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Automation for the Automater

Oct. 13, 2011
Siemens' Facility Needed an Overhaul; Prima Power Had the Answer

By Aaron Hand, Managing Editor

When they decided to update their manufacturing facilities in West Chicago, Ill., the managers at Siemens Automation (www.automation.siemens.com) turned to a machine builder they had been working with for years. Siemens was the first company in the U.S. to install a flexible manufacturing system (FMS) more than 15 years ago from Finn-Power (www.finn-power.com), based in Kauhava, Finland. Earlier this year, Siemens spent about $10 million to complete what Patrick Roth, senior manufacturing engineer for Siemens, refers to as the "manufacturing version of Extreme Makeover."

At its West Chicago facilities, where Siemens makes motor control centers, enclosed controls, switchboards and solar inverters, the company invested in an integrated solution from Finn-Power (now Prima Power). The equipment set includes the EBe5 Express Bender, E series press brake, LPe6 Laser Punch and SG6 Shear Genius integrated shearing and punching. The machines are all integrated through Prima Power's NT6 Night Train FMS.

"We had a mix of older equipment in the past," says Deron Jackson, plant manager for the Siemens West Chicago facility. "The advantage of an FMS was quite great from an efficiency, productivity, material handling, safety perspective."

Finn-Power, started in 1969 in an old schoolhouse in Finland, was purchased by Italian laser-cutting company Prima Industrie a few years ago, and earlier this year, the two companies became Prima Power, which supplies punching, shearing, bending and laser cutting equipment, as well as the FMS.

"The Prima Power punching and cutting equipment that Siemens purchased is quite impressive, but the really extraordinary capability results came from the panel bender," Roth says. "Due to the inherent variation caused in the forming process by the braking process, materials, and the previous processes, a ‘loose' manufacturing tolerance is required when using a traditional press brake."

Operators typically took full advantage of tolerances of ±2° for the bend angle and ±0.032 in. for the bend-to-bend tolerance, Roth says. Pre-acceptance tests on the Prima Power panel bender confirmed a bend angle range of ±0.25° and a bend-to-bend range of ±0.005 in.

Bend and Brake
Prima Power's E Brake, running in Siemens' West Chicago facility, is a non-hydraulic bending system that is more accurate than traditional press brakes.Siemens Automation

In this case, Prima Power returns some of that credit back to its customer, because the machine builder uses more than 1,000 different Siemens parts in its equipment, according to Mike Stock, vice president of sales for Prima Power. "The relationship between Siemens and Finn-Power over the years has been close. We've used their controls for a long time. In our newer equipment, the servo electric drives are Siemens drives."

Prima Power's switch to servo electric drives has given it the ability to control machines directly and accurately, Stock says. "Hydraulics generate heat, generate vibration," he says. "Servo electric technology gives us the ability to eliminate that in areas where it could cause performance issues in the machines."

Key to the automation is the machine software, which Prima Power develops itself. "There's a lot of hardware involved, but a lot of software and machine control that's been developed over the years," Stock says.

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