A Man, a Company, a Legacy of Control

Arthur G. Russell Has Been Walking the Talk for Six Decades

After World War War II, Arthur G. Russell Co. (AGR) was founded as a design consulting firm in Bristol, Conn., by a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who recruited three engineers from the large naval design group he’d headed during the war.

Sixty-two years later, the company designs and builds custom machinery in its 83,000-sq-ft Bristol facility. The organization still bears its founder’s name—he passed away 37 years ago—along with many of the beliefs and products developed by its originators, even though the company was sold to several employees in 1979 before it was resold to current ownership in 1990. You can’t argue with success, especially when it has such a long history.

“We’ve changed as technology changes,” explains President Bob Ensminger. “Advances in network-enabled devices, in particular Ethernet, will greatly reduce hard wiring on large systems. Wireless technology is becoming much more reliable and also will have an increased role. Servos directly integrated into PLCs will allow us to use more robotics and discrete servos since expertise in only one software control program is required. And vision systems will play a much bigger role in guiding manufacturing processes as processing speeds increase. But designing and building custom machinery is what we’ve always been about. We specialize now in the medical device and disposable consumer goods markets, but each machine is custom designed for the specific product and the processes required. As a result, the control systems are custom engineered for each machine.”

AGR employs about 100 people. Fourteen mechanical engineers and six electrical engineers design and build turnkey automation equipment for assembly, test and packaging of complex multiple part and process products. “We provide fully integrated high-speed assembly, test and packaging systems,” says Ensminger. “Our expertise is in integration of vision inspection, servo systems, adhesive dispense, adhesive cure, leak test, ultrasonic welding and robotics.”

Further, the company has never been bashful about keeping its quality and subsequently its work under close control.

“We do most everything in house,” explains Ensminger. “At times, if we’re extremely busy, we bring in outside help for mechanical and electrical systems design, but we don’t like to outsource and let the work out of our control. We bring the resources here, and they work here. Doing everything in house is something the founders believed in.”

One of the men Arthur G. Russell, the man, recruited was Noble Willis, an electrical engineer. The company was buying vibratory parts feeders, but they weren’t satisfied with them, so Willis developed the Vibroblock in house. “It’s a proprietary vibratory, multiple lane and centrifugal parts feeding system featuring low noise and high-feed-rate quality,” explains Ensminger. “We still sell it today. It fills a special niche in the market, and we attain higher amplitudes than our competitors can, so we achieve higher feed rates.”

That can give AGR’s machines a distinct advantage when manufacturing consumer goods such as disposable safety razors. But Ensminger is just as attuned to the needs of manufacturers in the medical-needle industry, where his company’s machines assemble, bond, lubricate and inspect. “We do a lot of work in medical device,” he says. “[Customers] are very concerned about the quality and traceability of their product. Our control systems keep track of parts produced, rejects, and which nest is causing the problem. That’s really what drives the use of vision inspection systems for us.”

Advances in processor speed have made 100% inspection of each part produced on high-speed assembly equipment much easier to implement, explains Ensminger. “PLC speed increases allow for monitoring more sensors that check part functionality, including analog sensors when required. And newer PLC-based systems simplify implementation of systems to monitor and report on all aspects of equipment operating status and the quality status of each part produced by the equipment at processing speeds over 1,000/min. Motion control within the PLC allows integration of mechanical and servo systems to provide manipulation of product at speeds not possible a few years ago. PC processing speed now allows more powerful vision inspection tools, too. They can be used at higher production speeds, and that improves the quality levels of the products produced on automated equipment.”

Ensminger says, because many AGR machines are one of a kind, flexibility is a driving factor in why it opts for PLCs or PLC-based controls. “Most of our smaller machines are hard-wired to local PLC I/O. Larger systems usually incorporate some local I/O, as well as networks such as Ethernet, ControlNet or DeviceNet. Most of the sensors used are discrete photoelectric or proximity switches, wired to local or networked I/O modules. Safety systems most commonly include doors with solenoid locks and dual-channel switches monitored by a safety relay or safety PLC. A separate dual-channel emergency stop circuit is monitored by a separate safety relay or safety PLC.”

AGR’s custom machinery also is behind its encouragement of customers’ engineers’ and technicians’ involvement in selected portions of the debug process. “After-sales support is an important part of our business,” says Ensminger. “We offer free training at our facility to all customers. Mechanical and controls service at our customers’ facilities around the world is always available.”