System integrator experiences cosmic ‘inflation’

07/27/2006


Machine Control

EA-developed SCARA robot trims extraneous material from manufactured parts.

Astronomers tell us that during the first few nanoseconds, the universe expanded at a fantastically rapid rate—an episode they call “inflation.” System integrator Eclipse Automation (EA) reports experiencing its own inflation event. In a little less than four years, this custom-automation business has expanded from four owners working from the proverbial garage-sized shop to 95 employees building state-of-the-art manufacturing systems in 30,000 square feet spanning two buildings, with another expansion up to 60,000 sq ft scheduled by the end of September 2006.

Exceptional service is key to the company’s phenomenal growth, according to Bob King, marketing and sales engineer at EA. “Our customers really like the fact that we can provide all the services they need under one roof.

“All the services they need” includes expertise in material handling robotics, machine vision, assembly cells, and many other capabilities. EA has its own staff of mechanical engineers using SolidWorks to streamline the design, fabrication and assembly steps, as well as a complete fabrication shop with all the necessary craftsmen.

“Customers know that their project will be totally controlled internally,” King points out. “That gives them confidence that in the event something goes wrong, they have one point of contact for help. Since we carried the whole project through from beginning to end, we can fix any problems internally.”

One recent project involved building a station to test engine components for the Canadian assembly plant of a major overseas automaker. Components would arrive from a part washer. EA used a vision system to guide a SCARA robot to pick up the part, orient it correctly, and place into a nest that stabilized the part during testing. After fault testing, the robot would send the part to either a good part conveyor, or a reject part conveyor. Cycle time was approximately 4.6 seconds.

For another project, EA designed a cell to perform resistance welding of end caps onto muffler tubes. Here, a robot places each tube, with end caps in place, onto a fixture. The operator touches a pair of palm buttons (thereby ensuring his or her hands are out of the way) to forward the tube into a safety-guarded weld cell. Four weld heads then come down to weld the cap on one end of the tube. The system then automatically draws the tube out of the cell, rotates it 180 degrees and pushes it back in. The weld head then welds the cap on the other end. The tube finally comes out of the cell to a position where the operator can safely remove it.

King says that EA specializes in medium-sized automation projects in the $70 K to $1 M range. “If someone came to us with a project a little larger, we would look at it,” he admits, “but we wouldn’t be interested in projects several times larger. There are others who serve that part of the market.”

So, EA’s experience shows that the way to drive cosmic inflation of your system integration business is to find out what customers need most, then sell it to them. And, as my old business management professor used to say: “Stick to the knitting.” That is, do what you do best, and leave everything else to the rest.

C.G. Masi , senior editor, Control Engineering





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