wasting energy without properly cleaning the air. Corrosion is a common issue. The valves pictured here have anti-corrosion nickel plating that was developed specifically for the harsh environment in lime plants. 

Fortunately, tools are available to measure and compare one solution over the other, and to properly size your application. FPE Automation has in-house specialists who are highly skilled in assessing dust collection systems They can collect and present factual data from your environment that can help you to make the correct determination. Once the evaluation is complete, the goal is to enhance the dust collector's performance, reduce energy consumption, and ensure compliance with environmental regulations, making it an essential undertaking for industries reliant on effective dust management systems. Many of the nation's largest limestone miners have reached that goal by adopting MAC Pulse Valves technology as part of their clean air initiatives. 

Do you work in industrial automation? If so, you probably have your own ideas about where smart manufacturing is headed. Would you like to contribute next time? If so, feel free to reach out to the author of this post@sandiaharrison, I'd enjoy hearing what you have to say! 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Getting a grip: the role of robotics in car tire manufacturing

On the Road Again: Robotic Gripper Application at a Major Car Tire Manufacturing Plant

FPE Automation's Andy Button receives recognition for the implementation of custom robotic grippers in the manufacturing plant of a global tire manufacturer. 

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

Car tires. Where the proverbial "wheels hit the road." It's where every journey starts. Or is it? Most of us have never given any thought about the journey every tire makes before it ends up on our car. It turns out that AI-driven robots are revolutionizing the automotive industry, particularly in the domain of car tires, resulting in substantial efficiency gains.

I reached out to Travis Haynes, Senior Application Engineer at PHD Inc. "The customer wanted a three-jaw gripper, as the concept they’ve used before involved a cylinder driving three pivoting arms to retain the tire," he told me. 

The goal: To pick and place tires of various sizes by their internal diameter. 

Simulation only: actual drawing not used to
maintain confidentiality.
The application: A robotic cell that can detect the tire size from the ID on the tire using machine vision, and automatically grip and lift it. 

The challenge: The difference in tire sizes called for significantly more travel than a standard three-jaw gripper has available. 

So, Hayes, together with Andy Button, Regional Sales Team Leader at FPE Automation, and with the help of a local integrator, looked at custom solutions. 

"This gripper is the result of adding backing plates to a previous custom design to increase jaw moment capacities." Hayes described. "It is effectively a customized, three-jaw version of PHD's popular GRR gripper." 

FPE Automation's Andy Buton (R)
and me.
The gripper is used as end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) on a robot, which is part of a production cell. The resulting engineered solution significantly optimizes the process for the tire manufacturer. 

"The standards were set very high for this project." Button told me, "There was no room for errors or inaccuracy. The PHD custom team made the process seamless. The end result was that the customer has exactly what they wanted. These robot cells will work out very well for them."

Car Tire Innovation 

We can all expect to see more news in the upcoming months about robotic cells and AI being used for the manufacture of car tires. As manufacturing plants automate, quality increases. So does safety and reliability. The automotive industry has a long history of leading the way when it comes to manufacturing innovation. Typically, it's not long before other industries follow suit. 

If you would like to know more about how you can use AI and robot cells to streamline your operations, reach out to the experts FPE Automation. We can arrange to take you on a tour of one of our state-of-the-art robotic and vision labs or set up a demo. Or, we can stop by and visit you. We're local.

A Job Well Done

Congratulations to FPE Automation's Andy Button, who received accolades in this month's industry newsletter from PHD Inc. for his hard work on this project. Hats off to Travis Haynes as well, for his innovative design. 

FPE Automation is a preferred PHD Inc. partner. Whether it is their high-quality, robust off-the-shelf products, or a custom solution like this one, we can help. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Saluting female veterans

Recognizing Unseen Heroes: Honoring the Contribution of Female Veterans of the U.S. Military

Event coverage by Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

PLAINFIELD, IL. Over this past weekend, AllenForce's "All In For Veterans Charity Ride", a motorcycle ride to honor the female veterans who bravely served our country.

These incredible individuals, soldiers who are sometimes overlooked, are so very worthy of honor and support. They have saved lives and preserved our freedom right alongside their male counterparts. We salute you.

The AllenForce team had this to say, "Our annual event includes a ceremony honoring a specific group of people from the military. This year [2023], we are honoring Women of the Military, the 75th Anniversary of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. On June 12, 1948, President Truman signed into law this Act, allowing women to serve as permanent, regular members of the Armed Forces."

"Thank you to FPE Automation and ALL of our sponsors and supporters of our All In For Veterans Charity Ride honoring Women Veterans."

FPE Automation is a longtime supporter of this (and other) worthwhile charities in the community we serve. We're local in our roots, midwestern since 1963. The health of jobs, families and manufacturing in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa are important to us to the core. #AllenForce #charity #sheforce #fpeautomation #fpegivesback #militarywomen #womenveterans #usa #companiesthatcare #rideforcharity