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issue: May 2003 APPLIANCE European Edition

Assembly & Fastening
Putting It Together

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by Lisa Bonnema, Managing Editor

As product cycles get shorter and the word “inventory” becomes taboo, manufacturers are looking for new options when it comes to appliance assembly, hoping to find a synergy between the two crucial aspects of a quality appliance—its design and how it’s made.

During the last few years, it seems the industry buzzword regarding appliance assembly is flexibility. According to equipment suppliers, there are several reasons this term has become commonplace on plant floors.

“The newer machine design trend is to be able to change over [tooling] in minutes, maybe simply in the software,” explains Pete Doyon, vice president of Product Management for Schleuniger (Manchester, NH, U.S.). “Batch sizes have gone down too, so you can’t justify having a machine set-up and a long changeover. Also, with all of the manufacturing philosophies, people don’t want inventory on the floor. You only want to build today what you ship today. So the machines have to be able to be flexible to be used for a number of jobs. But batch sizes are really what have pushed the pressure on the changeover times.”

David O’Nions, general manager of Siemens Dematic Assembly Systems (Birmingham, AL, U.S.) says that with the current economic conditions, it is also an issue of cost.

  Wie man alles zusammenbaut
Da die Produktzyklen kürzer werden und der Begriff „Lagerbestände” sich zu einem Tabuthema entwickelt, suchen Hersteller nach neuen Möglichkeiten für die Montage von Geräten und hoffen, eine Synergie zwischen den beiden entscheidenden Aspekten von Qualitätsgeräten zu finden - zwischen der Konstruktion und der Ausführung. Lieferanten auf der ganzen Welt haben darauf reagiert und bieten OEMs für Geräte hochentwickelte Ausrüstung und Technologien für Montage, Befestigung und Kleben an.
 Comment assembler le tout
A l’heure où les cycles des produit deviennent de plus en plus courts et que le terme “ stock ” devient taboo, les fabricants recherchent de nouvelles options pour l’assemblage d’appareils électroménagers, tout en espérant trouver une synergie entre les deux aspects primordiaux d’un appareil électroménager de qualité — sa conception et sa fabrication. Les fournisseurs du monde entier répondent à ce besoin en proposant aux fabricants d’appareils électroménagers d’origine des matériels et des technologies d’assemblage, de fixation et d’encollage avancées.
 Assemblaggio dei pezzi
Coll’abbreviarsi dei cicli di produzione, la parola “inventario” diventa tabù; la case produttrici sono alla ricerca di nuove opzioni in fatto di assemblaggio di elettrodomestici, con la speranza di scoprire una sinergia tra i due aspetti cruciali di un elettrodomestico di qualità: il design e la modalità di lavorazione. I fornitori di tutto il mondo affrontano la sfida offrendo agli OEM di elettrodomestici assemblaggi avanzati, macchinari di incollaggio e fissaggio e tecnologie.

“The biggest thing right now is the amount of capital investment, especially in the U.S., in this kind of line. You’re talking multi-millions of dollars. In order for someone to justify that process versus foreign labor costs right now, we have to offer very flexible lines,” he explains. “If a customer just wanted to build a random product order group, they literally could. The goal is to develop systems where there is either little or zero changeover time for the customer to achieve that. That is the ultimate justification right now. The only people that pretty much can afford to do it are the ones that are given the highest level of flexibility.”

The obvious question surfaces: What solutions are available that will make my assembly processes more flexible and more cost effective? The answer to that question, however, isn’t easy: the options are many.

Henkel Loctite (Rocky Hill, CT, U.S.) offers two patented, industrial-grade, hand-held pneumatic spray applicators for dispensing 1.75-in diam areas with hot-melt adhesives. The Hysol 175-Spray unit achieves 180°C for dispensing EVA hot melts, while the Hysol 175-Spray HT reaches 195°C for polyamide hot-melt dispensing. Both 500-W units feature adjustable flow controls to tailor spray patterns and are said to be ergonomically designed for operator comfort and application control. In addition, both applicators feature automatic end-cycle purge to prevent nozzle clogs, a high melt rate for maximum output, and a fixed-precision thermostat temperature control for consistent heating.

Getting Equipped

Appliance makers—especially those with varied product lines—have much to consider when choosing assembly equipment. Making productive decisions means carefully reviewing the newest technologies and trends while keeping in mind specific applications.

“ The type of manufacturing equipment [available] varies as widely as the applications do. If you consider appliances to range in size from, say, electric toothbrushes to refrigerators and dishwashers, you also cover a massive range of different manufacturing strategies,” notes Kevin Gingerich, marketing manager at Bosch Rexroth, Linear Motion and Assembly Technologies (Buchanan, MI, U.S.). “In some cases, that might mean manual assembly stations linked with conveyors; in others, it might mean full automation with our turboscara and multi-axis Cartesian robots—or it might mean a mix of the two.”

Most assembly equipment suppliers agree that a major trend right now is to offer equipment with increased intelligence. Smarter equipment means less labor, increased productivity, and higher quality.

“ All assembly equipment has improved substantially over the years, as the needs of manufacturers get fed back into the engineering departments of capital equipment suppliers. Robots are a great example,” says Mr. Gingerich. “The turboscara robots we’re selling now are technological light years ahead of the SCARA robot invented by Bosch 30 years ago, and even those sold 10 years ago.”

He explains: “For example, all programming software is now Windows-based and has TCP/IP connectivity, so they can even be programmed and tested via the Internet. Let’s say a customer is installing a robot in California and is not sure about a certain programming sequence. They can call us in Michigan, give us the access code to their robot, and we can troubleshoot their program online. Capabilities like these not only cut hours or days out of robot installation, they add convenience and cut costs.”

Mr. Gingerich adds that many new robots now have absolute encoders so that the robot always knows where it is in its operating cycle. “You don’t need to ‘re-home’ the robot every time you power it,” he says.

Siemens Dematic offers an intelligent palette-based conveyor system that utilizes radio frequency (RF) tags and is said to allow for quick changeover and flexibility. “The pallet (or fixture) contains universal tooling, where we are perhaps given 10 or 20 products from the customer that they would like to build down the same line, and we build the tooling—either adjustable or very, very quickly changeable—to carry multiple products,” explains Mr. O’Nions. The system has several appliance applications, including range, washing machine, refrigerator, air-conditioner, furnace, and dryer production.

“ For example, on a range, we’re carrying anything from single ovens to very wide double-oven assemblies with cooktops, all on the same pallet,” says Mr. O’Nions. “The way we have achieved that is ‘stair-step tooling,’ where the largest product sits at the highest level, and the smallest product is at the lowest point of the stair step. Each stair step as you go down the tooling is a different product outline. So we achieved, in this case, zero changeover time.”

He adds that the specialty is not so much the mechanical solution, but the software solution. “We carry intelligence on the pallet usually in the form of an RF tag that carries the data for the particular product. So we might be only carrying a serial number to start off with, which would be tied to the system. Then we would automatically route the pallet to only the operations that were required for that specific product. That in itself is nothing revolutionary, it’s just done on a very large scale, and we tie that in with recording the test results. With a range, for example, you measure gas flow, comparisons, electrical tests, etc. We actually carry the test results on the RF tag until we get to the end of the system,” Mr. O’Nions says.

When the appliance reaches the end of the process, the tag’s information is downloaded to a host computer system, which records the results. The advantage, Mr. O’Nions explains, is that if a manufacturer ever has testing issues or warranty issues, it has the individual test results of that particular unit by serial number. In addition, once the information is downloaded, the RF tag’s memory is wiped clean and can be used again for the next run.

As Mr. Gingerich points out, it is important to note that no one equipment “solution” is the answer for the entire production line. “The top consideration for every company is always productivity because it ties directly to profits: How do we get the most out of our resources? The answer will differ at different steps in the manufacturing process,” he says. “For repetitive, high-speed assembly steps, robotics may be the answer; for more complex assembly sequences requiring the flexibility of a human being, companies may want to undertake time and motion studies to eliminate wasted motion wherever possible.”

The Assembly Influence

It’s no secret that appliance design and production need to go hand in hand in order to achieve today’s demand for quick turnaround. While this may require some customization on the supplier’s part, OEMs may also find that in order to get the most cost-effective solution, flexibility needs to go both ways.

“ There’s only a small portion of our appliance products that are standard. Most of the time we sell a dedicated piece of equipment,” notes Steve Sawdon, president of BTM Corp. “We have to consider the shape of the customer’s part, which depends on how it is designed.”

Therefore, he says, it is crucial that manufacturers design their products with assembly in mind. “Sometimes we ask them to redesign their products too. That will help us reduce the tooling cost. We also provide them with flange size and clearance specifications that we like them to have in order to make lower-cost machines to join their products.”

Sometimes the relationship between assembly and design is so strong that one literally dictates the other. An example of this, according to Mr. Doyon of Schleuniger, is the use of flexible flat cable (FFC) in appliance design. The cable, currently being used in Europe for automotive applications, also offers major benefits to appliance makers, he explains. The cable is a light-weight alternative to round wire, which makes it ideal for portable appliances and consumer electronic products. It also offers production advantages. “The appliance industry is moving toward using more FFC in manufacturing because it allows for mass termination, which means labor savings, flexibility, and increased quality,” explains Mr. Doyon. “The fact that you can mass terminate means that instead of running, say, 12 individual wires and then terminating them and putting them in a connector housing, you basically run one piece and terminate on both ends and just plug and play.”

The holdup, according to Mr. Doyon, is the capital investment needed to process the cable. “There is a cost up front to get capability to process FFC. Most appliance makers outsource their wire harness assemblies, so as the sub-contractors gain capability in that area, then it won’t be so cost-prohibitive to start using these new technologies in the appliance design,” he says.

It is important to note that the equipment is available, Mr. Doyon adds. Schleuniger currently offers FFC Processing Systems that can be customized for any application. “What happens is the customer will have an application, and they’ll send us samples and specs. We’ll review it, and we’ll build a custom system for their application, based on standard modules,” he explains. “So, rather than have to redesign from scratch every time, we know that we need to transport a flat cable up to 3-in wide. Once we know what the customer’s needs are, we can mount the individual process stations on the various module, and it all ties together with a standard software we developed.”

Mr. Doyon says that until appliance OEMs and wire harness suppliers base their decision on value instead of expense, the industry will have to wait. “Some OEMs are even saying, ‘We want to use this in our next-generation design,’ but the wire harness manufacturers will quote a really low price to do it in the current technology, which is discrete single wires. So, on paper, it looks cost-prohibitive to the OEMs to jump to that new technology,” he explains. “But ultimately, there will be some sub-contractors that make an investment up front, and they will go out and look for work. It will happen.”

Also from the May 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine European Edition:
Assembly & Fastening: The Advantages of Clinching


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