Case Study: Harry Major Machine modern gantry improves plant uptime, recovery time

Improved PLC speed combined with servo drives makes for a flexible system with no tradeoffs in precision.

By Wes Larsen, Harry Major Machine

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Harry Major Machine (HMM) provides industrial production solutions and services, specializing in the design and manufacture of automated parts handling systems, industrial parts washers, assembly machines and special machines.

Our facilities include a 100,000-ft2 headquarters in Clinton Township, Michigan, and a 30,000-ft2 plant in the United Kingdom (Figure 1). Our staff and expertise allows us to offer simultaneous engineering, system engineering and integration, equipment installation and mechanical and controls design (Figure 2).

We’ve worked with more than 100 gantry systems utilizing CNC-based systems, mostly for automotive machining manufacturing plants. We wanted to offer manufacturers a linear, PLC-based gantry system as a more cost-efficient and flexible alternative to CNC-based systems since most of our customer base is well-trained and comfortable with PLC systems, and the programming can be flexible for multitasking without major changes to the design of the overall length.

Through our partnership with Siemens, we were able to deliver a gantry system that expands motion-control possibilities and meets the growing requirements and specifications of manufacturers for common designs, modularity and easy-to-use programs in a variety of industries. The system fully integrates advanced Siemens PLC, HMI, servo drives, automation and control products for commonality, safety, diagnostics and seamless component-to-component communication.

A needed lift

To keep pace with trends, not to mention competition, automakers, for example, must manage increasingly complex machining and assembly processes during powertrain production. Much of today’s manufacturing demands multipart systems, with equipment being commissioned for future parts. That type of flexibility needs to be designed into the system, while reducing the floor-space footprint of the machinery. Manufacturers in every industry need assembly lines that are more flexible to reduce production time, maintain high availability and keep lifecycle costs low.

Gantry systems are among the more significant solutions on the radar of industrial manufacturers, given its pivotal role in material handling, assembly, sorting, inspection, packaging and palletizing.

Also read: Harry Major Machine Debuts Cableless Gantry Technology for North America

Harry Major Machine provides a range of robotic gantry systems that use the productivity of computer numerical control (CNC)-based overhead gantry robots in an array of production environments. Most gantry systems are CNC-based in performing motion control functions. While these are known for precision and allow all motion functions of a gantry to be manipulated, they’re more expensive to purchase and require higher levels of support from an engineering and maintenance standpoint; parts also are costly.

We were certain a PLC-based gantry system would give manufacturers a viable alternative, as long as the whole package was desirable and cost-effective. The challenge was to ensure the new PLC-based gantry would:

    • address real customer needs for unique performance specifications—from speed, uptime and cost requirements to individual plant layout specifications
    • increase customer plant capacity, effect higher production value and reduce costs
    • expand and enhance gantry control possibilities
    • deliver immediate and long-term benefits to manufacturers across multiple industries.

Efficient engineering and quick commissioning result from advanced tools and simple wiring.

We have just started to offer the PLC-based programs due to the development of faster PLCs. Previously, PLC base units couldn’t process quickly enough for gantry requirements. And due to our utilization of servo drives, there’s no tradeoff of precision with the PLC-based gantry system.

Our intent for the new gantry was to:

    • provide a linear, xyz-type gantry that is PLC-based instead of CNC-based
    • perform industrial material handling with greater flexibility at a lower cost
    • offer a system that’s user-friendly, easy to maintain, able to multitask without major logic changes, deliver higher reliability and reduce resource consumption
    • employ advanced hardware and software with more reliable integrated functions, such as rapid engineering efficiency, high performance, innovative design and integrated diagnostics, safety and security
    • improve plant uptime, reduce downtime and afford faster recovery times
    • offer multiple options that accommodate different lifting capacity requirements.

In the past, servo drives with PLC were too slow for industrial applications. The processor was too slow for transferring data to the drives and system; technology improvements over the past few years have overcome this and other processor issues required for gantry requirements.

As part of the initiative, we wanted to demonstrate real and applicable examples to customers through product demonstrations and at industry trade shows, because nothing compares to seeing a new solution in action.

We were expanding and improving our offerings, and we found that new technologies from Siemens would allow us to exceed our goal of providing a cost-effective and valuable solution for our customers. While developing the new unit on our floor, Siemens came to us with advanced and relevant technologies, including total integrated diagnostics and safety. We chose these and other new Siemens technologies, which helped us deliver dramatic improvements.

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