We’re used to seeing automated solutions to production issues. But when one is created to deal with a situation for which there is little prior experience, it can be very exciting. This was the case with a system recently developed by MST Equipment of Prato, Italy, who worked with Omron engineers to automate a machine
We’re used to seeing automated solutions to production issues. But when one is created to deal with a situation for which there is little prior experience, it can be very exciting. This was the case with a system recently developed by MST Equipment of Prato, Italy, who worked with Omron engineers to automate a machine for assembling stick deodorants.
The task sounds simple, but it’s actually very complex because it involves putting together five components, including the plastic screw that raises and lowers the stick of deodorant. The solution also had to be capable of unscrewing and, if necessary, repositioning the stick. The process cannot be effectively achieved with a traditional mechanical system: it needs more ‘intelligent’ technology, especially since MST wanted a fully automatic machine to assemble between 13,000 and 15,000 pieces an hour.
24 motors mounted on a rotating turntable!
In fact, the solution is both intelligent and highly effective. At its heart is a turntable that rotates to assemble the five pieces of the deodorant container. This is driven by 24 individual Omron Sigma II 650W motors with all of the motor axes controlled using Trajexia technology via a single encoder, so they do the same work as 24 mechanical cams.
As MST’s Stefano Marzini emphasises, “What’s special is not so much the use of 24 motors, but the fact that they are remotely controlled within a continuously rotating turntable. Normally, motors would be mounted in fixed panels, but here they sit on the machine and rotate with it.” This made the connectivity complicated, especially as there was the need to manage two communication channels which could potentially interfere with each other.
Meeting the challenge
The solution was a 10MB bus passing through a rotating contact: what Stefano Marzini calls “a real challenge, but one that enabled us to meet the objective of guaranteed communication in an extremely limited space.” The result is a fully automated system that is controlled by a single operator – and in fact, an Ethernet connection allows the machine to be programmed and controlled remotely if needed.
Compared with previous solutions, this is a completely new assembly system, entirely eliminating one machine from the line. Perhaps more importantly, it exemplifies the benefit of close co-operation between engineers from manufacturer and supplier. MST and Omron engineers worked alongside each other to deliver the entire project in just 11 months from concept to completion, creating what Stefano Marzini describes as a “technological marvel”.