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issue: December 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Factory Automation & Material Handling
On the Horizon


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by Leanna Skarnulis, Contributing Editor

Appliance OEMs looking for new ways to increase efficiency, safety, precision, and flexibility, while reducing costly downtime, might find electromagnetic conveyors in their future.

Todd Webber, president and chief operating officer of MagneMotion, Inc. (Acton, Massachusetts, U.S.), anticipates that applications for the company’s QuickStick LSM will include assembly automation for small parts, cell phones and medical devices, all the way up to white goods. QuickStick features meter-long linear synchronous motor (LSM) modules with embedded position sensors and control software to create a transport system of virtually any length. Built-in controls regulate speed, acceleration, direction, vehicle traffic, and vehicle position.
Systems integrator Shinsung ENG (South Korea) recently chose the QuickStick LSM modular system from MagneMotion for its overhead fab automation system for liquid crystal display (LCD) panel manufacturing.
“One reason Shinsung came to us was that—when the semiconductor industry went from 200 mm wafers to 300 mm—everything changed,” says Webber. “In order to drive down the cost of LCD panels, they’re making larger panels, 2 by 3 m. That’s like a queen-sized bed in a very precise process.”  But one imperfection can turn the entire panel into scrap. The transport technology for these large pieces must handle them with extreme care. “What they have currently doesn’t have the precision, speed, etc.,” Webber says.
“Our customers continually ask for a state-of-the-art transport system to complement our stockers, controls and other material handling equipment,” says Henry Lee, president of Shinsung Global Operations.  The LSM system provides it with a high degree of flexibility and modularity.
Webber says, “The difference between our system and a conveyor is that ours has independently controlled vehicles. It’s very scalable technology and bi-directional. It can carry a load of 10 pounds or 10,000 pounds.”
Flexibility is a key feature of the software-configurable system. “You may be running a refrigerator that has a cool curve in the morning and in the afternoon run one with a square edge,” explains Webber. “The dwell time might be three seconds at one station in the morning, but eight seconds in the afternoon. We can talk to PLCs that talk to robots. It’s all uptime. The motors themselves are modular and can be reconfigured in different layouts. The lengths might vary, but it’s not like you need different length belts.”
While the system is initially more expensive than a conveyor, Webber says ROI studies will show payback in a short time from throughput and energy savings. “The motors are 85-percent efficient. There’s almost no downtime because there’s very little maintenance. If there is downtime, it’s a quick swap out of a motor.”
He believes the technology would help white goods manufacturing. “Think in terms of independently controlled vehicles. A robot might produce a washing machine differently if it could index precisely—go forwards and backwards and accelerate out of one station to accept another one.”

The Machinery of Lean Automation

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
MagneMotion, Inc.
 

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