By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor
Each year, we select the most innovative applications of machine automation and showcase them in our annual Innovator Awards. The winners of this year's competition, TGW-Ermanco (www.tgw-ermanco.com) and Control Logic (www.controllogic.com), created fresh approaches in established industries. You can review their stories at www.ControlDesign.com/2009innovators. These two machine builders turned the industries they serve far enough on their respective ears that their entries raced ahead of the field and crossed the finish line several lengths in front.
This left a stable of well-deserving thoroughbreds standing in the place-and-show corral. All six of these 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.
And 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. Below are brief summaries of each company's entry, followed by a link to a poll on our website where you can vote for the machine of your choice. Here are the nominees.
- JetAir Technologies (www.jetairtech.com) designed and built high-pressure industrial blowers, powered by direct-drive, high-speed motors, which helps eliminate the need for maintenance-intensive belts and pulleys that the beverage industry has used for 40 years. The use of direct drives is relatively new in this industry. JetAir needed to prove its new technology to compete with traditional market leaders. The direct-drive, high-speed motor makes the blower smaller and more efficient, and it eliminates pinchpoints.
- Concept Systems (www.conceptsystemsinc.com) demonstrated its innovative side by creating the RailHawk fully automatic railcar gate-opening system that dumps a hopper car's contents as it is positioned over the pit. RailHawk was developed specifically to meet customers' desire to eliminate human safety hazards; eliminate the threat of a hydraulic fluid leak into the product; make the process faster and more precise; and reduce labor. It uses a machine vision system to track rail car movement and a laser for car shape.
- At Talon Manufacturing (www.talonmfg.com), engineers redesigned the Supra microwave popcorn packaging system, which eliminated numerous connections that had to be wired back to the PLC by replacing the controls platform. Talon decided to change its traditional rack-mount PLC to PC-based controls. Its new design was a space saver, and the Windows XP OS provides access to numerous tools. Within three months, Talon had a full controls design, received UL approval and completed all programming. The popcorn bags produced now have more precise cuts and more consistent length.
- Kays Engineering (www.kays-dehoff.com) was responsible for the DeHoff deep hole drilling machine, which includes a "drilling parameters calculator" that allows end users to enter material and hole-diameter data. The system automatically generates the appropriate feed rate and spindle speed. While Kays offers a standardized machine with its Eldorado line, the DeHoff line of drills often is subject to requests for rather high levels of customization.
- Brampton Engineering (www.be-ca.com) popped the industry's preconceptions with the AquaFrost blown-film packaging line, which uses water to cool the melt even faster than a chill roll in cast film, thus providing even better optical properties and thermoformability. The control requirements had to do with extruding a molten bubble into a water bath and controlling it in the process, rather than blowing it upward into the air. It was important to control the size of the bubble very precisely via the volume and pressure of air inside it. This was critical for locking the bubble with the water ring to eliminate creases and wrinkles in the film.
- TIAX (www.tiaxllc.com) streamlined automation and controls on a 25-year-old German manikin and automated testing to ASTM standards with the Thermal Manikin clothing insulation tester. The manikin's original electronics control system comprised 15 power supplies, 15 dedicated hardware PID temperature controllers, 15 electronic counters and a custom data acquisition system, which TIAX replaced with a PLC, a single power supply and a touchscreen interface panel. A PC also allows data to be downloaded into Excel spreadsheets.
Vote now at www.ControlDesign.com/sixinnovators. Lend your voice to our content decision-making process.