Aspect Automation is a new company with a 60-year history in custom engineering and manufacturing.
Formerly a division of Remmele Engineering, Aspect became a privately owned stand-alone entity in 2008. “Virtually all of our personnel and processes remained intact following the transition,” says Troy Tradup, marketing and communications manager at the St. Paul, Minn.-based facility, which employs about 100 people. Aspect has 13 controls engineers, nine design engineers, a manufacturing engineer and four lead or principal engineers. “The majority of our project managers are also degreed engineers,” explains Tradup, “and we have 25 machinists and assemblers.”
Aspect’s systems are installed throughout the world—from Canada, Italy, Mexico and New Zealand to Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa and the U.K.—and an aggressive international expansion strategy has its eyes on projects in China, Germany, India, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands and Spain. The company is a designated partner in Rockwell’s Company-Level Machine Builder Program.
ALL IN A LINE
“Ninety-five percent of our control automation is industrial PLCs with integrated motion control,” explains Tom Olin, manager of control engineering. “And just about everything is networked via Ethernet these days. We have used wireless applications in a few instances, but only in those places where hardwiring is difficult to achieve.”
While more than half of its business is in medical, Aspect builds machines for a broad array of industries, including energy storage and consumer/industrial products. The machine builder focuses on custom automated manufacturing equipment, giving each project its own challenges. “We operate under an ISO 9001:2000 certified quality system and have extensive experience providing regulatory compliance support for our medical clients,” explains Tradup. “Many of our clients come to us because their project is unique and complex and requires the very latest in technology, systems and processes, so it’s hard to generalize about a typical machine. Much of our work is centered around three leading-edge applied technologies—web processing and converting, discrete assembly and packaging and filling. We also provide both standard and custom coating and converting equipment and sometimes take on build-to-print projects when they are a good match for our capabilities.”
Despite the diversity, Aspect trys to standardize on hardware and software. “We’ve developed many standard code modules that we leverage across multiple manufacturers’ control platforms,” explains Olin, who sees tighter manufacturing tolerances, increased rates, higher yields and considerably more data collection and storage as forthcoming challenges. “Processing speeds also will increase, and there will be additional requirements for on-line, at-rate networking with ancillary devices,” he adds.
For safety, Aspect uses relays on smaller machines with only one or two guard zones but upgrades to a safety controller or safety PLC when the number of zones to control exceeds three, says Olin.