Surface Finisher Makes a Modular Move

Dec. 6, 2012
Corrotec Simplified Its I/O, Then Pneumatics, and Is Looking for More
About the Author
Aaron Hand is the managing editor for Control Design and for Industrial Networking. Email him at [email protected] or check out his Google+ profile.In the 37 years it's been in business, Corrotec has seen a lot of control and automation technologies change. "We've come a long way from drum encoders and relays," says Dan Edgington, project manager. "It's changed a lot in just the last five years."

Corrotec's equipment is primarily for surface finishing, including nickel plating and anodizing. The company's largest market is automotive, with equipment being used to plate brake caliber lines, seal plates, seat brackets — pretty much anything that's shiny, Edgington says. Aerospace also figures prominently; some equipment is used for titanium coatings on medical parts; and job shops use the machines for a large range of decorative and household items.

Perhaps what's changed the most in recent years is the automation's increasing modularity. "For the most part, our machines are built on-site," Edgington says, explaining that systems can run 60–70 ft long and just as wide. "We've really started to modularize things. We started with I/O, moving to Ethernet-based I/O blocks. We can plug in the Ethernet cable and power and be done with it."

The logical next step in the I/O block, Edgington says, was to modularize the pneumatics system.

Corrotec uses a lot of pneumatic valves for its diaphragm pumps for the material transfer of what Edgington calls "nasty chemistry"; and also to lift and lower rotary tables, open and close gates, etc. The machine builder considers pneumatics as the best option because of their suitability to chemistries. "We typically won't use hydraulics; if the oils get into the bath, it will destroy them," Edgington explains. "Some things can be done electrically. But it's a harsh environment, so a lot of electric actuators would fail."

Chemical Chaos
In surface finishing, machine downtime could mean thousands of ruined parts. Source: CorrotecJust a few months ago, Corrotec switched its pneumatics system to a more modular approach, and just like the company has done away with long runs of wiring, Edgington says, the new pneumatics system does away with long runs of tubing. The machine builder has started using Norgren's IVAC, which combines pilot and control valves, position sensors and flow regulators in one unit. "You just screw it into the cylinder, supply compressed air, and then you're done," Edgington says. "If we can take three or four days out of installation, it lowers the installed cost for us, and the end user gets to go into production sooner. You get a direct payback on the machine in a short amount of time."

Taking a more modular approach helps not only with installation, but with maintenance as well. "With IVAC being a total unit, if it doesn't work properly, you just pull it out and put a replacement part in," Edgington says.

"Lost production time is a huge deal," he adds, noting that for plating processes, a machine going down could mean thousands of ruined parts. "If a machine goes down, and it's down for 10 minutes, but the parts are supposed to be in there for 30 seconds, that's a big deal. Everything in process becomes a few hours of lost work."

Modularization has probably taken two to three days off of pneumatics installation time and perhaps two weeks on the control side for Corrotec, Edgington says. "We can try to compress the install time, but you can only fit so many people in a small area," he says. "Eliminating a few miles of wiring is a direct savings."