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Automation of production processes

Our company has been automating and integrating production processes for years. Answering invitations by manufacturing enterprises, we visit factories, in which components and products are manufactured. Some of them have multi million volumes, other are produced in small series. We assist in implementing solutions, which purpose is to improve quality of production, reduce number of standstills, errors and waste. For many run maintenance engineers the priority is the speed of manufacturing, other focus on excellent quality of precise devices and components.

Research and development – basis of modern automation

Analyzing our production automation implementations one can quickly reach a conclusion that currently emphasis has to be put on research and development of automation. Such requirements are imposed by reality, which slowly moves away from manufactures, in which in huge halls, on dozens of stations, stand hundreds of people soldering wires and assembling components by hand. Every factory is different, with different technical background, manufactures various elements, but every one of them faces the same future. Sooner or later they will have to automate even a part of their production. Such challenges appear also before systems integrators. How to find optimization of manufacturing, cost saving and investment return as beneficial as possible? In the current stage of development of technology we cannot delude ourselves – some tasks have to be performed by a human. Anyway, when talking with mangers of factories, we haven’t heard even once that personnel reduction is the reason for robotization. Currently the needs of industry are so big that employees perform jobs that can be robotized are required  for other tasks.

Automation is an investment!

Manufacturing is also described with one more characteristic, which is in fact it’s foundation. Creating certain goods, we are doing it because we want to sell and profit on them. Here however appear the aspect of competition, rivalry. Automation of production processes and it’s equipment it’s not only cost. It’s first and foremost an investment. This single magic word, behind which stand numerous zeroes on company’s bills, is however a ticket to highway of development and increase of capabilities and resources of the factory. On such highway there are companies, which have begun investing long time ago. However the fuel of development sometimes runs out and processes of manufacturing require a lifting. It happens for many reasons – mainly because progress requires miniaturization, change in design or new functionality.

Like cars that some time ago could fare our roads with speed of 120 and now 140 km/h.

How Alnea approaches automation processes?

Team of Alnea acknowledges necessity of constant investment, so we offer not only implementations of automation, but also improvement of functioning of already existing infrastructure, integration of machines, devices and systems. Revolution 3.0, which in many factories is a fact, in other only crawls on all fours. Varied development of different branches of industry is the reason that for many automation engineers vision of industry 4.0 – digitalization and management of manufacturing from a cloud is only a dream and for some an obvious requirement for meeting demands of current market. That’s why commit to projects related to technologies of the future. Sometimes our contractors even before signing a contract for automation and robotization of a line already reserve ability of access to the Big Data. That is the moment of contact of visionaries and hard realists.

The foundation is constant development

Exchange of experiences on trade shows, exhibitions and systems integrators meets is for us a source of inspiration, which repeatedly present in current trends in automation. Work of our engineers has twofold implications. While thinking about issues related to manufacturing and automation, we solve more general problems. The example is our patented soldering packet Zeus, which contains:

– controller, which will cope with most difficult challenges (i. e. soldering really small elements made of elastic PCB),

– soldering tin feeder – an answer to expensive counterparts of different manufacturers

– ergonomically shaped soldering head.

However portion of the problems in the field of automation and production systems integration are very individual cases for each factory or concern narrow spectrum of application of automation. Through teamwork we have, more than once found unique solutions.

Touching many issues in this entry, I would like to encourage you to visit our web page in search for inspirations, knowledge and maybe criticism that will motivate us to progress and rethinking anew certain questions.

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Why we don’t automatize?

Do we want to robotize? - rhetorical question.

We live in times when everything happens right now. There’s no need to wait a week for favourite TV show – we can just go to Netflix to watch whole season in one evening. We don’t have to stand in queue to submit a tax declaration – we fill a form and send it online. We don’t wait for a resupply of washing machines, opening of ticket office… Undoubtedly we have forgotten how much we’ve had waited in our lives. World without waiting for “something” has disappeared. Did we once imagined a world without waiting? Did we dreamed 20-30 years ago that our lives would really be “processed in real time”. It’s with the question if we want to robotize. Maybe we haven’t noticed that our washing machines, hairdryers, and ovens long time since have had artificial intelligence “sewn in” and vacuum cleaners, drones and cameras resemble visions of stage designers from sci-fi films. However buying a coffee machine integrated with our cellphone is something different than a robot in a factory. We buy a coffee machine as a consumer good, a gadget, which makes life easier, but also we can boast about it to our friends..

Why we don't robotize?

Our mentioned coffee machine will serve us along time – it will make coffee. But it won’t make money – that’s obvious! Unless we are an owner of a coffee shop… We treat appliances, technologically advanced ones, as a luxury. Why then are we afraid to investing industrial robots? Innovativeness of polish industry rises. However not as fast as we would like it to.

The reason for the slow automation and robotization process in our factories is first and foremost the fear of the unknown.

New machine..
Who will operate it?
Who will maintain it?
Where will I receive technical support?
What if I’ll have to change the process or the product?

But when you buy a new car do you worry if you can replace spark plugs?

No!!! That’s the purpose of car service. We treat problems the same way at Alnea. If you order a station or soldering packet from us, we will support you. We already have a lot of experience in this field. Distance doesn’t matter. We support our customers because we know that a satisfied customer means no complaints, good reputation and perspectives of future cooperation. Good systems integrator invited to cooperate is a source of excellent process solutions.

It’s not a cheap solution, but is purchase and implementation cost the only reason?

It turns out that the problem is rather complex. First of all we lack specialists with right qualifications. In system integration enterprises like Alnea, there are employed many visionaries of process and robotics virtuosos. They know how to refine, improve a process. But the most important people are in process of automation, right after factory management, are run maintenance engineers. It’s their knowledge and experience have impact on production, quality, they answer to challenges of quality and fluidity of process. It’s them who know the product best, its requirements, advantages and disadvantages. On their competences depends the future of a factory. It seems that, courses and rise of competences in teams is key issue when it comes to ability to robotize.

At Alnea we often invite to training, open days, capability test, to show a good direction of changes. Mangers and engineers with broad knowledge, ideas are a foundation of a company. Competences of a team should rise together with development of company. It’s worth it to invest in courses – they are a real support for complicated organism of a factory.

Making difficult decisions

What are other causes of the slow automation process? There are companies in which investment in innovations is a top-down decision of management. However in most production facilities in Poland it’s run maintenance engineers who pursuit manufacturing automation. How to convince superiors about necessity of adapting newest technologies to meet the demands of the market?

It happens that bosses of companies know about this need, but are afraid of taking responsibility for made decisions. In the end for systems integration or creation of a robotized line, a substantial sum of money is allocated, which is entrusted to a external company.

At Alnea we know what responsibility it is. We do our best to cut our coat according to our cloth and offers presented by us are backed with basic test of a production process. A convenient system of cooperation (budget or conceptual) makes us flexible in approach to customer.
Very big projects are also carried out with other companies. Such collaboration supports efficiency of realizing the project and assures feeling of safety of customers. It’s worth to risk to not only follow the demands of the market, but it’s even more profitable to predict global and our regional changes in industry. The vision of Elon Musk to send Tesla to space seems to be a crazy dream of a scientists.

However it shows us the way to the future where almost everything is possible and even risk is an investment good.

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Automated soldering

Increasing demand for given product, miniaturization, decrease of manufacturing costs, increase of product quality, minimization of waste and elimination of human error are the main causes,k for which it becomes necessary to automate production processes, including soldering.

What do we understand as automated soldering?

Generally speaking, automation of soldering is about replacing an operator by a machine, which executes the soldering process. One of the soldering machine types is the 6 – axis industrial robot, integrated with a soldering packet – in that case we’re speaking about robotized soldering. The packet usually consists of soldering controller, solder wire feeder, soldering head and solder tip cleaner. Alnea meets the needs of the market and offers it’s own patented soldering packet Zeus.

Advantages of robotized soldering

Utilizing a robotized soldering process gives following possibilities and benefits:

1. Excellent repeatability and quality of solders – thanks to controlling soldering parameters (listed below) by a microprocessor, every soldered connection has the same shape, volume of solder etc. Robot never makes faulty connections i.e. cold solder or connects two soldering areas placed close to each other. Even such difficult applications as soldering flexible PCBs are executed almost flawlessly. Robot executing soldering program won’t miss any pad. Of course well trained operator with a lot of experience is able to provide high quality of soldered connections, but training of personnel in the field of soldering take a lot of time and money. Additionally, precise soldering is really tiring for a human so quality of his work drops with number of hours works within a shift.

2. Increase of production effectiveness – motion of a robot is faster and more optimal than of a human. Machine is capable to solder continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, doesn’t need a break, doesn’t take a sick leave, doesn’t have to rest. All that ensures much higher efficiency than in case of operators’ work.

3. Possibility of miniaturization of soldered components – with use of the right soldering tip, a robot is able to solder miniature components. Thanks to high precision, soldering areas can be located close to each other. These features allow miniaturization of whole product.

4. Possibility of controlling soldering parameters – controller Zeus adjusts all parameters of soldering (listed below), thanks to that the process is perfectly adapted to given application. If a need arises , there is a possibility to modify online the parameters on the level of HMI of the robotized station. Thanks to dedicated technological packet Zeus for KUKA robots all soldering parameters can be changed and set directly through robot’s controller – in programming phase as well as in production phase. Precise adaptation of the parameters is especially important during lead – free soldering and in applications, in which soldered elements are close to each other and/or of small size.

5. Possibility of soldering in protective atmosphere i.e. nitrogen – in the process of lead – free soldering, it’s advised to use protective atmosphere of a neutral gas. Zeus controller has a built – in valve for steering the flow of nitrogen. Benefits of utilizing a protective atmosphere are: lower solder oxidation, and extended lifespan of soldering tip.

6. Constant efficiency – soldering robot executes operations with constant “takt time” so it’s easy to calculate efficiency and more importantly keep it at on a constant level.

7. Considerable decrease of the number of defective products – excellent quality described in point 1. brings along reduction of production waste. Elimination of manual transport and handling of delicate components ( i.e. PCB ) in robotized soldering process additionally reduces risk of creation of defects.

What decides on that solders made by a robot are of excellent quality?

In robotized soldering, soldering tip, solder wire and all the soldering parameters are adapted to given application.
Thanks to utilization of a industrial robot approach to a soldering point is realized with precision of hundredths of a millimeter.
Parameters of soldering process are repeatable and adjusted by the controller (primarily temperature, heating time and amount of solder wire).
Thanks to utilization of a cleaner connected to Zeus controller it’s possible to automatically and precisely clean soldering tip. The tip is cleaned by metal brushes and stream of compressed air.
Ability to solder in protective atmosphere i.e. nitrogen ensures decrease of solder oxidation and extension of soldering tip’s lifespan.
Program monitors work time and number of work cycles of soldering tip, thanks to which the tip is replaced before it’s spent.
Thanks to using an industrial robot, we are capable of reaching very high speed of approach to soldering point – in case of KUKA robots even 2 m/s.
It helps to keep correct shape of soldered connection.

In which industries soldering robot with Zeus packet can be utilized?

Robotized soldering packet Zeus is capable of soldering among others electronic components used in through – hole technology assembly, but not only. It can be use automate soldering in:
• automotive industry
• defense sector
• aviation industry
• electronics industry
• precision industry
• electrotechnical industry
• medical sector
• telecommunication industry and more.

What parameters of soldering process are controlled by a soldering controller?

Zeus soldering controller adjusts following parameters of soldering process:
• heating power
• temperature – there is a possibility to differentiate the temperature in different stages of soldering the same point (or area), what is not possible during manual soldering
• heating time of soldered area
• amount of fed solder
• speed of solder feeding
• amount of retracted soldered
• speed of solder retraction

If you are interested in robotized soldering with use of Zeus packet, contact us and find out, what solutions of soldering process we can offer for your company.

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