Monday, March 20, 2023

A benefit 'trifecta': Energy-savings, safety and ROI

With an Overhauled Dust Collection System, They are Breathing Easier at CertainTeed

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

FPE Automation recently helped to reengineer a dust collection system at CertainTeed®, North America's leading brand of exterior and interior building products, as part of a corporate energy-saving incentive program. Naturally, they expected to reduce energy consumption and lower energy bills. What they didn't expect was a system that is safer, more cost-effective, and breaks down far less often. 

The "Pressure" Was On

With the corporate energy-saving incentive in place, the plant engineer, Gary Hoelscher, knew he needed to find a solution right away. The timing couldn't have been better. FPE Automation's Cody Schmelzle, Solution Specialist, sent an email to Gary Hoelscher. Hoelscher responded immediately and invited him in to talk about a dust collection system overhaul.

When I reached out to FPE Automation's in-house specialist, Steve Carrera, Applications Engineer, who was called in to work on the project alongside Cody Schmelzle, Automation Solution Specialist for FPE Automation, the news had just been released that the pair had won an industry award for their success with this application. Carrera was happy to discuss what transpired at CertainTeed with me.

"The plant engineer, Gary Hoelscher, informed Cody and me that CertainTeed had an incentive for projects that helped the company save energy," Carrera told me. "Gary was willing to move forward but was not very familiar with the technology of the dust collectors since that part of the plant was handled by an engineer that was no longer with the company."

Carrera had heard that a similar upgrade had just taken place at one of the company's other locations in Florida. "I suggested that Gary get in contact with his counterpart at the sister plant to talk about what they had accomplished there."

While Hoelscher did his research, Carrera went to work on diagnostic tests. He used tools from Wixom, Michigan-based MAC Valves and FPE Automation have to analyze the efficiency of dust collection systems. MAC Valves created and manufactures the world's only diaphragm-free pulse valve. Carrera thought it would be an excellent fit for this dust collection application. He also toured the Jonesburg, Missouri-based plant.[boc_spacing height="10px"]

"You could hear the audible leak."

Carrera conducted a bleed-down test to determine the air loss for the dust collector. The test indicated that there was a drop in air pressure and that he had a leak of at least 1/8 inch. He found that the dust collector was problematic, with audible leaks and misfiring diaphragm valves. 

Carrera then prepared a presumptive ROI for Hoelscher to present to management. Remember, the incentive was to reduce energy usage. There was enough compelling information about increased efficiency in the report to warrant management's immediate approval. The energy-saving upgrade was going to move forward. 

This is where the story took a dramatic turn. Details began to emerge that indicated that energy savings would not be the only benefit of the upgrade.

Operations that produce dust as a byproduct of their processes rely on an industrial dust collection system to provide clean air to the workplace, ensure the health and safety of employees, and comply with EPA, OSHA and NFPA regulations. However, the dust collection system itself could be a source of danger if it isn’t properly equipped and maintained.*

Most companies are aware of the fire hazard risks of an improperly constructed/maintained dust collection system. Explosion prevention is certainly the number one concern. Efficient valves are just a part of keeping your dust collection system safe. Increasing their efficiency in measurable ways can reduce the amount of buildup in your hopper. 

Another aspect that isn't as often considered is maintenance safety. When inefficient valves break down, repairs are needed. Retired engineer and 35-year FPE Automation veteran Dan McCullough, once put it to me this way; "you don't want a worker on a ladder in the snow and ice because your diaphragm valves are breaking down". McCullough for his charmingly direct style, and he has a point. MAC Valves' patented technology is proven to break down exponentially less than legacy valves. When we hear that, we tend to focus on the performance benefits. However, there are safety benefits to that statement as well. 

MAC Valves Patented Technology

MAC Valves obtained a patent for a unique design that features no internal diaphragm. The result is a robust valve that has been tested/proven to outperform legacy valves. Rubber diaphragms are susceptible to tearing and grow brittle and rigid over time. With MAC's diaphragm-free patented bonded spool technology, breakdowns are a rarity. 

How do MAC Valves Compare to Legacy Valves? 

Even when they're operating, diaphragm valves are far less efficient. Pictured here is a hopper not unlike the one at CertainTeed. In this live production environment, the old valves were running... and consuming energy. Yet, they were misfiring and not collecting any of the airborne contaminants required by EPA, OSHA and NFPA. 

You can see that the hopper is almost completely empty. 

The single change made to this dust collection system was the addition of MAC pulse valves (PV).
Immediately, the airborne contaminants started to be removed from the plant
in amounts that far exceeded the efficiency the legacy system had, even when running smoothly. 

What Does Field Test Data Show?

[caption id="attachment_4446" align="alignleft" width="214"] As soon as the system was started with the new valves in place, it immediately began to collect airborne contaminants at a rate it never had in the past.[/caption]

Case study after case study has shown there is a 20-30% increased expenditure in energy costs to operate a diaphragm valve, versus a MAC pulse valve. 

For additional data, I e-mailed Anthony Bonadio at MAC Valves. Bonadio is MAC's resident expert in pulse valve technology. He resides in Michigan, but responded from Korea, where he is currently traveling on business. He replied, "MAC has developed a solution that replaces 60-year-old diaphragm pulse valve technology.  It requires less maintenance, consumes less energy –it even extends filter life.  And for most of our customers, the payback is less than a year."

CertainTeed's Gary Hoelscher tested ten MAC PV06 valves. They have 50-100 more, so this is a conversation that will go on for a while. The energy savings will keep adding up!
Carrera added, "He was delighted with the initial installation process and the willingness of the FPE Automation team to walk him step by step from quote to installation."

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Doing visual inspection right: More than a dozen Kawasaki robots hit the production floor at this wheel manufacturer's site

Kawasaki Robots Present Wheel Rims for Visual Inspection

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

Is your business leveraging automation to the fullest? At Automation International, the answer is yes. 

Danville, Illinois-based Automation International is using Kawasaki RS050 robots, together with PHD GRR grippers to present their products for visual inspection. The solution is considered by all parties to exemplify how automation can be used to manufacture smarter.

I spoke to Tim Foley, Senior Engineer at Automation International. He explained that the material handling process was set up so that the wheel rim orientation could be detected. Once it is verified, the part continues on to further process. Tim told me it is "one small piece of a big automated line that we're putting together this year for testing and development. So far, we are very happy with the way things have turned out."

As a longtime Kawasaki Robotics partner, Tim Foley and Automation International's considerable in-house expertise, along with teams at FPE Automation, PHD Inc., and of course, Kawasaki, all came together to create a solution that can be considered a benchmark for other companies. Automation International's Jeff Franklin’s creative contributions to this project were integral in the ongoing development of the system. The result is a testimony to the effectiveness of automation done well. 

The multi-robot solution was so well-received that FPE Automation's Steve Moore (pictured here, on the right) brought Joey Bardos (left), President of FPE Automation, in for a tour. 

I asked Steve Moore to tell me what was going on in the photo. He explained, "Automation International is using these robots and high capacity GRR grippers from PHD, Inc. for pick and place/visual inspection of automotive wheels." Steve added, "What you do not see, are the additional RSO50 robots that will be used for welding the various components of the wheels together. There are 13 robots in total for this project."

After the visit, I caught up with Joey Bardos on a Zoom meeting. He shared his reaction with me: "Automation International is a great partner. Very knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing this develop as the welding portion of the process comes on board. I'm really impressed with the teams at KawasakiPHD and Automation International, and what they have accomplished here. This is an excellent example of automation done right."

If you haven't had a conversation with the FPE Automation team about how to optimize your processes recently, we welcome you to reach out. 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Success Story: The solution had to be easy to use and simple to program for engineers with no prior robotics experience.

Epson Robots Features FPE Automation Implementation in a Case Study

FPE Automation customer Plastic Designs, Inc. needed a fast and cost-effective automation solution to help improve product quality and reduce waste. The solution had to be easy to use and simple to program for engineers with no prior robotics experience.

The combination of the Epson T6-B All-in-One SCARA robot and RC+® Express intuitive robot teaching environment provided an easy-to-integrate automation solution that improved product quality and reduced scrap while increasing production capacity by 20 percent.

Source: Epson

FPE Automation and Paxton, Illinois-based Plastic Designs, Inc. (PDI) received global acclaim recently when both companies were featured as part of a February 2023 Epson case study. A robotic pick and place operation is challenging enough for most. What made this implementation particularly newsworthy was the customer specification that this would be "easy to use and simple to program for engineers with no prior robotics experience". That which some are unable to achieve, Epson and FPE Automation are making look easy. 

PDF Read the full case study in the Epson Newsroom

Friday, February 24, 2023

VIDEO: These MAC Valves have been in operation since 1971 - apparently, that's not uncommon

A true story about MAC Valves that were in operation for a whopping 51 years! 

FPE Automation's Sandia Harrison interviews MAC Valves' VP of Sales, Joseph Richardson, and Ty Gurnick, the Inside Sales Coordinator at MAC Valves who made the initial discovery of this valve still in operation since June of 1971.

This exceptional history gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "product reliability".

MAC Valves, Inc. is one of the world's leading producers of pneumatic valves. MAC is recognized as an innovator in advanced solenoid valve technology. They have patented technology - that lasts. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

For maintenance managers, it's often moment by moment, component by component

Flexible Managers Trade their Favorite Everyday Components for Items They Can Source More Reliably

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

Do you like the products you use, but can't afford to wait? FPE Automation's
Brian Einzig took extrusions like these off the shelves and delivered them to a customer
the same day. The result? A very relieved customer was able to resume production
in a matter of hours.

Are you being watched? In today's busy manufacturing sector, the performance of most department heads is being measured. 

It can be intimidating for anyone in charge. However, today's maintenance managers likely feel the pressure more than others. 

While the facility certainly does need to be operating flawlessly at all times, there is simply a lot more to it than statistics, tools, graphs, charts and figures. 

It is a new reality that has been hard for some to accept. Supply chain woes have shifted the playing field a bit. Author Spencer Johnson would say the "cheese has moved".

Some products that were once reliable favorites are now nearly impossible to source. Even if they can be found, lead times are so long that they're simply not an option. 

We're all creatures of habit. When something works well, we are hesitant to change. There is typically a lot at stake. We're seeing a lot of that lately at FPE Automation. Reluctance to switch is a normal human trait. On the other hand, the success stories continue to pour in. The scenario is similar; an individual likes a particular component, but can't get it. The change is not welcomed, at least at first. Realizing that flexibility is key, they make the switch. The new products arrive, and they are happier than ever. 

If you're uncertain, we'd like to encourage you to try something new. 

We believe you'll be glad you did. FPE Automation has the ability to source new products with little or no lead time. Many of the manufacturers of these products are willing to operate on thinner margins or resort to other innovative measures, to get product to your door. A few of the larger manufacturers sometimes are too mired in bureaucracy to keep up.

Keeping things running for you during difficult times is their way of developing new partnerships with companies like yours. 

For some, this will pave the way for them to become the industry leaders of tomorrow. At FPE Automation, we want to assist you in making sure your company is right there with them. 

Rely on FPE Automation. What we do is what you do. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

Preparing to take flight: not your everyday electric actuator application

Flight Simulator Drawbridge is Powered by Tolomatic Actuators

SOLVED: Another unique challenge, by FPE Automation's team of engineers. 

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing and Steve Moore, Application Engineer

The constant flow of future pilots crossing the drawbridge to begin their flight training will not likely be aware that they are walking over a Tolomatic RSA electric actuator. 

It's a common theme in manufacturing - much of what keeps us safe, and makes things happen, remains behind the scenes. 

This application was no different. Top secret all the way. The type of stuff that would make an excellent motion picture about industrial espionage. Except that this is real life, and the company involved was not about to let that happen. 

FPE Automation has been a trusted solution provider to this team of flight simulator engineers for the past 10 years. For that reason, FPE Automation was the only vendor considered for this project. Their decision was based on both confidentiality and the ability to get the job done. Clearly, the stakes are high here. 

There were many meetings with their engineers, FPE Automation and Tolomatic during the development of the concept and design. FPE Automation's Steve Moore, pictured here, had this to say:

“After careful consideration we chose the RSA series actuator for its robust strength, rigidity, and moment loading capabilities at long strokes”

The Tolomatic RSA series actuator you see in the picture is driven by a servo motor. It raises and lowers the drawbridge to the flight simulator door. Since aspiring pilots will constantly be crossing above, safety is a concern. Reliability is a must. 

The finished product allows pilots of the future to access the most advanced flight simulator ever built. 

The team of engineers is so satisfied with the outcome that they have invited FPE Automation back to work on a different unique project at this location. Perhaps that will be the topic of a future story.

FPE Automation is quite often the go-to team for unique challenges like this one. We have the expertise and flexibility to find solutions, and will go above and beyond to make things work. 

What you do is what we do.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Collaborative Robot CNC Machine Tending

Cobot CNC Integration: The Five-Minute Synopsis

FPE Automation’s team of controls engineers has been impressed lately with Flexxbotics. Their FlexxCNC™ UR to CNC Communication Interface tool provides a seamless interface between a Universal Robots collaborative robot and a CNC machine, and even to the CNC machine’s peripherals.

To find out more about the FlexxCNC™ solution, FPE Automation’s Sandia Harrison talked to Tyler Bouchard, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Flexxbotics. Their down-to-earth conversation is based on actual questions often asked by CNC shop owners. They discuss how machine shops, who can sometimes be reluctant to automate, should look at digitally transforming in 2023. Sandia asks Tyler why a machine shop owner should invest in CNC automation, and in the FlexxCNC™ solution, in particular.

Listen to his answers here:

The FlexxCNC™ solution is compatible with the majority of leading CNC machines, including Mazak, Fanuc, Haas, Okuma, Brother and more.  FlexxCNC™ gives you the ability to standardize a solution across your shop. Move your UR cobot and FlexxCNC™ from one machine to another as demand shifts or build your cobot fleet to service the variety of CNCs on your floor.

For more information, reach out to FPE Automation’s controls division by visiting