Each year, we select the most innovative applications of machine automation and showcase them in our annual Innovator Awards. This year, six other innovative companies designed and built machines that merit recognition and a more thorough explanation of the creative use of automation and technology that makes them different. While each one of these innovators' machines is equally compelling, we'll put the question to you, as to which one you'd like to learn about most. Vote now at www.ControlDesign.com/sixinnovators. Lend your voice to our content decision-making process.
By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor
Innovation comes in waves and sometimes rips through an industry. That's exactly what happened with the two winners of the 2009 Control Design Innovator Awards. Each is a game changer that takes existing controls and automation technology and brings an entirely new machine category to the industry it serves. First, Control Logic was able to reinvent itself after all of its traditional customers headed east. By combining PC and PLC control, Control Logic was able to bring a modified version of its previous offerings to the lumber and mouldings market. Our second winner, TGW-Ermanco (www.tgw-ermanco.com), used local logic to create a more-efficient and less-expensive distribution system solution.
RIP, Traditional Ripsaw: Control Logic's ValuRip Plus
When the majority of the furniture manufacturing industry moved to Asia, Control Logic faced the problem of retooling itself for an almost entirely different market. "We had a lot of our customer base move to Asia," says Chris Aiken, president of Control Logic in Hickory, N.C., and vice president of technology and service at its parent company, Weinig America (www.weiningusa.com), in Mooresville, N.C. "We were left in the North American market with a completely different customer that couldn't afford the systems we'd been selling to these big furniture factories. That customer had moved away. We were left with small moulding companies and cabinet shops. We started looking at our code base."
What Aiken found was that almost 30% of Control Logic's code base was being spent to connect the PC and PLC worlds. "We had to have OPC drivers and all of the hardware and separate programming software," he says. "What attracted us to the Beckhoff platform was we were doing the embedded platform for years. We wanted that with the supportability of a PLC. We reduced our code base by 30%. We've got the beauty of the reliability of an embedded platform. We're using Flash rather than hard drives. I can create a Flash image and ship it to a customer. System integrators and OEMs today have to be able to effectively and remotely diagnose and troubleshoot. As an OEM we have to reduce components and cabling because the success and failure of our solution is based on total cost of ownership."
Where the Teeth Meet the Grain
Lan McIlvain, operations manager at Alan McIlvain (www.alanmcilvain.com), one of the hardwood and custom moulding distributors Aiken describes, has begun using Control Logic's new solution, the ValuRip Plus, at his company's facility in Marcus Hook, Pa. "We used to have two ripsaws that were manual," he explains. "That's how 90% of the world does it. There was nothing computerized attached to it. It was strictly a saw. This new machine looks at each piece and has a cut list and knows how to get the best board yield manually. On a daily basis, we're ripping about 15,000 board feeds in volume." The old machines would do around 5,000, he says.
"Doing the shape detection and optimizing the board for cutting did not exist for a small cabinet manufacturer," explains Aiken. "They would measure the width at one point on the board and then you'd have to do manual overrides on every board. The first defect a board has is its shape. Most of the systems would measure the width of the board at one point. When you pull a board out of the drying process, in an extreme case, you have a banana. Systems would measure the width of the board at one point and treat the board as a rectangle, so the operator would have to take a measurement."
If you can't scan the shape of the wood properly, you've got many loads of wood where the operator has to interact with 80-90% of the boards, says Aiken (Figure 1). If you scan the wood properly, you can reduce that to 10-15% of the boards where you have to make an override, which frees up the operators to do other machine flow tasks, he says.
The ValuRip Plus completely eliminates the need for the saw operator to guess at the cuts he can get out of a board, which in turn reduces a great amount of waste, says McIlvain. "Since we installed the machinery we have seen at least a 5% increase in yield, we are able to process lumber twice as fast, and we have virtually eliminated human error. We have very high-end imported species of lumber. That ends up saving us even more money than we save in labor."
Before the ValuRip Plus, Alan McIlvain was using a manual gang ripsaw run on two shifts and a straight line ripsaw run on one shift. "The same amount of work now gets done on one shift with only three employees versus a total of eight employees before," says McIlvain. "The same person is still running the machine." He's monitoring the process and overrides the computer's decision when he sees a knot or certain other things, he says.