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 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 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 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. 

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

Friday, August 25, 2023

When to manufacture it yourself - and when not to

Value-added Services:
How and When to Use Them

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

In today's post, let's tackle a question that is arguably one of the most difficult in manufacturing 

If Shakespeare were alive today and working in production ops, instead of the famous quote, "To be or not to be," he might ask, "In-house or not in-house?" This, folks, is as close as we come in manufacturing to an "existential question". 

What should you produce, and what should you outsource? When is it worthwhile? Are there times when it's a bad idea? And why, throughout the decades, has this remained such a challenging topic? 

Let's break it down. 

First, why can't you find a clear answer?

Even using the most sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI), you have probably already discovered that you won't find a simple answer online. We are all practically bombarded by webinars, industry publications, and blog posts. Sure, you might come across some very helpful information. However, there are too many variables. One size does not fit all. What works well for another manufacturer might not work at all for you. 

You could bring in vendors, consultants, and reps. Maybe you already have. You can schedule appointments, have them stop by, and listen to their pitch. They are probably helpful - to a point. They'll tell you that they can produce sub-widget x for a specific price. You might know how much that item costs you to produce. You might not. It can be tricky to calculate. Or, you might be looking at the wrong sub-widget entirely. It's nearly impossible to tell. 

It's an open-ended question with too many valid answers. 

Assuming you do know the exact cost for you to manufacture the sub-assembly, and you are confident that it is the ideal spot in your manufacturing process to consider outsourcing, there are still several other factors in play.

  1. Who can produce the item more optimally? Sometimes, having the parts come off one assembly cell and immediately brought to the next one can help optimize your production. For some, it creates a bottleneck. Be careful not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Your goal is not to outsource. Your goal is to streamline your operations. If it doesn't do so, look elsewhere. 

  2. How specialized is the item? Certain highly specialized items might be a "custom" even for an expert in that particular area. Do the size, design, or other characteristics make it a good fit for outsourcing? If you can purchase an off-the-shelf item that is a drop-in replacement, it will often be your best choice. Protecting your intellectual property is a priority. There are certain items you may not want to outsource to protect trade secrets and avoid sharing confidential design details. 

  3. Are you facing longer production times and other interruptions? If you're short on bandwidth, it can be a lifesaver to outsource an item. On the other hand, it adds an additional layer of delivery and potential delays that someone at your company will need to manage. 

  4. Can you make it better? Or not as well? Quality and consistency are key, of course.
  5. Factoring in labor costs: Do your employees have the knowledge and time to manufacture them? Will it involve overtime or delay production? 

  6. Do you have the space to store the items? You may be able to roughly calculate how many sub-assemblies you would need on your shelves to get you through a day/week/month/quarter. Do you have the physical space/square footage to both manufacture and store the item until it is ready to use?

  7. Do you have the equipment and production space? Perhaps you have aging, inefficient machines. When they break down, will it be cost-effective to invest in new ones? If you were to discard, sell, or write off that machinery, could the floor space be used for higher-value processes? 

  8. Transportation costs: If you are able to outsource the items nearby, you may be in luck. If there is no local supplier, it might be very costly to get the goods to you from a distant location.

While you were reading this list, did a specific pain point in your production process cross your mind? If so, you might have just discovered a great candidate for outsourcing. Still not sure? Here are some things to consider. 

Value-added services like those provided by FPE Automation offer flexibility in manufacturing operations. Our specialized teams are well-equipped with the necessary expertise and equipment to handle specific tasks efficiently. 

Countless manufacturers in the region have partnered with us for specialized sub-assembly. This is some of the actual feedback we receive.

Expertise and Specialization: 

"I can rely on FPE Automation's knowledge and skills. They have been a key contributor to our initiative to produce higher-quality products and make our processes more efficient."

Cost Efficiency: 

"For us, outsourcing certain production stages to FPE Automation has led to cost savings due to streamlined processes, reduced waste, and optimized resource utilization."

Focus on Core Competencies: 

"Partnering with FPE Automation has allowed us to focus on our core competencies while leaving other manufacturing tasks to the experts in that niche area."


"FPE Automation's Handshake Solutions team is more up-to-date with the latest technologies and innovations than we have the ability to be. Working with them gives our medium-size manufacturing company access to cutting-edge solutions without heavy R&D investments."


"Collaborating with FPE Automation gives us the flexibility to scale production up or down based on demand fluctuations, reducing added costs associated with fixed production capacities."

Time Savings: 

"Our value-added partner, FPE Automation, works with us to meet our production deadlines."

Enhanced Product Quality: 

"The boost in quality and consistency we saw when we partnered with FPE Automation's value-added team has truly allowed us to make a better product."

Saving Labor: 

"Embracing automation and efficient processes can significantly save labor costs. By automating repetitive tasks and utilizing advanced technologies, we can allocate our resources to more creative and strategic roles, ultimately boosting productivity. FPE Automation's Handshake Solutions team is friendly and knowledgeable - a pleasure to work with."

Ease of Ordering: 

"By creating highly specialized kits, FPE Automation's value-added team has turned various components into easily manageable ordering units. They're happy to accommodate our own part number and can build items others can't. For us, that has really simplified our purchasing experience. It reduces confusion, minimizes errors, and accelerates the order fulfillment process."

You're in capable hands with both of FPE Automation's manufacturing partners.

Relying on the right manufacturing partner has advantages. At FPE Automation, we have two separate divisions to do the job. Our value-added team can efficiently assemble products that may be challenging and inefficient for you or even for other third-party subassemblers. Tried and true, they regularly eliminate many of the pain points discussed in this article. Manufacturers have relied on our value-added services for more than 60 years.

Our Handshake Solution team specializes in engineered solutions and turn-key automation. For robot cells, vision systems, palletizers, and more, they are your highly regarded, go-to source you can add to your process to optimize production. 

Because this is a much bigger topic than a simple article can address, FPE Automation is here to help you tackle it. Reach out to us for an introduction to our teams. Let's start a dialogue. We exist to help you reach (and exceed) your production goals, hence our motto:

What you do is what we do. 

For more information about value-added and sub-assembly services, visit the Design/Assemble page on our website. For our Handshake Solutions division, which delivers robot cells, vision systems and other ready-to-implement solutions, you can learn more here. Or, you can reach out to us directly here