Consumers are willing to pay a premium for personalized products. This makes customization an interesting prospect for manufacturers – but only if it can be done with mass-production efficiency. The old paradigm of mass production is no longer suitable for today’s turbulent markets, growing product variety, and opportunities for eCommerce. Mass customization allows to customize products quickly for individual customers or for niche markets at better than mass production efficiency and speed. Mass customizers can build standard or mass-customized products upon receipt of spontaneous orders without forecasts, inventory, or purchasing delays. “Customized products have added value for consumers,” says Robert Kickinger, mechatronic technologies manager at B&R, “so they’re willing to pay more for them.” For the manufacturer, however, these customized products must meet one condition: “They need to be suitable for highly automated mass production,” notes Kickinger, “or else the unit costs are too high to be profitable.”
A majority of companies could benefit from expansion into niche markets if things are done in an efficient way. At this point, numerous manual interventions are involved to change over between product variants that consume the valuable production time and squander the benefits of mass production. An intelligent transport system allows the changeover to be fully automated and controlled via software. “The only way to achieve mass-production levels of efficiency is with automated responsiveness,” explains Kickinger. Modern IT systems make it possible for the customer to interact directly with the manufacturing process and trigger the production simply by placing an order. Automated, software controlled changeover processes provide the kind of responsiveness that makes production profitable even at batch size one. “When you combine these two possibilities, you’re able to manufacture customized products under mass production conditions without a corresponding increase in unit cost,” says Kickinger.
B&R’s intelligent SuperTrak optimizes the changeover times for different products manufactured on the same line. As soon as a new option is selected on the operator panel
or via a production planning system, the transport system automatically switches over to the new product. Extended downtime for mechanical changeover between products is
either reduced substantially or eliminated entirely. With its high load capacity, SuperTrak can handle heavier products as well.
Industrial transport technology
Flexible batch-size-one manufacturing operations need machinery that can adapt automatically without operator intervention. For instance, the frame of a 140-centimeter window is larger than that of a 130-centimeter window, and the machine must be able to account for this size difference. An intelligent transport system is an ideal way to implement a motion control solution with this level of responsiveness. Unlike conventional belts with rigid timing, an intelligent transport system conveys each product individually—with variable target positions, speeds and clearances.
“Such transport systems are surprisingly scarce in modern plants considering the actual level of demand there is for them,” says Kickinger. Some systems have insufficient load capacity; others lack the necessary safety functions. “Although what they need is true integration, many manufacturers struggle with complex system architectures that require gateway modules,” Kickinger adds. ATS SuperTrak from B&R has been specially developed for 24/7 operation in harsh industrial environments. Apart from been reliable and safe, the shuttles can be easily replaced without the need to disassemble the track—a huge advantage of the B&R system. Thus, it results in a very low mean repair time and increases the productivity of the entire line. SuperTrak dovetails perfectly with robotics and other CNC-controlled components to form an automated production unit.
Flexible manufacturing with batch size one
On the demand side, the product personalization trend is driven by consumer expectations—particularly among a generation of digital natives. On the supply side, the continuing evolution of mechatronics is giving rise to a new generation of production technology for mass customization. “SuperTrak delivers the reliable, industrial-grade motion control that will advance this highly responsive production technology to its rightful place in the smart factory landscape,” concludes Kickinger. Mass customization requires modular machines to enable automatic adaptation of production to real-time demand. B&R`s intelligent SuperTrack system is the reliable, industrial-grade transport solution for flexible production lines that enable mass customization. In any packaging line operation, it is a challenge to synchronize individual pallets and products, some operations might also require unloading of products from the conveyor. During this time, the conveyor either is stopped or runs without products. Also there is high chance of the products being damaged on the conveyor. The SuperTrak uses LLMs and does not use drag chains resulting in no issues from chain elongation, belt re-tightening and backlash. Lesser moving parts results in less maintenance and high efficiency. SuperTrak, prevents product crashes and keeps the product surface intact, which is an added advantage in packaging industry.
Programmed in Automation Studio
B&R Automation Studio is the integrated software development environment that contains tools for all phases of a project. The controller, drive, communication, and visualization can all be configured in one environment. That reduces both integration time and maintenance costs. Like all B&R solutions, SuperTrak is programmed in the Automation Studio software development environment. Software developers can take advantage of ready-to-use libraries and function blocks to configure shuttle movements.